Seph Lawless is a self-proclaimed “artivist,” an artist who’s also an activist. As a photographer he dares to enter abandoned spaces, lots and even restricted areas to capture the neglected, crumbling, rotting reality of the lands and communities of the United States. During the event Dwell on Design, Lawless gave a talk in which he discussed his experiences, filling listeners in on his intentions, the aha moments, ultimately a glimmer of hope for the future. With his goal being to make a change and to expose the unseen, his mission, in his words, is to show “the beginning of the end of the greatest economic machine.”
Although that statement doesn’t come lightly, he sees potential in his work as a means for motivation. Revealing the travesty of certain industries, companies or towns that have left spaces to the wayside, is a political tactic that motivates people, governments and businesses to do something about it and make a change. Lawless’ images are “the story of an America that we once knew,” an America we’ve lost, provoking the question, what do we do with what’s lost?
Use it to tell a story.
A similar question was asked during the talk “Hippification of Spaces”: How do we bring and connect people to spaces?
For several years, especially since the economic crisis in 2009, many cities have been experiencing a revitalization, a people’s revolution to reclaim these abandoned spaces. Detroit projects by architecture firm Mcintosh Poris Associates are exemplary: renovating the Woodward Garden Theater; the Heritage Building; the Detroit Foundation Hotel; as well as a public park plan for the East River Front, all while preserving and salvaging original structures or materials. Although Detroit wanted to demolish many buildings, the architects were intent on “preserving narratives relating to people” and demonstrating that a city needs to be exposed to and physically relate to its history through architecture. Without a correlation to the past, a city’s identity is lost. Los Angeles-based R & A Architects also pointed out that if we “remove history and sterilize a place, no one will go.” In the end, it’s seeing what was once forgotten that reminds us of who we were and who we are.