Elian Somers

archieven - artistiek onderzoek - fotografie - video - installatie

With a background in photography and architecture, Elian Somers investigates the urban utopian landscape, in particular the interplay between architecture and urbanism, ideologies and (geo)politics.
Since 2007 she has been working on long-term projects, such as A Stone from the Moon (2015-2022), One and Another State of Yellow (2013-2017), Border Theories (2009-2013), California City (2010-2012) and Droom als er ooit een was (2006-2008). In these projects she is in search of constructed realities and truths, hidden and virtual histories, and the utopian experiment. Multiple realities, histories and truths intermingle in her works.
The works can be perceived as critical tools for understanding and figuring out the present and the future. Through the combination of photography, cartography and archival materials - from documented and accepted knowledge sources to their undocumented, ungraspable and controversial counterparts - alternative and unexpected perspectives on reality, truth and history are brought to light and generated.

A Stone from the Moon (2015-2022) - The project A Stone from the Moon investigates historical, contemporary and future geopolitical power struggles and ideologies, and the role of architecture and urban planning in this context. A Stone from the Moon consists of two works, video installations based on photography and archival imagery: Ecumenopolis and Capital City. Both works investigate blueprints for a city of the future - in and outside the context of an ideological and geopolitical power struggle.
Filmstill A Stone from the Moon – Ecumenopolis (2015-2022) - The work Ecumenopolis departs from the so-called Cultural Cold War, in which East and West tried to extend their spheres of influence by means of art and culture. In 1967 it was revealed that many western Cultural Cold War activities were funded by the CIA. A similar Cultural Cold War battle took place in the field of architecture, in which East and West tried to extend their spheres of influence by means of export-urbanism. Within this framework, in America, modernist architecture and urban planning - as a counterpart of Soviet social realism - were considered to be a powerful instrument in Cold War poli¬tics, to fight the War on Communism and to spread the American values of freedom and democracy. An important figure in this context was the Greek architect and urban planner Constantinos Doxiadis (1913-1975). Doxiadis planned and built many cities throughout the world, a.o. Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan. Besides playing an important role within the American export-urbanism, Doxiadis worked on his own mission. This so-called ekistic mission was based on his scientific theory ekistics, the science of human settlements, and was eventually to evolve into a blueprint for Ecumenopolis, a world-encompassing city of the future (2150). In the late 1950s, for his ekistic mission, Doxiadis set up an interdisciplinary and scientific field and network, in which the so-called Delos Symposia played an important role. In the summers of 1963 to 1975, twelve Delos Symposia took place, during which Doxiadis and an interdisciplinary network of inspirational fellows, the so-called Delians, sailed the Aegean Sea, and circled the island of Delos and its ancient Greek city. In order to envision the urban future, the Delians were to travel back in time. The work Ecumenopolis (a video installation based on photographic and archival imagery) connects the archaeological setting of the island and the ancient Greek city of Delos with the fictional city of the future Ecumenopolis. As the story unfolds, two different perspectives are interweaved on Doxiadis and his Delians, drawing both on official archives celebrating his architecture as a practice beyond politics, and on alternative sources that trace a more complex context - the context of the Cultural Cold War, an ideological and geopolitical power struggle. The video installation Ecumenopolis was shown at the duo exhibition The Streets Are our Brushes, the Squares our Palettes at Pennings Foundation, Eindhoven.
Filmstill A Stone from the Moon – Capital City (2015-2022) - The work Capital City investigates the evolution of Eurasia as a geographical, cultural and (geo)political concept, and a city of the future, Capital City, in the heart of Eurasia. In 2005 the president of post-communist Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev (1991-2019), wrote the manifesto The Heart of Eurasia, about Astana, the new futuristic capital of Kazakhstan. Astana (Capital City in English) is situated in the Kazakh steppe and has been built from scratch since the early 2000s. Nursultan Nazarbayev - a Eurasianist thinker who initially invented the idea for a Eurasian Union in 1994 - took the role of founder and architect of Astana. He did not only envision the new capital city he erected in the Kazakh steppe as the centre of Kazakhstan, but the heart of a larger area as well: Eurasia. With Capital City he made his Eurasianism manifest as a concrete reality as well as a utopian project with much wider ramifications. The work Capital City (a video installation based on photography) shows various perspectives on reality around Nazarbayev’s mission, his Eurasianism and his city of the future, Capital City. Speaking from the near future, a voiceover connects Nazarbajev’s Eurasianism with earlier ideas from Classical Eurasianism or Left-wing Eurasianism from just after the Russian Revolution, as well as a new Eurasianism which is deeply entwined with the Kremlin today. The cyclical narrative underscores how, over the past hundred years, the idea of Eurasia continues to be resurrected, while the underlying visions and geopolitical implications reveal significant shifts. The video installation Capital City was shown at the duo exhibition The Streets Are our Brushes, the Squares our Palettes at Pennings Foundation, Eindhoven.
One and Another State of Yellow (2017) - The artist book One and Another State of Yellow by Elian Somers studies the interplay between urban planning, ideologies and psychological warfare around two landscapes of ‘war’ in the United States of America: El Paso on the United States-Mexico border and Washington DC, its capital city. Both the landscapes of El Paso and Washington DC are in the grasp of all kind of plans, systems and thought experiments which give various perspectives on reality – both from the field of architecture and urban planning, as from the field of strategic planning. Published by Fw:Books / Design by Hans Gremmen / Texts by Elian Somers, Francien van Westrenen / Edition of 300 / 24×33,5 cm / ISBN 978-94-90119-50-8
A Little World of Peace (2016) - The work A Little World of Peace was commissioned by TENT, Rotterdam. A Little World of Peace is about the city of Rotterdam and its utopian imagination. Rotterdam can be seen as a large construction site and ongoing urban planning machine. Within this framework, one of Rotterdam’s last paradise-like spots, the island Eiland van Brienenoord, has been subjected to all kinds of utopian plans over the years. A Little World of Peace investigates the imagination and realisation of the real estate utopia on and around Eiland van Brienenoord. On the one side of the island the real estate fraud project Solaris becomes visible, on the other side the real estate dream Little Manhattan rises on the horizon. The title of the work refers to a utopian plan for a Disney-like amusement park on the island, A Little World of Peace. This plan for Rotterdam anno 1985, published in 1973 in the newspaper Het Vrije Volk, can also be interpreted entirely different; as manifestation of a real estate utopia. A Little World of Peace was shown at the exhibition Utopian Dreams in TENT, Rotterdam.
Border Theories (2009-2013) - The project Border Theories investigates the Socialist Utopia and the writing and rewriting of history in the (urban) landscape by means of architecture. The work reflects on the historiography and construction of identity in three Soviet urban experiments on the remotest border zones of the former Soviet Union: Birobidzhan, Kaliningrad and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. The experiments originated within the context of enclaves, closed areas, border conflicts and wars, forced depopulation and repopulation. All three experiments have histories that are open to multiple interpretations; the Jewish, Prussian and Japanese history respectively as well as the (virtual) Soviet historical narrative. The work queries the way in which urban planning and architecture are employed as political instruments to write, rewrite and manipulate history in the (urban) landscape. The investigation of three urban experiments in the outer border zones of the former Soviet Union raises many questions. Every question generates new questions. What is reality? What is truth? What happened - and happens - in the wetlands of Birobidzhan, the taiga around Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and the urban landscape of Kaliningrad? The wetlands aren't just the wetlands, the taiga isn't just the taiga. Soviet Kaliningrad was founded in 1945 on top of the ruins of the Prussian city of Köningsberg. Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk was established on the layout of the Japanese city of Toyohara in 1945. Soviet Birobidzhan was founded on formerly Chinese lands, that were designated by Stalin in the 1930's to become a Soviet Jewish Utopia. In the late 1940's Stalin began his war against the Jews, and Birobidzhan was Russified in the process. The installation and publication Border Theories consist of photography, archival materials and fragments from newspaper articles. The texts provide intermingled perspectives on these border landscapes, their architecture, ungraspable identities and layered histories that are open to multiple interpretations. In 2013 the exhibition Border Theories was shown at Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam, besides this the book Border Theories was launched.
Border Theories (2013) - The artist book Border Theories is the result of the artistic investigation Elian Somers undertook into the interplay of ideology, history and urban planning in three cities on the extreme boundaries of Russia. Photographs and texts cast light on the shadowy zone between plan and reality in Birobidzhan, Kaliningrad and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, and the way in which urban planning is employed as a political instrument to write – and rewrite – history in the landscape. Published by Fw:Books / Design by Hans Gremmen / Texts by Elian Somers, Kerstin Winking and Hester van Gent / Edition of 500 / 24x34 cm / ISBN 978-94-90119-19-5
California City (2010-2012) - The work California City can be seen as the starting point of a larger research on the neoliberal utopia and the urban neoliberal experiment. Photography and text unfold intermingling perspectives on a sociologist’s ideological dream on community theory versus the same sociologist’s intentional construction of a real estate bubble. Next to this a compiled cartographic GIS work casts light on a parallel reality stressing California City’s contemporary landownership. On the one hand the map shows an empty desolate community, on the other hand a flourishing landscape of tax income. In the early 1950’s, Mendelsohn, a Czech born sociologist, envisioned a plan to develop a catchment area for the human overflow from Los Angeles and San Francisco. He bought 330 km2 of land in order to experiment with community planning and development theories. Construction of his dream began, with laying out a massive grid with 52,000 plots, highways, cul-de-sacs, street signs and power- and waterlines. A Central Park, a lake, a golf course were constructed and model housing was erected. California City, situated in the Mojave Desert, was incorporated in 1965 and eventually became the 3rd largest city in California in area and the 34th largest in the entire USA. Today, amidst Edwards Air Force Base, two car testing centers, a Space Shuttle airstrip, an open pit mine and a high security prison, Mendelsohn’s city reflects the American Dream as a failure as well as a new pioneers Utopia.
One of a Set of Parallel Lines (2012) - The work One of a Set of Parellel Lines reflects on the utopian models of war that have been developed for the harbour cities of Rotterdam and Wilhelmshaven (DE) since their early years. The work investigates the thinking underlying these models, as well as how concepts of defense and war strategy have been the starting point for urban development throughout the years. Emporer Wilhelm founded Wilhelmshaven in the 19th century as Germany’s future Kriegshafen. In the 1930’s Wilhelmshaven was incorporated in the fortification strategy of the Third Reich. In 1946, the British Allies planned to sink the entire city of Wilhelmshaven, the so-called Flood plan. It became the city’s turning point in history. One of a Set of Parallel Lines was commissioned by Kunsthalle Wilhelmshaven and shown at the exhibition Learning from… Rotterdam at the Kunsthalle Wilhelmshaven in 2012.
Droom als er ooit een was (2006-2008) - The work Droom als er ooit een was / A dream if there ever was one refers to the book L'An 2440, rêve s'il en fut jamais (Louis Sébastien Mercier, 1771). The work questions the post-war utopian, modernist cityscape, which has been (apparently) universally planned all over the world. The starting point in the work is The Netherlands, where, in the early 2000s, the post-war modernist cityscape was being rapidly demolished and scapegoated for the social malfunctioning of these areas. This demolition does not just mean a disappearance of the architectural environment, but also the ways of thinking that underpinned it.