Krista Svalbonas

Chicago, Illinois, USA

I have a longstanding interest in architecture, particularly urban environments. My work has dealt with low-income housing complexes; modernist architectural ideals, drawing from Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, and Soviet architecture; and the phenomenology of space. I am fascinated by the language of spatial relationships and by the effect of architectural form and structure on the psychology of the human environment. My cultural background as an ethnically Latvian/Lithuanian artist informs this interest. My parents spent many years after the end of World War II in displaced-person camps in Germany before they were allowed to emigrate to the United States. Their childhood memories were of temporary structures, appropriated from other (often military) uses to house tens of thousands of postwar refugees. My family’s displacement is part of a long history of uprooted peoples for whom the idea of “home” is contingent, in flux, without permanent definition and undermined by political agendas beyond their control. Their relatives who remained in the Soviet-occupied Baltics lived through a complete cultural and architectural transformation: cultural buildings repurposed into warehouses, churches demolished, town centers allowed to fall into decay. New constructions were made cheaply: no insulation, inadequate plumbing and heating.

My connection to this history has made me acutely aware of the impact of politics on architecture, and in turn on a people’s daily lived experience. My work explores architecture’s relationship to cultural identity, social hierarchy, and psychological space. I often incorporate the exhibition environment into a phenomenological discourse of space that focuses on our subjective experience of architecture as positive and negative space as well as exterior and interior space. Geometry often comes into play when generating my work. Integral to each series is extensive photographic documentation where I often break down architectural forms into their “geometric building blocks.”  Geometry, color, proportion and scale are part of the visual elements used to address my interest in architecture, cultural history and home.

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