Category:documenta, et al

November 13, 2010

Sea Force One

Christoph Brech is the master of the meaningful tight shot. In Sea Force One, he focuses in on a pair of workers in a small boat who are scrubbing the hull of Francois Pinault's black yacht in front of Punta della Dogana during the 2009 Venice Biennale.

brech_sfo_1.jpg

The work is included in "Portraits and Power: People, Politics & Structures," at Strozzina in Firenze. It is interesting to compare their writeup of the piece--

We do not know who was on board the yacht - possibly François Pinault himself, the famous French luxury goods entrepreneur and primary investor in the new Venetian exhibition area. Brech has turned his camera on a moment that would otherwise have gone unnoticed, deliberately choosing not to record the sumptuous affirmation of wealth of the yacht. It is the contrast between the size of the latter and that of the small boat, or between the black hull of the yacht and the evanescent white of the soap and of the reflections upon the water, that brings out the greatness of the vessel, the actual size of which we do not grasp. The artist succeeds in moving beyond the façade of power and wealth by stopping at its surface. He seems to be suggesting that the strategy for the construction of an image of power may lie in its antirepresentation: i.e., the "myth" of power is created by veiling or concealing the identity of those who hold it.
--with the artist's own:
The yacht Sea Force One is anchored in front of a museum at the Punta della Dogna in Venice. The waves of the lagoon are reflected in the black varnish on the ship´s hull.
From a small boat nearby, workers are cleaning the yacht.
A painting emerges from the broad, white trails of foam on the ship´s dark surface, visible only for a short while until erased by cleansing streams of water.
Once again the reflected waves dapple the yacht.
At first read, I thought Brech's focus on the formalist, painterly abstraction was notably less political than the Florentine curators' interpretation. And damned if it doesn't, in fact, look like a negative inversion of a making of film shot in Franz Kline's studio.

Which immediately reminded me of the interview Felix Gonzalez-Torres did with Rob Storr, which I've reprinted and referenced here several times over the years.

I'm glad that this question came up. I realize again how successful ideology is and how easy it was for me to fall into that trap, calling this socio-political art. All art and all cultural production is political.

I'll just give you an example. When you raise the question of political or art, people immediately jump and say, Barbara Kruger, Louise Lawler, Leon Golub, Nancy Spero, those are political artists. Then who are the non-political artists, as if that was possible at this point in history? Let's look at abstraction, and let's consider the most successful of those political artists, Helen Frankenthaler.

Why are they the most successful political artists, even more than Kosuth, much more than Hans Haacke, much more than Nancy and Leon or Barbara Kruger? Because they don't look political! And as we know it's all about looking natural, it's all about being the normative aspect of whatever segment of culture we're dealing with, of life. That's where someone like Frankenthaler is the most politically successful artist when it comes to the political agenda that those works entail, because she serves a very clear agenda of the Right.

For example, here is something the State Department sent to me in 1989, asking me to submit work to the Art and Embassy Program. It has this wonderful quote from George Bernard Shaw, which says, "Besides torture, art is the most persuasive weapon." And I said I didn't know that the State Department had given up on torture - they're probably not giving up on torture - but they're using both. Anyway, look at this letter, because in case you missed the point they reproduce a Franz Kline which explains very well what they want in this program. It's a very interesting letter, because it's so transparent.


I guess it's the curator's job to overexplain things [?] but Brech's title and his discussion of the work in terms of abstraction is plenty political in itself.

spanish_pavilion_1937_ext.jpg

Worlds Fairs turned out to be the perfect venue for photomurals--they were catchy, usually didactic, packed a visual punch, and got the point across to the shuffling masses. And at least in the 1930s, they looked like the future.

So to a government whose future was being immediately threatened, like the Spanish Republic under siege by Franco and his fascist army, a publicity- and sympathy-generating pavilion at the 1937 Paris Expo literally seemed like a matter of survival.

José Luis Sert and Luis Lacasa designed the small, simple pavilion, which didn't get completed in time for the opening, and which anyway, ended up being overshadowed by the bombastic, dueling pavilions of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia.

So to get attention, a huge photomural/banner of Republican loyalists was hung over the entrance. [Intriguingly, in two of the three most widely circulated photos from the Expo, including the Le Monde photo announcing the opening, the mural is cropped out or coincidentally obscured by a tree branch.] As kk_redax's photo on flickr shows, the photomural was changed periodically:

Sert, Josep Lluis, and Lacasa, Spanish Pavilion at Paris Expo, Photo Panel with Parade formation

Like breakdancing was to gangs, world's fairs were designed as a non-violent means for competitive, conflicting nation states to jockey for supremacy. But the Spanish Civil War pushed the Republican government to a new, urgent level of pavilion-building. The war, which was fought on the ground through media, posters, photos and newspapers [and also guns and bombs], also gave birth to modern photojournalism. And the Paris Expo was the site of Spain's immediate experiement in architecture as military polemic. And then there's the art.

The Republican government sought to garner international support by assembling modern works by sympathetic artists that express powerful and overt political outrage, including a large painting of an upraised fist by Joan Miro . And unveiled on the ground floor was Picasso's Guernica.

guernica_calder_pavilion.jpg

Painted in 24 days in his new Left Bank studio in the spring of 1937, Guernica's duotone palette reflects how Picasso and the rest of the world learned of the Nazis' devastating saturation bombing foray: via newspaper photos and newsreels. Photography had an even more direct impact on the making of Guernica: Picasso asked his companion Dora Maar to document the painting process, and there's a scholarly case that "the tonal variations Picasso observed in Dora's photographs appear to have influenced the development of those in the middle stages of the painting." Though it sets the bar pretty high for the rest, it's not much of a stretch to call Guernica the greatest photomural of the 20th century.

But wait, that's not all! In the Pavilion Guernica was installed next to Mercury Fountain, an abstract, kinetic sculptural tribute to the Almaden region of Spain, which at the time produced the lion's share of the world's mercury. Oh, the fountain was by Alexander Calder. While Guernica's world travels are well known, Mercury Fountain is a Calder whose relocation was both successful and imperative. It currently sits at the Fondacion Miro in Barcelona, sealed behind glass, in order to contain its toxic vapors.

Guernica, meanwhile, is now encased in glass for its own protection.

...The Spanish Pavilion [pbs.org]
A comprehensive post about El Pabellon Espanol, in Spanish [stepienybarno.es]
The Mexican Suitcase, rediscovered Spanish Civil War negatives by Capa, Chim, and Taro [icp.org]

aalto_finn39_stoller.jpg
image: vintage silver gelatin print, signed, Ezra Stoller, 1939, via morehousegallery

Do turning back another chapter or two in the history of enlarged pictures, photomurals, and photomontages, where do they turn up the most [besides/before the Museum of Modern Art]? Expos and World's Fairs. Even more than dioramas, and like the grand cyclorama paintings of earlier eras, giant photos were used by architects--in the service of governments and companies--as modernist, machine age, marketing, mass communication, and propaganda. They were basically highly credible-looking billboards.

None of which is necessarily a bad thing in itself, of course. It's interesting to note, though, who was creating and using them, because for the most part, it was not artists.

Alvar Aalto's Finnish Pavilion at the 1939 World's Fair in New York turns out to have been a stunning and especially instructive example of enlarged photos integrated with modernist architecture. That's it up top in a photo by --let's just say I could just as easily title this whole series, "Everything I Know About Photomurals, I Learned From Ezra Stoller."

aalto_finnpav_sketch.jpg

In a plain, rectangular building, Aalto wrapped a second floor exhibition space with an undulating wood-slatted wall, inset with three rows of giant photos [Aalto's section plan above, via domus, I think] to create a dramatic, infotaining, 52-foot high atrium. A mezzanine restaurant [below] allowed for closer viewing of the photos, which showed, from top down, "Country," "People," and "Work," which culminated, naturally, in the bazaar of real Finnish products underneath.

aalto_finn_proj_stoller.jpg

And what's that box up there hanging dramatically off the wall, besides the key to the photomurals' media context and appeal? It's a projection booth. Films, presumably on the subject of Finland's awesomeness, were projected onto the atrium wall above the exit. I can't help but see the effectiveness and popularity of large-scale photos as inextricably driven by architects' attempt to harness the modern media magic of the cinematic experience. And as antecedents for the now-ubiquitous, immersive projection and installation art works. Like steampunk Pipilotti Rist.

1939 Finnish Pavilion info [designboom]

A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from Hal Laessig, a Newark architect, developer, and artist who was a graduate student of Daniel Libeskind's at Cranbrook, and who came back to build three fantastical, fantasy machines for LIbeskind's contribution to the 1986 Venice Architecture Biennale, curated by Aldo Rossi. Titled "Three Lessons of Architecture," the show was an argument-by-metaphorical-object about the post-structuralist concept of architecture-as-text. But the three machines were anything but fantasies: they were incredibly complex, and laboriously and meticulously designed and constructed from the barest possible historical references.

libeskind_3_lessons.jpg

The Reading Machine [l] and The Memory Machine [c] were both based on the 16th century proposals: the former, a design for a multi-book "Reading Wheel" by Agostino Ramelli, and the latter a complete reimagining of the backstage apparatus for Giulio Camillo's "Memory Theatre." The machine Laessig worked on, The Writing Machine [r], is commonly described as a realization of an early 20th century concept by Raymond Roussel, but Laessig explained that the actual design originated with a satirical auto-writing machine in Jonathan Swift's 18th-century classic, Gulliver's Travels. [See this earlier post for more discussion of the Swift reference.]

Anyway, here is the rest of my conversation with Laessig, which I found to be awesome and hilarious, probably because I didn't go to architecture school. The tales of Cranbrook in the 80s and Libeskind as a teacher are almost as interesting as the crazy story of the machines themselves--and the indentured servant grad students who built them. [An editorial note: I didn't take notes during my own talking, so I've paraphrased and compiled Laessig's comments a bit to help the chronological flow.]

G.O: How did you get involved with making these machines for Libeskind in the first place?
H.L: I went to Cranbrook to get my masters in architecture when Daniel Libeskind was there. After I graduated in '84, he called to say he'd been invited by Aldo Rossi to do an entry for the Biennale.

The first idea was to get all his past grad students to come to Cranbook to charrette and figure out what to do. But nobody besides me wanted to come back, so we didn't do that. Then he said he'd already figured out what to do, and that he'd have the students build it.

God bless the Internet and all who surf upon her. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about what I thought was an esoteric topic, even for greg.org: the fantastical lost machines from "Three Lessons of Architecture," Daniel Libeskind's exhibition at the 1986 Venice Architecture Biennale.

libeskind_writing_machine.jpg

And yet, within hours of posting about them, I got an email from one of the guys who had been Libeskind's grad student at Cranbrook and who had built and installed the machines. Hal Laessig is now artist/architect/developer in Newark, and he was gracious enough to share his stories from the "Three Lessons" project, and from Libeskind-era Cranbrook. They range from insightful to hilarious to outrageous, and I'm working on putting our interview together right now.

In the mean time, here's a clarification about the references for the machine Laessig oversaw, the Writing Machine, which I had incorrectly described as being inspired by Raymond Roussel's Reading Machine.

As it's described here, at the very bottom of this ancient article on hypertext, the Reading Machine Roussel exhibited in 1937 was basically a book on a Rolodex. Color-coded tabs helped the reader navigate through multiple layers of cross-references and footnotes. Interesting, but nothing at all to do with the form of Libeskind's version, which took its inspiration from somewhere else entirely.

September 11, 2010

'We Who Change The World'

rem_time_designboom.jpg
"My cover would go right here." [image via]

Just like the Wallace Sayre quip about academic politics being so vicious because the stakes are so low, maybe the hubris and self-regard are so extraordinary because it's the Venice Architecture Biennale. Anyway, let's call it out quickly, and then look at what Rem Koolhaas has to say about modernism and preservation, because there may be some interesting things there.

[The text, by the way, is Designboom's exhaustive 4-part guided tour (II, III, IV, pending) of "Chronocaos," the OMA/AMO installation of research and history-related projects within Kazuyo Sejima's exhibition.]

So. Hubris. Well, for starters, there's the introductory wall text, which, wow:

Architects--we who change the world--have been oblivious or hostile to the manifestations of preservation the past. Since 1981, in Portoghesi's "Presence of the Past," there has been almost no attention paid to preservation in successive architecture Biennales.
I mean, I'm sure the visitors to the exhibition just ate that up, but should I even be reading it, much less commenting on it? Not being either an architect OR one who changes the world and all?

Then there's the photo above, and its associated text:

The rise of the market economy has meant the end of the architect as a credible public figure.

Since Philip Johnson in 1979, no architect has appeared on the cover of TIME magazine.

Starchitects accepted a faustian bargain where they became more prominent, but their role less significant ...

We'll get to that public/market economy stuff in a minute; first let's look at this Cover of TIME [CoTIME] business, which is as alluring as it is non-credible. [I was about to say "useless," but really, it's quite useful; it just illustrates something other than what I think Koolhaas intends.]

As it happens, Jonathan Franzen's CoTIME this week gave Craig Ferhman the chance to do a similar CoTIME analysis for writers:

Time put 14 authors on its cover in the 1920s, 23 in the 1930s, seven in the 1940s, 11 in the 1950s, 10 in the 1960s, eight in the 1970s, four in the 1980s, four in the 1990s, one in the 2000s, and, now, Franzen in 2010.
Ferhman finds that behind the cover, TIME's profiles of writers are truncated, shallow, reductivist, or otherwise nearly empty of actual content. He cites multiple examples of writers resisting the--what else to call it?-- "faustian bargain" of a CoTIME, which was long considered uncritical, low-brow, and hypey. The cover becomes a thing in [and of] itself, a distillation of the magazine's--and by direct extension, its owner's--desire to assert authority and control over a cultural agenda.

In this light, and given the close tracking between architects' and writers' presence on the cover, one might be led to wonder if it's not architecture [or literature] which has changed in the last 20-30 years, but TIME and its own role or strategy as a megaphone for culture. Or to question the suitability for a democratic society of monolithic, top-down annointing of public figures' credibility. That one would not be Rem Koolhaas, though.

In any case, CoTIME reveals as little about the reported "end of the architect as a public figure" as it does about the ego-driven architect's desire to, well, to appear on the cover of TIME.

And yet. You know, this is right where I was going to acknowledge and explore OMA/AMO's more salient points, about how, as Designboom puts it,

...this year represents the perfect friction point between two directions: the world's ambition to rescue larger and larger territories of the planet, and the global rage to eliminate the evidence of the post-war period of architecture as a social project. both tendencies--preservation and destruction--are seen to slowly destroy any sense of a linear evolution of time.
But I think I'll take those up later. Because I just clicked through to see the CoTIME of the architect I thought would be the least likely candidate for a credible public figure in his day: a January 1963 story on Minoru Yamasaki.

yama_time_cover63.jpg

1963. Which turned out to be pegged to his recent selection to design a 15-acre site for the Port Authority in downtown Manhattan:

What form the project may be taking in Yamasaki's inventive mind is his secret, but simple arithmetic shows that the vast space needs and limited site could force him to record heights or bulk. One thing the center will not be is harsh or cold. In taking the road to Xanadu, Yamasaki has turned office buildings, schools, churches and banks into gentle pleasure palaces that are marvelously generous in spirit. He shuns monuments. He is suspicious even of masterpieces, which he feels often better serve the ego of their creators than the well-being of those who use them. He may have committed some architectural heresies, but if he has, it is largely because he is a humanist with enormously appealing aspirations. He wants his buildings to be more than imposing settings for assorted clusters of humanity; they should also recall to man the "gentility of men." should inspire "man to live a humanitarian, inquisitive, progressive life, beautifully and happily." However the Trade Center turns out, it will have that ideal-- and it will be built with the ultimate degree of loving care.
It's hard or impolitic to remember how reviled Yamasaki's buildings were as architecture and as part of the city. But I don't think anyone would dare argue about the World Trade Center that it was their architect who changed the world.

People meet in architecture
via la_biennale

So Venice is not a total bust. Raumlaborberlin have installed their 2006 mobile inflatospace sculpture, „Das Küchenmonument," in the Giardini.

raumlabor_generator.jpg

And next to it is The Generator, an on-site workshop for knocking together "sedia veneziana," which are not just autoprogettazione-style chairs...

12. Mostra Internazionale di Architettura - La Biennale
via br1dotcom

they're "future particles of the generator-space-structure," modular building elements of both social space and structure. autoprogettazione stacking chairs. Awesome.

sedia_veneziana.jpg

Which, of course, is related to their exhibition for Arc en Reve in Bordeaux last year, "Chaise Bordelaise."

raumlabor_chaise_bord.jpg

"Chaise Bordelaise" consisted of a 3x3x1m pile of pre-cut, reclaimed lumber, instructions, and some tools. Visitors made some chaises, then took them home.

raumlabor_chaise_enrt.jpg

It's basically an Enzo Mari x Felix Gonzalez-Torres mashup. If greg.org had tags, this post would be giving me a tagasm right now.

Raumlaborberlin: what's up? exhibitions [raumlabor.net via archinect]
Chaise Bordelaise [raumlabor.net]
related: proposta per un' auraprogettazione

September 2, 2010

Venetian Mirror

P1140640
via tsaaby

Yeah, so I'd been poking around flickr for a while, looking to see how MOS's project for the US Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale turned out. Because well, because.


via Erika-Milite

And hmm. What is it about it? The green straps? Should the weather balloons have been upside-down, so gnarly knots and straps take a backseat, and the smoother, more reflective surface is visible instead of pointing to the sky? Maybe instead of straps, string a net across the courtyard, and attach the balloons from above, or maybe let the balloons float up against it to find their own structure?

12. Mostra Internazionale di Architettura - La Biennale
via
br1dotcom

Do the balloons just not have enough gas, or enough gores?

Because right now, I'm rethinking my entire satelloony look.

August 24, 2010

CityLAB's Duck & Cover

cityLab-duck_cover_gmap.jpg

And in other Venice Biennale of Architecture exhibition news: cityLAB, Dana Cuff and Roger Sherman's architecture think tank at UCLA, is also in the US Pavilion show, Workshopping. One of the projects they're apparently showing is called Duck & Cover, which appears to be a community garden in the form of a giant Google logo visible from Google Earth.

Looks awesome, but wait, are those mirrors up there? Magnifying glasses? Spiral escalators to nowhere? Also, isn't the G a little self-referential for Google? I'd think they could get 'er done quicker if they sell the structure's shape to the highest bidder. Or make it a Q for Quimby.

cityLAB [workshopping.us]
previously: heads up: roof as nth facade

mos_def_satelloons.jpg

MOS, of the PS1's woolly mammoth carcass MOSes, is one of seven architecture firms and collaboratives included in "Workshopping: an American Model for Architectural Practice," at the Venice Architecture Biennale. The exhibit is curated by Michael Rooks of the High Museum and Jonathan Solomon of 306090.

mos_venice.jpg

The idea is to creat a canopy of spherical Mylar weather balloons in the courtyard of the US Pavilion. From MOS's project text:

if you've seen the structure, i'm sure you're wondering, 'why is it made out of helium balloons, why does it make a canopy, why is there seating, etc... is it referencing other projects? is it analogical? is it utopian? is it micro-? is it urban? is it domestic, what is it? is this even architecture?' (unfortunately, we can't answer that last question. this type of project is like diet-architecture, a copy without the calories. it's got a sort of bitter aftertaste that you might grow accustomed to, or you might not. that's ok. we like fake architecture.)

we've been wondering, what kind of architecture would haruki murakami make? well, when we finally write our text we would definitely tell you that it does, indeed, mean something and it does reference things, but why would you really want to know all of that anyway? do you really think it would make it better? I mean, what about just enjoying this weird artifice, this fake social space? hey, it wiggles. look at this strange alternate environment made of reflections and repetitions. enjoy the visual noise. have you ever seen N.A.S.A.'s echo project? google it. what can we say, we just love the aesthetics of radar reflectors and inflated satellites. they are of another reality. seriously, even if we wanted to fully explain it to you at this very moment, we couldn't. even though we're trying not to be, we're only human. also, they need this text before we've finished the design. did we mention that we are working with the son of andy warhol's 'silver clouds' fabricator? we're very excited about this. he lives in duluth. [emphasis added because, well]

So just Google, aesthetics, and a flip three degrees of Andy Warhol reference and voila, instant pavilion! I can't wait to see what their actual text is. The exhibition opens Thursday.

MOS, Instant Untitled [designboom, thanks john]
Workshopping.us [workshopping.us]

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Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

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Category: documenta, et al

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