Skin Deep Territories: first steps

I am exploring a new location, i.e. Pražská Tržnice, as part of my project called Skin Deep Territories (More will be revealed in due time!)

This area, a kind of city within a city, was at one time the main slaughterhouse in Prague. It was opened in 1895 and only stopped being used this way in 1983. At that time it was transformed into a market area, where people come to buy various produce to this day.

You can read more about the history and the genius loci of this place in my essay which was commissioned by the Praque Quadrennial, and is called Visceral Spaces.

This building used to be a meat auction house. Now there is an exhibition of architectural drawings that have been shortlisted for an architectural competition. The winning design has become the vision of things to come: the revamping of this colourful and slightly crumbling place into a slick urban hub.

Now, in spring 2022 it is a strange in-between place: a mishmash of culture and consumerism displaying signs of poverty as well as prosperity. Its atmosphere is curious too, there is a sense of weight: its utilitarian, sinister past is still present here, especially in the underground spaces, where troughs run in the middle of the floor and metal hooks protrude from the walls in rows.

In the current Ukrainian crisis, Pražská Tržnice has also become one of the centres for processing refugees. The crowds are not here anymore, but as I wander around I do encounter mothers with their children, carrying bags of food and clothes.

What follows is some initial visual research. Looking for textures, augmented perspectives, hidden enclaves, overlooked corners. What you see is by no means exhaustive…these are only the first steps.

Above: A glass building used by the theatre company Jatka 78

Below: An intriguing wooden building resembling a kind of boat. Apparently one of the most precious buildings here.

Below: Looking for work

Above: Cirk La Putyka

Later that day I also experience an interactive audio-walk called Invisible Market. It is a production by an immersive theatre group called Pomezi. As I explore with headphones and an ipad, a warm evening arrives, the sun sinks low and casts long shadows as the area becomes empty of people. New secret spaces open up. Smells and textures heighten.

I feel slightly unwell and am unable to fully focus. I find it hard to follow the narrative or the map. Instead I absorb the atmosphere. My state of mind makes it even more difficult to distinguish between the sound coming out of the headphones and the actual ambient sound of the area. I get confused many times and have to take the headphones off to gain some perspective.

It all makes me feel slightly paranoid, but I am enjoying myself.

I perceive the place as if it were one giant theatre set: everything has a role, a purpose, a hidden meaning which excites me and makes me feel unsettled.

The now closed fruit and vegetable market becomes a theatre stage. I watch it in anticipation of a performance.

I leave hall 22 and wander towards the eastern edge of the area, towards a patch of grass in the corner. The grass is a stage and each dandelion scattered across it has a presence of an alien that has just landed here on Earth for the first time.

My task is to find threads of this hidden narrative and start to weave them together into something different. I try to read the language of sensory clues. I have some success. My relationship with the place is becoming little more intimate.

Below: Some of the haunted spaces I encountered

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