Idea del Vehiculo para Indigentes

Pataphysics Magazine Interview with Krzysztof Wodiczko
from the Kitten issue

Pataphysics: Could you tell us something about the formation of the original idea for the Homeless Vehicle?

Krzysztof Wodiczko: It was four years ago when I started to think about the possibilities for this type of emergency tool. The situation in New York since I moved here in '83 has dramatically and increasingly become worse. The cutbacks for public housing since '81 have been about 80%. So for New York City from year to year there has been a very visible, a very clear increase in the number of homeless. But somehow it was not very clear to people that the homeless are products of the same transformation of the city which were also contributing to the so-called revitalization, beautification or re-development of different parts of downtown. Something needed to be done to make the situation clear - to say this was a legitimate problem. Those who are doing better, who are not homeless, see the homeless situation as being something that can be avoided, a waste. I would call the vehicle a new type of 'spleen,' perhaps a postmodern 'spleen' - using the term used by Baudelaire and elaborated by Walter Benjamin, meaning a shock-absorbing mechanism that allows people to live between those homeless, and maybe even be very close to them, but without really recognizing them as people and asking who these people are - on most occasions not even recognizing that they are people who are working, day and night, heavily working, and trying to not only resist but also earn meager income to survive. They are the workers of the city, who are using tools. In other words, among the large population of the homeless there is a significant group of them, not very large in number, but very visible, high-profile people who are strong and who are capable of working day and night collecting bottles and cans. Their position in the city regarding the city by-laws is legal. The law encourages people to return bottles - the bottle law. So I realized that the best way to really make the situation clear to the non-homeless would be to help this group, which is already quite visible, by providing them with a tool which would not be associated with stolen objects, such as shopping carts, but something that would be especially designed for them, and through the increasing presence and mobility of this object it would become both communication and the transport; a vehicle that would articulate the real conditions of work and life and the resistance of this group.

P: What do you consider to be the influences on the design of the object?

KW: I don't see any influences. I might see ironic relationships. For example, an ironic relation to Constructivist or Productivist design. The vehicle is operating on the ruins of a city that has failed to supply and respond to basic things. In this sense it is not a postmodern vehicle, it is a contemporary post-architecture. To a degree it ironically resembles the postmodern forms of the realist-citadels, such as Battery Park City - that is, the citadels of the realist state that are pretending to be cities within the city. These 'cities' are defending themselves from the city. The cities are defending themselves against nomads - nomads who are not coming from outside of the city, but are the product of the city. So that's why, not without some sense of humor, it resembles some of those buildings except that it's positioned horizontally. In fact it has proved to work very well in Battery Park City itself. The guards of this citadel couldn't remove it from the territory for many reasons. The first reason was that the vehicle was legal - it was collecting bottles. Secondly, because it was neat, it was a very precise design, and thirdly, because it was an object for which they could not find a clear definition - in other words the object was somewhere in-between. Something useful, maybe being tested, and something disturbing - something that was defensive. There was no action against it on the part of the confused Battery Park security system.


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