Connecting the Global South

An excerpt from the Third Space catalog by Third Space curator Wassan Al-Khudhairi

Third Space aims to create a place where all voices and perspectives are equally valued. A work central to the exhibition represents a culmination of all the ideas in the exhibition. It was commissioned from Rural Studio at Auburn University.

Based in Hale County, Alabama, in the Black Belt, which is considered one of the poorest counties in the country, Rural Studio is one of the leading design-build architecture programs. Their approach to architecture is one that concerns the responsible use of resources and serving the immediate community through architectural projects.

For Third Space, Acting Director Xavier Vendrell and Professor Stephen Long created a sculpture titled 2x’s (2016), which takes its inspiration from Rural Studio’s 20K home, a project that started in 2005 to respond to the lack of affordable housing for people living under government subsidy. All labor and building materials for the 20K project are procured locally, helping to fuel the local economy, particularly the lumber industry, which is a major force in Alabama. In turn, the principal material used in the project is pine, which serves as the structure for each house, a part that is hidden in its rough state and not intended to be seen. The sculpture is composed of the exact amount of lumber in quantity and dimension that it took to build Dave’s Home, one of the early iterations of the 20K project.

For the construction of this sculpture, the lumber was not cut or manipulated, and only screws were used to connect the pieces; thus, after the exhibition ends the sculpture will be disassembled and the lumber will be transported to Hale County to be used in the building of a 20K home. This represents the cyclical nature of materials and using architecture as a form of activism.

Third Space from its inception was an exhibition that proposed using Birmingham and the region of the American South as a starting point for looking out into the world. Critically thinking about the context of the American South while looking beyond the region enabled the search for possibilities of a shared human experience. The exhibition does not claim to make definite analogies but aims to propose suggestions, connections, and similarities. It places the audience in the position of drawing their own conclusions, prompting each visitor to ask questions of the works of art with the assertion Third Space/shifting conversations about contemporary art that individual perspectives and experiences allow for the discovery of a variety of connections. The affinities among the works—and among the American South and Global South—are activated by the presence of the visitor.