With irony & humour, Dora Budor transforms architectural expectations
Dora Budor studied architecture but now practices as a visual artist, critiquing & commenting upon our 21st century built environment. Steve Taylor visited a solo exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary in which the artist takes a minimalist & cutting vantage to hostile architecture, neoliberal excess & the stark normalities of our architectural landscape.

At Nottingham Contemporary, a new show of work by New York based, Croatian born Dora Budor, titled Again, finds itself in a physically sympathetic container for the images of an artist whose work is steeped in the urban transformations and transgressions of neoliberal capitalism. In designing the Nottingham gallery, its architects, Caruso St John, deliberately set out to create spaces that echoed “the variety and specificity of the found spaces of a factory or a warehouse,” particularly the artist-run spaces of downtown 1960s New York. The practice’s website references the artists Gordon Matta-Clark (see 00002) and Trisha Brown, “whose work was directly engaged with the spaces of the city,” as integral to the creative genesis of the project.

Externally, the gallery’s design purposefully engages with the street through an enormous, screen-proportioned window that forms one side of the second gallery showing Budor’s new works. It looks out onto Nottingham’s High Pavement, on the same level as the gallery’s entrance, situated on what is effectively its third floor. Below that, and set into a steep cliff, are spaces that link the higher and lower levels of the city; the building is literally embedded in the urban fabric.


These spatial specifics matter, not only because Budor herself trained as an architect before turning to art, but in relation to the work on show in Nottingham and the concerns that it – somewhat slyly and obliquely – articulates: contested issues like hostile architecture; the relentless privatisation of public space; the complicity of (some) architects and architecture in muting the violence of gentrification; and the endless extraction of value from contemporary cities.

Although she tends to wear it lightly, Budor clearly knows her critical urban theory and its associated fields (the exhibition’s introductory text references Foucault’s concept of “pastoral power”) and her face lights up when I mention in conversation the great Marxist geographer David Harvey. One of the exhibited works, Always Something to Remind Me (2023), consists of a smelted down New York bank-funded Citibike, and acts as a materialisation of revisionist feminist art history – Budor cast the molten alloy into a mould taken from Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven’s Enduring Ornament, an artwork that contests Duchamp’s claim to have exhibited the first readymade – and an exemplary instance of Deleuzian de/reterritorialization.


Despite those reference points, both explicit and implicit, it would be a mistake to read Budor’s artworks as straightforward commentary or polemic. Everything in the city that grabs her attention undergoes a material transformation, sometimes to the point of becoming unrecognisable, or at least visually unrelatable to its original matter. One would be hard pressed to decipher the three pieces entitled Dominoes (2023), which are spread across the show’s two rooms, as commentary on the use of antidepressants in the “regulation of subjectivity” without recourse to the brief but thorough exhibition guide (which its author, co-curator Nicholas Tammens, describes it as an integral element of the show).

The tablets themselves have been replaced by placebos, which have been reduced by frottage using an abrasive cloth to ghostly smears behind plexiglass. Budor used a similar technique in a previous series, Love Streams (2022) which seemed to provoke art critics into flights of theoretical fancy, of which declaring “the emergence of psychoanalytic art” was just the tip of a massive textual iceberg. What emerges from Dominoes is, dare one say it, a kind of beauty. Each piece’s form, a diptych of connected images set against artfully contrasted block colour backgrounds, could be construed as a critique of gallery-friendly image-making, or alternatively, as a desirable example of it.


Again highlights Budor’s material agnosticism; in a show consisting of just seven works, she ranges through metal casting, video, frottage, cardboard sculpture, and a gentle intervention into the gallery building itself in the form of Untitled (2024), in which a glass door normally used for incoming and outgoing freight is kept ajar by a wooden wedge to facilitate the building’s serendipitous informal role as a shortcut for pedestrians moving between the city’s upper and lower levels. It functions as a sort of three-dimensional concrete version of Michel de Certeau’s desire lines, everyday pathways through the city determined by its users privileged over the routes proscribed by urban planners and other authorities.

Something similar is going on in Passive Recreation (2024), Budor’s video shot in Little Island, a park on Manhattan’s West Side birthed from an unholy union between British designer Thomas Heatherwick and billionaire US media mogul Barry Diller, although this time her mode is one of wry critical observation rather than physical intervention. The park, built on land once occupied by the indigenous Lenape people, is designed to “create an immersive experience with nature and art,” which translates as a backdrop for tourists and content producers, whom Budor – as she tells me with a barely supressed chuckle – filmed in driving rain to capture their convoluted attempts to shoot the park from under flapping, enveloping capes, waterproofs, and hats.

Budor might be excused from feeling that there’s no escaping Heatherwick, even in Nottingham, where she lived for a period in late 2024 developing the work for this show. He’s also been busy in the city, where his vision (he seems to have a lot of these) for regenerating the extensive Broad Marsh area of the city was initially embraced by the council, only to wither in the harsh light of financial reality, with the local authority since declaring technically bankruptcy in December 2023.


Crises and ruptures in urban planning, regeneration, and development, which closely mirror similar disruptions in so-called advanced economies, are a frequent theme in Budor’s work. Less pristinely modernist structures than Nottingham Contemporary have afforded her opportunities to make far more disruptive interventions into the processes of construction and rebuilding than simply keeping a door ajar. Her 2019 show I Am Gong at the Kunsthalle Basel channelled sound from the renovation of the nearby Musiksaal by Herzog and de Meuron into the gallery, in a way that obscured its source. The result was a disorienting real-time accompaniment to Budor’s uncanny autogenic artworks, composed of the other, invisible, structure’s creaks and groans, and the noises generated by the activities of the building workers; the material labour of construction transposed via sound into the immaterial labour of art.

Despite the evident seriousness of her preoccupations and the alchemical weirdness of her transformed objects, Budor’s gaze isn’t lacking in irony and humour. Aside from the face-slapping selfie-attempting visitors to Little Island receive from their sodden, wind-whipped rainwear in Passive Recreation, Again features a series of wall mounted sculptural forms of various lengths entitled A.U.D. (I-IV) (2023), objects that are inexplicable without their accompanying text. They turn out to be reproductions of an early example of hostile architecture, urine deflectors installed in Clifford’s Inn Passage, an alleyway off London’s Fleet Street. Unsuspecting drinkers, staggering along the passageway in the dark and desperate to relieve themselves, would find their outpourings redirected straight back onto their own shoes. There are many ways to call out urban features deliberately designed to prevent the homeless from sleeping, children from playing, or citizens from exercising their democratic rights, but Budor chooses to eschew blaming or polemicising, finding her own ways to alert us to how the architects (both figurative and literal) of urban environments alienate us from the places in which we live, work, and play. How she does that in this instance, prefiguring the absurdity of these devices’ more malevolent contemporary successors, is to take the piss.

Dora Budor (b. 1984, Croatia) is a New York-based artist and writer. Her recent solo exhibitions include Kunsthaus Bregenz (2022), GAMeC Bergamo (2022), Progetto (2021), Kunsthalle Basel (2019), 80WSE (2018), and Swiss Institute (2015). Her work has been presented in numerous group exhibitions, including Migros Museum, Zürich (2021); Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin, (2021); Kunstmuseum Winterthur (2021); MoMA Warsaw (2020); MO.CO Panacée, Montpellier (2020; 2018); Kunstverein Nuernberg (2019), Kunsthalle Biel (2018); Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark, (2017); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2017); K11 Art Museum, Shanghai (2017); MOCA Belgrade (2017); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2016); Swiss Institute, New York (2016); Museum Fridericianum, Kassel (2015), Halle für Kunst und Medien, Graz (2015).
She participated in the 59th Venice Biennale: The Milk of Dreams (2022), 58th October Salon | Belgrade Biennale (2021), Tbilisi Biennale 2021: Oxygen (2021), 2nd Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art (2020); Geneva Sculpture Biennale (2020); 16th Istanbul Biennial (2019); 13th Baltic Triennial (2018); Vienna Biennale (2017); Art Encounters (2017) and 9th Berlin Biennial (2016). Budor was a recipient of the Rema Hort Mann Foundation’s Emerging Artist Prize in 2014 and Pollock Krasner Foundation Grant in 2018. In 2019, she was awarded Guggenheim Fellowship in Fine Arts. She is a regular contributor to art publications, including Mousse magazine and Texte zur Kunst.

Steve Taylor writes about cities, music, arts & culture; features, essays & profiles for print and online magazines. He researches & reports on urban trends for businesses, including architecture firms & design studios. He mentors MA students in the creative arts, alongside researching a PhD on music & urban space.


Again by Dora Budor is on at Nottingham Contemporary until 5 May, with further details available at: www.nottinghamcontemporary.org/whats-on/dora-budor


figs.i,ii,iv Installation views of Again, by Dora Budor at Nottingham Contemporary. © Nottingham Contemporary.
fig.ii Image from Passive Recreation (2024) by Dora Budor, © Dora Budor, Courtesy the Artist & Nottingham Contemporary.

publication date
07 February 2024

Bicycle, Trisha Brown, Dora Budor, Caruso St John, Michel de Certeau, Gilles Deleuze, Barry Diller, Michel Foucault, Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, David Harvey, Thomas Heatherwick, Herzog and de Meuron, Hostile architecture, Humour, Kunsthalle Basel, Little Island, Gordon Matta-Clark, Nottingham, Nottingham Contemporary, Piss, Selfies, Steve Taylor, Nicholas Tammens, Urban design, Urine