In 1993, Martha Rosler took part in Unité: project, a group exhibition organised by Yves Aupetitallor, who invited around forty international artists to reinterpret Unité d’habitation, an emblematic housing project by Le Corbusier, inaugurated in 1965 in Firminy-Vert, in south-east France.
Almost thirty years later, Rosler made this video to explore the building’s identity as a home. Although Le Corbusier intended it to be a multi-family residential complex or ‘vertical garden city’, Rosler wanted to ask the residents directly if this still holds true. Through their testimonies, the work traces the history of the building and the relationship of its residents with an architectural entity of such powerful identity. Known by the neighbours as ‘Le Corbu’, construction of the building did not begin until after the architect’s death. The wing in which the interviews were recorded had been closed for over ten years, thus preserving the decoration from the time the complex was built. The mayor of the town, who had facilitated its development, subsequently tried to have it demolished. The president of the tenants’ association describes the struggle to save the building and their partial victory. The film focuses on the closed wing and the signs and detritus of lives long past, against the testimonies of today’s residents. With a slow rhythm and still shots, Rosler alternates moments of silence with music by Erik Satie, thus accentuating the feeling of nostalgia and archaeology. This is a dialogue between Le Corbusier’s abstract notion of the milieu humain and the purism of modernity, and the real needs and domestic aspirations of the residents. And yet, despite the criticism and the building’s contradictions, all those interviewed are proud to live there.
Gold does not take on any dirt. And gold, just are diamonds, is an exalted material. It possesses such a degree of abstraction that it encounters you –if you use it artistically– on an already exalted level.