Ville Fantôme/Kinshasa la Belle

“Ville Fantôme: from Utopia to the present” by Henrik Langsdorf. In this multi-channel video installation Langsdorf juxtaposes the utopian architectural vision of Congolese artist Bodys Isek Kingelez (1948–2015) with his own visual reflections on urbanism in present-day Kinshasa in the…

Ville Fantôme/Kinshasa la Belle

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Ville Fantôme: from Utopia to the present” by Henrik Langsdorf.

In this multi-channel video installation Langsdorf juxtaposes the utopian architectural vision of Congolese artist Bodys Isek Kingelez (1948–2015) with his own visual reflections on urbanism in present-day Kinshasa in the form of animation and collage.

Kingelez, who remains largely unknown in the Congo despite international acclaim, became known for his “extrème maquettes”, extremely colorful architectural models that promise a bright future not only for Kinshasa and other places in his native country, but the world at large.

In “Ville Fantôme/Kinsasa La Belle” Langsdorf asks the question: What if some of Kingelez’ structures had actually been built? How might this wildly beautiful wonderland where “delinquents, police and prisons do not exist” as Kingelez proposed in an artist statement about his “Projet pour le Kinshasa du Troisième Millénaire”, have fared two decades into this Third Millennium?”.

Chika Okeke-Agulu, an art historian at Princeton University described Kingelez’ cityscapes as “spectacular architectural form as a counter-narrative to the dystopian realities of Kinshasa”. Langsdorf ventures to reconnect them with these realities.
By Stripping the buildings of their exuberant hues, and exposing them to imagined aging and decay, he adapts them to the monochromatic aesthetic of his own “metabolist collages”, which feature grimy brutalist buildings of the kind found in present-day Kinshasa.

“I have long been drawn to utopian ideas in architecture, and seeing Kingelez’ retrospective at the MoMA in New York last year was extremely exhilarating and touching.
But I’m also drawn to urban decay, failed architectural utopias and the bleakness they leave in their wake, and how inhabitants deal with them”, says Langsdorf, “which ultimately compelled me to make these videos.”

“Ville Fantôme/Kinshasa La Belle”, a 9 minute animated video, opens with a black and white view of Kingelez’ “Ville Fantôme”. The only person populating the vast boulevards is a street vendor who balances a stack of egg cartons on his head. As the camera zooms in, a vertical city grows on top of the egg cartons.

In the second part of the video entitled “Kinshasa La Belle”, Langsdorf invokes aerial footage of cities destroyed during World War II, and thus confronts these unabashedly cheerful cityscapes with the grim history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has endured a war that claimed over 5 million lives. In the ensuing scene that shows a collage of rapidly growing abstract shapes combined with actual Kinshasa buildings, he comments on the uncontrolled growth that this city of over 10 million has been experiencing for the last few decades.

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