Some Profound Misunderstanding at the Heart of What Is
Alongside Rachel O’Reilly's The Gas Imaginary, we’ve produced some drawings that are currently showing in “Some Profound Misunderstanding at the Heart of What Is” at Hedah Contemporary Art Space in Maastricht until Feb 23. Detailed information here.
Rachel O’Reilly’s The Gas Imaginary is an artistic research project exploring the mechanical ideology, linguistic creativity, and technocultural patterning surrounding the large-scale speculative installation of unconventional gas extraction, through conceptual writing and installation formats. ‘Unconventional’ gas extraction (aka ‘fracking’) is taken as a new rhizomatic territorial formation and corporate land art, which manifests a conceptual cut in the political imagination of mining and citizenship.
Above: Drawings and texts @ Hedah (L), Territorial drawing of fracking wells capturing the rhizomatic/lateral over-ground reach and breaching, of a practice that was formerly imaged underground (R).
Through this technology and industry, indebted governments expose disenfranchised rural but increasingly urban populations to speculate on their own health and futures: through compensatory leasing arrangements, temporary industry employment and privatised infrastructure delivery aimed at the social licensing of environmental injustice.
Above: Section of the Earth to show different mining methods (L), underground mine workers in a shaft, female idolaters looking down into the image (R).
This project continues our research into contemporary cultural and economic contexts through the documentation (and design) of spatial matter using digital processes. Using drafting software to diagram ‘unconventional’ political alliances and emotions within complex settler ecologies of labour and material inheritance, the diagrams we’ve produced—alongside Rachel’s writings—present the challenges that ‘unconventional’ extraction poses—at the level of the imaginary—to late liberal conceptions of place and territory, property and governance.
Above: People lying down on road stopping the literal flow of a truck/pipe/dozer etc.(L), woman standing in the water, gas particles swirling around her head, while a man floats away standing on a marlin (R).
Above: Rachel O’Reilly’s The Gas Imaginary Formats. Father away on a marlin form. / My actual seeing cannot come to the aid of / thinking by providing an / adequate outward image. / Water is the substrate upon which signs are momentary.
The wider exhibition represents the interests at hand of the ‘Moving Images of Speculation’ Inlab at the Jan Van Eyck Academie. The Inlab explores the valorisation of fictional power that has become central to cinema after Fordism by linking post-cinematic form and finance.
The collective effort of the exhibition outputs form and language links between thought and money—cognition and economics—with an investment in the performing aspects of financialised systems further in sub-thought.
Additional curatorial consultation, Jelena Vesic.
Artistic advisors: Bik van der Pol.
Inlab Participants: Oliver Bulas, Marcel Dickhage, Filip Van Dingenen, Stefano Faoro, Jan Hoeft, Julia Kul, Sonja Lau, Catherine Lommee, Valle Medina, Rachel O’Reilly, Vijai Patchineelam, Benjamin Reynolds, Alessandra Saviotti, Cathleen Schuster, Jelena Vesic.
Images from the exhibition:
Above: Jan Hoeft’s Exit Strategy 1 – Exercise 2013.
Above: a fragment of Jelena Vesic’s and Vijai Patchineelam’s durational photography collaboration Artists at work (Restaged), 2014.
Above: Zachary Formwalt's In Place of Capital, 2009
Above: Vijai Patchineelam’s Negligência de Hemispatial / Hemispatial Neglect, 2013
Above: Cathleen Schuster’s and Marcel Dickhage’s Gesten einer Arbeit/Gestures of a work, 2012.
Above: Julia Kul’s KUL VIX INDEX, 2014.
Images from Saturday’s exhibition roundtable at Hedah with guests Sven Lütticken and Vladimir Jeric:
Above: Liesbeth Bik (L) and Sven Lütticken (R) during the exhibition roundtable.
Above: During the Sven Lütticken’s opening plenary Filming Speculative Capital.
Above: During Vladimir Jeric’s contribution/response Speculative Mining Company.
Thank you to those who have provided additional photographs.
()ur Eyes and Photoelasticity
The following is a summary of our ongoing investigation into the relationship between the concentration of stresses in materials and building functions. This example looks at photoelasticity.
In order to reveal the stresses, thermoplastic sheets sit between a LCD Screen and a polarising filter of which we vacuum-formed several iterations. The polarising filter only allows light of a specific orientation of oscillations to pass and blocks others.
This experiment follows our other investigations into the production of the ground (in buildings). In the case of Continuous Lodge, we looked at the deformation of material to invite uses that can relate to the physical lineaments of the ground to happen.
Above: The Visible Spectrum as a fraction of the Electromagnetic Spectrum. “We have always been blind”.
Given that photoelasticity uses the visible spectrum to quantify stresses, it inherently gives loose representations of the concentrations. For this reason this analysis technique has been superseded by computer simulations. To this end, photoelasticity hightens the incalculable that exists within all simulations (even in computerised simulations), by using a tiny window on the whole electromagnetic spectrum, the visible.
For almost all of human existence, we constructed the world using the only the visible spectrum (infrared was discovered in 1800), so in that sense we have been blind (Edward Wilson “Consilience”). By linking the material world with the limits of perception, a gap between the complexity of reality and what we can perceive through our senses occurs.
Above: Newton’s prism experiment. John Keats thought that Newton had destroyed poetry after he reduced the rainbow with the prism experiment. In fact the entire EM spectrum and indeed, all of science, offers the poet infinite inspiration beyond what’s perceptible by our eyes.
Above: Early test of thermoplastic deformation according to function.
This test above reveals the contrast between deeper troughs or higher peak areas—where the material is under higher stresses—and the shallower troughs or lower peaks —where minor, and a more even distribution stresses occur.
In the deeper/higher areas, functions to camouflage activities or that require narrow spaces occur. Here, bodies have a heightened experience with materiality. In contrast activities in the the shallower/lower areas receive full exposure given it increased horizontality.
Above: An evaluation of the surface’s smoothness and continuity.
The floorplate is considered as a continuum, differentiated in heights.
Despite the shortcomings of photoelasticity, we’re not declaring this a pseudo-scientific experiment because of its limitations by virtue of visual perception. Instead we’re treating it as a ‘pataphysic experiment where the imaginary constitutes the form, and thus the object exists between virtuality and reality. The process of defining building use deforms the topology.
So a complete object never exists; it survives until AFTER we have arranged the usage of space in our imaginations, but dies BEFORE the physical event…
…then back, and forth; over and over; existing and not existing.
Above: A detail of the visual feedback for the surface’s curvature.
So we are making it using a loop:
… imagination > building usage > surface deformation > photoelastic test > … imagination
Above: View of a temporary installation that reveals the stress concentration in a strategically deformed surface.
Between the results of the photoelastic test and the (re-)definition of building usage, there is a space for the writing of fiction; the space of the imaginary. The loose quantification of the stresses in the material that you are perceiving with your eyes that are limited by the visual spectrum, make a concrete experience of viewing, and as you walk around the surface, the stresses of a real building reveal themselves as both physical and the driver of form.
Above: Another view of the temporary installation.
The presentation was part of the ”What If Salon” at Jan van Eyck Academie, Maastricht on 14 January, 2014 at 19:00 with Jan Hoeft, Julia Kul, Valle Medina & Benjamin Reynolds, Oscar Santillan, Alessandra Saviotti, Filip Van Dingenen and Yeb Wiersma. Invited guests for the evening were Francesca Grilli, Nigel Harle, Ludo Hellemans and Kurt Schaefer.
Above: A pause in the Evening (thanks Marcel).
For more information about the “What-If Salon” see the following: http://www.janvaneyck.nl/post/72869390538/what-if-salon-tuesday-14-january-7-p-m-what-if-we
⋉0≅ Part One
⋉0≅ Part Two
Jan van Eyck Academie
6211 KM Maastricht
Part One: Oct 17, 2013. 17:30pm.
Part Two: TBA Nov/Dec, 2013. 17:30pm.
The Sorry Jacket™
Continue reading over at Fulcrum…
Thanks to Jack Self from Fulcrum and Javier Arbona for his contribution.
Thanks to John Ng from the Architectural Association and the Book of Elsewhere for his generosity and contribution on the day, and to the AA First Year students for their enthusiasm and energy.
Public stages for a Bios-politikos
In Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition she describes how an active life is composed of three elements: labour, work and political action. Labour is a non-natural activity of man’s exigency, work provides an “artificiality” to the world of things (all of those that differ from the natural) and action is the only human activity that happens without a mediation between things or material; it belongs to the human condition of plurality such that we inhabit a social world.
During birth of the city-state man would receive, in addition to his private life, a kind of second life—bios politikos—a duty of free men of the polis (the city-state) to “make politics” in order to be known and recognised. From then on every man belonged to two orders of existence and the distinction between between what belonged to him (idion)’1 and what was communal (koinon)’2 was established.
Yet it was man that was public and woman the keeper of the private which accorded a much lower status in Greek life.
The distinction between these realms quite clearly emphasises a distinction between things that should be shown and things that should be hidden. Only in the modern age, with its rebellion against social protocols, have we discovered how rich and manifold the realm of the hidden is, as it bears conditions of intimacy. But it is striking that from the beginning of history to our own time it has always been the Human Side of human existence that was parried into privacy; all things connected with the necessity of life itself, serving the subsistence of the individual and the survival of the species. Hidden away too, were slaves who with their bodies administer to the [bodily] needs of life, and women who with their bodies guarantee the physical survival of the species; hidden away because their lives were “laborious” solely devoted to bodily functions (Arendt 1958).
Further evolution of public and private life we owe to the political sensibility of the Roman people who, unlike the Greeks, never sacrificed the private to the public, but on the contrary understood that these two realms could exist only in the form of coexistence.
Primitive example of undefined privacy: digital 3D reproduction of Chauvet caves of Southern France as appeared in Wegner Herzog´s Cave of Forgotten Dreams. The cave´s raw nature represents both a 30.000 years old public space (perhaps for communal rites) and a home.
Only in the 5th century B.C. Ancient Greek writers orientated the nature of the oikos or home (the basic unit of society and considered by Aristotle as a community that satisfied daily needs) with the polis (which was the city, citizenship or body of citizens). Greek Tragic theatre was the vehicle by which these two realms were addressed and in particular the conflicting interests in terms of property. Both the oikos and polis desired to be states of autarchy; self-sufficient rejecting any external help. The conflicts between the two lead to the structural decay of the society.
Oikos vs Polis: The conflicted nature of the oikos and the polis comes from the distinction of the property. On the left: Interior of a Russian Yurt, a unit for an autarchical and nomadic life. On the right: Second Life suburbia, units for a life based on virtual assets accumulation, conflicting with the fundamentals of the “commons” in the polis. Sourced from everyculture and slifefantastic.
The term oikos is contemporarily used to describe groups that are formed through friendships or acquaintances’3. Several dozen to several hundred people may be included in this definition but the quality of time spent with one another is extremely limited. Each individual has a primary group that includes relatives and friends who relate to the individual through work, recreation, hobbies, or neighbours. The modern oikos, however, includes people that share some sort of social interaction, be it through conversation etc. for at least a few hours per week. The definition is reserved only for those whom quality (face-to-face) time is devoted can be said to be a part of an oikos.
The idea of publicness is originally linked with the idea of nudity, which is an exclusive human characteristic. In Ancient Greek, Egyptian and Babylonian imagery, females were depicted nude to represent maternity and fertility. See Venus of Willendorf’s buttocks, her belly and breasts and how they have been voluptuously represented; a sincere depiction of health, wellbeing and social comfortability. They are pieces of art that nowadays could act as political statements.
On the left: Representations of Venus of Willendorf seen in Werner Herzog´s Cave of Forgotten Dream. On the right: Dancing by the Poolside, collage by Fatimah Tuggar. We can consider the representations of Venus on the left as representations of Publicness through nudity, whereas on the right, social and cultural codes construct the forms of private self.
Erwin Wurm working with Austrian lingerie brand Palmers. Subverted intimacy & anonymity.
Nowadays, the ultimate public stage is the net. Like the Chauvet cave’s immaterial other half. Nudity is dressed up in anonymity. The net is a stage where the issue of privacy is as complex as in the Chauvet caves where it is hard to manage the distinction between the two.
Mitropoulos, A. 2009, “Oikopolitics, and Storms” in Global South, pp.18
Arendt, Hannah, 1958, “La condicion humana”. [Trans. Ramon Gil Novales]. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. 72
1Idion: Also, Idiot- The private person. Of lower purpose, goodness, rationality, and worth than the Polites or public citizen who belonged to and participated in the city.
2Koinon: meaning “common” and interpreted as “commonwealth”, “league” or “federation”.
3Max Weber M., Roth G., Wittich C., 1978 “Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology. University of California Press, Los Angeles, pp. 348
Celestial Home Button
A series of explorations on the idea of “Home Buttons” for JUNKJET nº5.
Palace, “Dimensions of Home”, 2011
We are used to looking back to understand the origin, we click on the home button as an act of renewal, and reference in real-time.
Palace, “Home Button Series”, 2011
Palace, “Home Button Series”, 2011
Objective: To exchange material goods wrapped in the symbols we identify as our contemporary immaterial goods and tools of exchange.
Process: Strip off these symbols and slow bits and bobs that are soon to consume our precious space and occupy our living rooms. Take away the flat image-buttons and instantaneously begin to devalue what is inside.
Enjoy the sensation of tearing; the sound of ripping.
You will only destroy what is contained within.
The moment when you dreamt of owning what is inside this wrapping paper was the original fun; untainted joy. Now your interest in this object has converted into a desire for something else you don’t have.
Download them here.
Palace, “Web Wrapping Paper - Google Maps”, 2011
Palace, “Web Wrapping Paper - Google Maps” [Detail], 2011
Palace, “Web Wrapping Paper - You Tube”, 2011
Palace, “Web Wrapping Paper - You Tube” [Detail], 2011
What Architectural Images Do
Recently I was at a large London architectural office for a meeting to discuss whether spandrels on a residential tower in the city’s south east should be expressed in glass, metal or stone. The end of the discussion took a different tack and became an opportunity to discuss how the building was to be represented to the public in an exhibition of the design in its respective borough. It was quickly established that the question of the height of the building (then pencilled in at 198 metres) was the first problem the residents would have with the scheme. Thereafter much of the discussion was geared towards how the height could be downplayed in the imagery so the prospect of its construction would simultaneously excite the public yet subdue its true height. The office demanded that a cabal be formed immediately to confront their fear that local residents of myriad enthusiasms and political leanings could turn, and stem their architectural desires from becoming real. It was decided that the images were to suppress the height of the building by choosing a strategic point at which to illustrate it with the right angle of perspective.
The architectural image is not just tailored to censor or accentuate aspects of a design, they also contain an intrinsic duality that is used by the architectural press to exploit the disconnection between viewing and inhabiting, namely that a temporal empirical reality which governs inhabitation is lost and replaced by the frozen eternal Idea. The image as a limning of material form negates architecture’s own ability to harbour ‘the external conditions of political and social struggle’ that ‘scatters us around in a maelstrom of controversies: namely passions, subjectivities, cultures, religions, tastes.’ Architectural images are so beguiling because they are political vacuums. This loss of the political dimension of space in the image masks everyday life and serves only to suggest a utopian clause of architecture: its triumph over mediocre design.
The images of the residential tower in question was also to be framed in such a way to coax audiences into falling for what Robin Boyd called the feature eye-trap set by the architect, when we ignore what is around the gestalt, or dominating thing. A double-team of: a system of Hegelian negations that are describing what the architecture is not, and traps that focus our attention, both haggle our deepest desires to inhabit the image itself. The image creates a division of lived-space between the Real spaces we normally inhabit and what it offers us as an antidote to our space-poor experience. This becomes particularly challenging as the pervasiveness of the architectural image in contemporary culture contends with the inhabitation of our Real space because images are equipped with political and emotional instruments that don’t come with us when we visit Real space.
This reality loss is many things: the press’ cash cow, slippage, it just happens, the audience doesn’t notice or they don’t care, or comment ironically, or a part of a large ironic commentary on the way we live now, artistic in nature, postmodern paraphernalia. Whatever it is, it is endemic.
WYW - Only Look Here, and Here.
Boyd, Robin, 1963. The Australian Ugliness. Sydney: Penguin Books Australia.
Latour, Bruno, 2001. “Which protocol for the new collective experiments?” in Ciudades para un Futuro más Sostenible [Online]. Available at: http://habitat.aq.upm.es/boletin/n32/ablat.en.html [Accessed 25 August 2011].
Vidler, Anthony, 1993. “Spatial Violence” in Assemblage, no. 20 (April), pp. 84-85.
Žižek, Slavoj, 2007. “Censorship Today: Violence, or Ecology as a New Opium for the Masses" in Lacan dot com [Online]. Available at: http://www.lacan.com/zizecology1.htm [Accessed 25 August 2011].
The Social Home
There is a peculiar habit of “Austericans” (members of a society whose New culture takes over its indigenous civilisation) Robin Boyd was ever the serial neologiser (Featurism, Austerican, Bushmanist, etc.) whereby they find privacy in their own car. Marshall McLuhan called this a “hidden ground” behind the use of the car. Australians paradoxically go outside to be alone and go home to be social, which explains the average oversized Australian car. Whereas a great majority of the world goes home to be alone and finds the social world outside, which would explain the popularity of the small European/Japanese two-door. So while the car bites back in the face of the motorist by being at once a hermetic private space where the driver is alone, immobilised in the gauntlet of traffic we all know so intimately, the Australian home is a social space, requiring the sort of finery on show for when guests arrive: the very same Featurist things that made Boyd cringe crimson red.
Home owners, like mayors, keep a watchful eye over their public space, and ‘insist on featuring something…some symbol of his own success’1 and eagerly look for the next investment to garner status. As much as the home shapes histories of migration and material culture, ‘at least half of the monthly mortgage payments paid by the average Australian home owner goes towards sustaining meanings, rather than keeping out the rain.’2
And so admiration is received of a suburban home if it is associated with catalogue-style character, which requires regular consumption and the sort of finished quality not indicative of issues common to families like mortgage debt, sexism, domestic abuse, clutter, crime or any of the chaotic normalities that typify daily suburban life. Catalogue-style character and its ‘quality of empty perfection, however, is precisely why such images are so appealing to us.’3
Boyd, R., 1963 . The Australian Ugliness. Sydney: Penguin Books Australia.
Dever, M. 2006. “Introduction” in Exhibition Catalogue: Home. Melbourne: Monash University, pp.1-3.
Fiske, J., Hodge, B., Turner, G., 1987. Myths of Oz: Reading Australian Popular Culture, Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
1Boyd (1963, pp.132)
2Fiske, J., Hodge, B., Turner, G. (1987, pp. 26)
3Dever (2006, pp.3)
Wiry Ghosts and Informed Decisions
Again, this post takes snippets from a forthcoming article commemorating the 50th year in print of Robin Boyd’s The Australian Ugliness:
Boyd insists, that Featurist things are ‘non-intellectual, non-emotional and entirely optical’1 and that ugliness is class relative: ‘Georgian for high income, numb conservatism for the low, and for the great central majority coloured plastics, paint, and flat black steel welded into hard geometrical shapes.’2 Furthermore, he notes that non-English visitors regard ‘the difference between an English and an Australian accent [as] a class distinction, and that a visiting Englishman cannot really take seriously any intellectual or artistic idea [of Australians]’.3 As though in accordance Boyd feels that ‘in England, unlike America and Australia, there is always something of genuine beauty around the corner, a medieval church or a glimpse of field, hedge and honest stonework, even if it is hemmed in by rival service stations and haunted by the wiry ghosts of electricity and telephones.’4 Comparatively, in Australia he finds ‘diggerdom where all men are equally inferior.’5
L to R: High income, low and the Great Majority. (The ever-desirable Phonia-Colonial style, Wolfgang Sievers’s Housing Commission flats and post-Fordist plastic cells.
But Boyd wasn’t alone in attacking the masses and their decorative misdemeanours. Starched, dyed-in-the-wool modernists Adolf Loos and Le Corbusier alike, were a little more stern. Loos: primitive people ornament. Le Corbusier: everyone else has eyes that do not see.
Whether, as Boyd points out, Featurist decisions and objects are “non-intellectual” or markers of class distinctions is open to doubt. Even people equipped with the minimum of will, voluntarily choose to conform, or fall victim to Kant’s notion of public reason. Immanuel Kant’s thinking contains a notable distinction between public and private reason. The former regards the masses following prescribed knowledge rather than thinking for themselves, and the latter regards the masses taking initiative, working things out for themselves. But to Kant, the majority is always wrong. A liberal market economy defines freedom of choice as key, and uses forces to invite participation. Freedom of choice and participation mixed with Slavoj Žižek labels as a spontaneous unreflective ideology where the masses actively choose stupidity leaves Boyd’s argument that the general public are stupid, conformist or conservative misleading and borderline offensive. Masses, rather, skirt rational decision-making unaided and indeed provoked by a remorseless market.
Wiry ghosts of electricity and telephones.
Add to that Loïc Wacquant, recounting that ‘the culture of everyday life, the production of desire, [is] generally not much interested in the state’6, nor class distinctions or even about making rational and informed decisions. Responsibility to original thought is taken away from the masses. Featurism flourishes amidst an inundation of perplexed, run-of-the-mill choices orchestrated by the market.
Boyd, R., 1963 . The Australian Ugliness. Sydney: Penguin Books Australia.
Wacquant, L., 2009. “The Body, The Ghetto and the Penal State” in Qualitative Sociology, Vol.32 (1). Heidelberg: Springer, pp.101-129.
1Boyd (1963, pp.141)
6Wacquant (2009, pp.114)
Suburbs as a Representation of Diversity (and a Consumption Inducive Machine): The Australian Ugliness at 50
This post is selected from a forthcoming article tentatively entitled Consumption, Immobilisation, Aspiration: The Australian Ugliness at 50 celebrating 50 years since the publication of Robin Boyd’s The Australian Ugliness. The article challenges Boyd’s argument about “featurism”—meaningless and “non-intellectual” decorative misdemeanours—as a product of Australia’s lack of “design education” and suggests, rather, that a series of suburban traps have coordinated its proliferation.
As both the common mode of living and the physical indicator of Australia’s cultural diversity, living in suburbia means one is obliged to participate in consumption. They are spatial paradigms: obscured versions of their original promise of farm-style living1, bearer of rubik’s-cube demographics and Avon Lady territory. They now smell like Calcutta, Hanoi or Khartoum.
The outbreak of prewar depression meant postwar domestic architecture emancipated the individual. Enlightenment came with a backyard, a frontyard, a stud frame, a carport, and a can of paint. A choice. So ‘[featurism] involves the strange sort of possessive love with which people have regarded their shelters’2.
But Boyd speaks very little of Australia’s love-affair with consuming, only that it is a product of the late 1950s ‘“the do-it-yourself” era, chemical advances, and the keen competition of the largely British-owned paint companies’3. And yet it could be argued that featurism is a byproduct of an anxious free-market liberalism, lubricated by fervent consumerism bound between the Old Country and America. It is now more global. Capitalism has been let out of the bag.
But before suggesting remedies to our exorbitant consumption, something of which eluded Boyd, we should ask why it still persists. The sustainability of consumption owes its thanks to three revelations: one is a reason derived from the individual, another is a construction of the social sphere, and the other promotes consumption through an urban manifestation.
Dematerialisation forms the first of the reasons. It is a phenomena that exists in the domain of our conscience, tightly linked with desire and wholeheartedly irrational. It occurs at that fateful time when we have fantasy invested in desired material objects, but the actual ownership of the object causes the fantasy to die and renew itself in other objects. Dematerialisation leads to the consumer on a winding path, while the material destination remains perpetually intangible. Left in its wake are undesirable objects not representative of rational choices nor necessity.
Boyd paints a picture we know all too well where ‘buildings disappear beneath the combined burden of a thousand ornamental alphabets, coloured drawings, and cut-outs’4. But it is not just the means to incite consumption, but also the ubiquity of production which involves the participation of a buyer. This brings us to the second revelation in the sustainability of consumption: Thorstein Veblen’s notion of conspicuous consumption, a claim that buying is linked with social status. Because we relate to each other through the products we own, this entices people to buy so as to reflect a certain persona, often exceeding their true reflection and forming as it were, the last battleground for capitalism.
Consumption persists, thirdly, because we all live in the suburban homes that are an extension of the template site that is the bourgeois home, the original site of fervent consumption5. The Australian Government understood how vital suburbia is to the development of consumption and that urbanisation is key in the absorption of surplus production. Coupled with both how Karl Marx showed that capitalism’s perpetual increase in productivity, brought about a reduction in the value of wage goods and fordism’s triumphant revelation to give these ephemeral “savings”6 to the working class—to make them the market—makes suburbs the epicentre of a growing home economy through the promotion of consumption with a vengeance.
A most eloquent Marx also proved that the rate of exploitation increased alongside productivity and while the suburbs became the home of the working class where ‘fresh young lovers [plan] the shape of their togetherness’7, they also became containers of lives, where the public have the misfortune of being relatively economically stable but trapped in a consumer black hole, forced into relating to their neighbours and friends through their home and its contents.
Consequently, the home, while occupying a central part of our cultural consciousness, becomes the bearer of unnecessary featurist trappings, container of the totality of consumer products and suburbia becomes a carnival for the “you’ve-never-had-it-so-good” credit-affluent and regrettably, the only accessible way the working class can realise this. The emergence of featurism is then correlated with a populist struggle for bourgeois-style living, and a heartfelt quest for identity which only ends in imitation.
Bunning, W., 1945. Homes in the Sun - The Past, Present and Future of Australian Housing. Sydney: W.J.Nesbit
Featurism’s role is reaching viability, however. In a death-defying feat it has landed on two feet and is now a means of identifying oneself. It nestles, in synchrony, with the industrial conditions that try their darnedest to create individuality out of mass-production. According to Boyd ‘Australian design…is not a fundamental original quality’8 so featurists try to find their own identity in the sea of products, fighting against the generic. Commodification has molested everything: culture, nature, the body and social relations. In some hauntological farce, featurism has become the spectre of identity and culture.
Plastic colonial decoration of doomed but noble indigenous (savage) Australians returns as a spectre of culture and identity.
1See Riverside (outside Chicago). The prototypical suburb.
2Boyd (1963, pp.251)
3Boyd (1963, pp.)
4Boyd (1963, pp.46)
5Walker & Buck (2007, pp.50)
6However much can be extracted in the midst of the coercive laws of competition.
7Boyd (1963, pp.110)
8Boyd (1963, pp.10)
Plastic-Profit Offices (Architects as Nerve-Workers)
How Resilient is your Organisation?
Melbourne University’s Paolo Tombesi's fine-tooth comb through the rise and fall of Caudill Rowlett Scott (CRS) in Capital Gains and Architectural Losses: The Transformative Journey of Caudill Rowlett Scott (1948–1994) provides a relevant starting point when looking at the make-up of today’s profit-driven architectural office. It pieces together the beginnings of CRS and their initial attraction to school architecture, their diversification into wider disciplines, the effects of a Saudi petrodollar injection, its public offering and ultimately their collapse and buyout by HOK (formerly Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum).
CRS finding their place in 1950s unabashed American capitalism.
CRS’s evangelical quest for growth began with their early specialisation in schools, planned to coincide with America’s post-war (post-GI Bill) school-building program to rectify its shortage of public education facilities. Following these productive years, Tombesi (2006, pp. 156) says, CRS eventually found that ‘architecture had an intrinsic cash-flow problem that hindered the implementation of a proper self-funded business growth plan.’ Hence, their humble office that began above a grocery shop took to (2006, pp. 163) ‘finance-design-construct-and-operate infrastructural projects that … could provide a solid alternative to the fluctuations of the building industry’ because as the discussions within the partnership eventually concluded ‘…an external injection of capital was needed’ if growth was to occur.
Diversification of services and expansion into other industries is commonplace within the evolution of large multinational companies. Take HOK’s current counter-crisis motto “how resilient is your organisation?”. HOK’s resilience can be seen in telling keywords of their website metadata: ‘fast track global real estate facility advance strategies consulting corporate tower high rise education university government healthcare jail laboratory stadium high performance post occupancy evaluation business call center work’. All of them reserve an acute interest in expansion/diversification in general, four of them in particular (education university government healthcare) reveal their cognisance of the investments of government.
In what seems similar to CRS’s intimate knowledge of school building coinciding with Eisenhower’s progressivism of the day (and also their opening of a small branch in Washington entitled ‘Office for Government Affairs’), HOK use a “trend watch” (just their delicious account) to keep abreast of Obama’s legislative moves (such as this, this and this). (I wonder then
--if policy and specialisation are by this means connected
--why the Department of Defense isn’t a major provider for firms seeking to build capital muscle? If it is, it’s not publicised.)
Petrodollars for everyone! CRS partners in ‘74 at the Initial Public Offering of CRS, American Stock Exchange. (in ‘75 HOK too wins a 2.44€ billion contract for King Saudi University in Saudi Arabia)
What this mercantile inclination risks is
--as is the case with many privately held firms
--the potential of design quality being subordinated to their search for surplus. Remember that HOK is not “public”, but CRS was, and yet one could be mistaken in believing that the old CRS mission (2006, pp.157) to ‘seek high levels of profitability as part of its responsibilities towards shareholders’, is now, to fulfill its responsibility towards HOK’s own bank account.
Click here to watch Life At HOK (tumblr. has not permitted video embedding yet)
Watch Life At HOK.
When asked what a typical day at HOK would entail, the…
man in the checked shirt says, ‘going to marketing, reading the paper’, followed by…
a suited-up man saying, ‘a clear agenda on my part’. Then…
Riccardo (blue-shirted and starched) enlightens us to the fact that he was welcomed with open arms (flown to Brazil after having started only two weeks earlier) after suggesting that the company should expand to the South American markets, because ‘things rise and fall’. [Suggesting that any proposal offered for the sole purpose of economic gain get you places around there]
Michelle (yet more evidence of why latent anti-American sentiment grows) says ‘at HOK, you get to run’ [an insulting joke to the sedentary architect]
Pam (down the back from interiors) is joyful of being given the “freedom” to use ‘any laminate colour’. Tagged on the end as it fades to under her breath, she adds ‘as long as it functions for the client’. [We presume she shared a laugh off camera with the interviewer].
Colin (as the world sits on his lap) says that, ‘a lot of really genuine work, that really is sustainable, is good to see.’ [Colin plays the urban green-collar hard sell]. It’s obvious as…
Jodi (a generic-looking advance strategies consultant, armoured behind a place-less business park) says, the ‘whole sustainability thing’ spearheads HOK’s design agenda: ‘A healthier planet, a healthier building (then with a strange pause, a quick breath and a guilty look to the side, she says), healthier people, better work-life balance, all those sorts of things…’ [One can’t help but notice that the pause is a recognition that ‘better work-life balance’ is perhaps the most difficult demand of a client’s brief to resolve these days]
Kate (a graphic designer), took delight in the completion of a community project. [Judging by the photos the work appears to be polar to the sorts of run-of-the-mill, client-driven projects HOK does]
Toby, whose taken a liking to Hong Kong, confesses that his ‘office is (his) mobile phone’.
Valery, under the title of The Culture of HOK reveals ‘that there are some core values that haven’t changed in 55 years’.
Bill (the president, who is forming his cult of personality with a pair of transparent glasses) uses the example of ‘mid-western values’ to explain how ‘everyone is pulling for everyone else’ in an environment that ‘can be tough’, and yet if you slide back the video a minute or so…
Larry (a design director) explains that there are ‘39 nationalities represented’ in the London office alone.
Reception with No Appointments Receiving Nobody for No-one, Nowhere.
This runs like a scripted marketing ploy where you forget your watching an architecture firm, and it becomes something more like a wee-hour infomercial, with a cast full over-selling pitchwo(men), for a product only the depressed/rich take interest in but you sit there, forgetting how you should be repulsed by this. Whatever happened to sensibilities or (dare I say) art (or better still dirt) in architecture? This reminds me of Gibson’s discourteous description of Singapore way back in ‘93 and how he says Changi Airport ‘seemed to possess no more resolution than some early VPL world. There was no dirt whatsoever; no muss, no furred fractal edge to things.’
And so if it is not ‘mid-western values’ drawn from the very beginnings of HOK in St. Louis in 1955, and if, as the interviewer says, ‘for such a large company I feel that there is very little beaucracy’, how then does HOK run itself? Surely there is, as Tombesi (2006, pp. 160) found at CRS (in ‘76) an ‘internal quality control entity to monitor production routines’, especially as there is such incessant attention on turnover and that even, as Valery revealed, its core values ‘haven’t changed in 55 years’.
Scientifically Arranged Nerve-Workers
Owen Hatherley’s incursion into the Aesthetics of Civil Enforcement somehow fills the middle of all of this
--between the private structure of the “corporate” architecture firm and the plastic humanisation of their front-ends (ie. HOKlife, Populous formerly HOK Sport)
--which is essentially the work they produce (eg. 1, 2, 3). Their work is all ‘glass and steel atrium(s), all criss-cross trusses and 24 colours/Blairite aesthetics/chrome armrail(s) and … streamlined grille(s)’/all today’s class war.
Infinite Reflections (Limitless/Bottomless-ness): The distorted Winter Garden at the World Financial Centre, New York City.
Graham, Dan. 1991. Two-Way Mirror Cylinder Inside Cube. Mirrored Glass, Wood, Stainless Steel (Photo by Dan Graham)
Dan Graham’s work could be described too as all “glass and steel”, yet this is precisely what forms his fascination with “corporatised” environments
--in particular the corporate make-overs of open public spaces (using gardens and atria). His work claims that these spaces not only contribute to the slow suburbanisation of New York, but also attempt to have a supervised, semi-public green space, to keep the city occupied and “turning-over”. Thus Graham’s work investigates a triunity of “architecture, urban space and power”, the latter related to the corporation’s re-territorialisation of the urban landscape of New York.
Langlands and Bell, 1990. Logo Works: Unilever, Hamburg Wood. Paint, Lacquer Glass. 90 x 90 x 15cm. “I think I see a pagan symbol”
In a similar way, Langlands and Bell’s, Logo Works dissects corporate headquarters revealing what they call a ”super logo”
--a public image strategy that also reveals corporate intentions to employees. Even aside from the artist’s intentions, the works leave an open-endedness where one is propelled to ask, “is that a coded message I can see in there (or is that a pagan symbol that is revealing to me system riddled with ritualistic behaviours and a work-life disfigured)? If the conditions in these spaces are advanced applications of what Ford laid out in 1922 (ie. Ford (2004, pp.80)…the reduction of the necessity for thought on the part of the worker and the reduction of his movements to a minimum. He does as nearly as possible only one thing with only one movement.’) then the inside of “super logo’s”
--these “corporate intentions”
--have given way to what Kwinter (2008, pp.115) calls the new, more refined, “invasive reality of nerve-work.”
Nerve-work, it seems, is becoming more prevalent when materialising architecture as Building Information Modeling packages make their way to every privatised personal computer. What BIM software does is further ground the sedentary architect to the point, as Kwinter (2008, pp.115) describes, where they do “what the majority of humans do now…, essentially watch, discern, correct and respond…” This anatomic-tyranny of the workplace (“from muscle-work to nerve-work”) would remind Will Self of his aim to rekindle humanity’s lost affair with space ('We don't know where we are'). Most specifically his explanation that it was through the exertion of corporeal forces that the counterchange of place occurred (he uses the example of horse-back riding), and that “changing places” today (from post-steam locomotive onwards) means that we are mediated by barely any physical exertion (if none at all).
Caudill, Bill, 1971. “The Architect is a Team” from Architecture by Team. The Architect is a (“scientifically arranged”) Team.
The following is an intriguing look at the lengths capitalists go to optimise environments (something like CRS’s (or HOK’s [If it is, it’s not publicised]) “internal quality control entity to monitor production routines”)
Ford (2004, pp.118) ’One point that is absolutely essential to high capacity, as well as to humane production, is a clean, well-lighted and well-ventilated factory. Our machines are placed very close together
--every foot of floor space in the factory carries, of course, the same overhead charge. The consumer must pay the extra overhead and the extra transportation involved in having machines even six inches farther apart than they have to be. We measure on each job the exact amount of room that a man needs; he must not be cramped
--that would be waste. But if he and his machine occupy more space than is required, that also is waste. This brings our machines closer together than in probably any other factory in the world. To a stranger they may seem piled right on top of one another, but they are scientifically arranged, not only in the sequence of operations, but to give every man and every machine every square inch that he requires and, if possible, not a square inch, and certainly not a square foot, more than he requires. Our factory buildings are not intended to be used as parks.’
It could be said that today’s profit-driven architectural office operates with a number of devices to maintain expansion and to fulfill missions. The problem is that this plastic humanisation of the front-end, contradicts the scientific arrangement that underpins the office out the back. Soft-bureaucracy is the means by which core-values can stay the same and old regimes can evolve to more profound levels. Now, doing architecture means just doing nerve-work.
Yet still employees are forever non-reactionary. Why? Because as Koolhaas (2004) admits, labour-theft architects are all just “…marooned in a never-ending casual Friday…”
Ford, H., 2004 . My Life and Work. Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing.
Koolhaas, Rem, 2004. “Junkspace” in Content. Köln: Taschen. pp.162-171.
Kwinter, S., 2008. Far from Equilibrium: Essays on Technology and Design Culture. Barcelona: Actar.
Tombesi, P., 2006 “Capital Gains and Architectural Losses: The Transformative Journey of Caudill Rowlett Scott (1948–1994)” in The Journal of Architecture, Vol. 11, No. 2. London: Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and Routledge, pp.145-168.
Restricting Through (Re)defining
I can’t help but think that Jameson’s “cognitive mapping” of the world system of capital relies entirely on the self to process its complex organisation. For example, just thinking about the profundity of calculating labour-value
--with its many social and geographic parameters (and each parameter having another organisation)
--it seems beyond human grasp (and if that’s not enough: how capitalism can be understood not only as a “history of crises”, but also as a history of adaptive reforms. Thus any evolvable ability makes it even harder for a holistic mapping on the part of the individual).
The moment when the credit-card was introduced is something that added more complexities but poignantly, more world market liquidity. The natural thing then is to think of life post-credit-card
--where money nor credit no longer serve as the abstract “symbols” to exchange with, something we never see, ever liquefying the “engine”.
The “Chase Freedom Card”: “Freedom” from seeing physical money and to lubricate the “engine”.
When a method of exchange becomes redundant(/invisible) and propels to a new abstraction, further liquidity occurs. Too, in signifying a reconfiguration of capitalism, one is called to imagine a more complex cognitive map (Just as space too will become more complex, ie. new layers of spatial manifestations, superimposed [related to “loose” zones of capital accumulation], over what is now the post-industrial baggage that is the city
--a highly exciting turn of events). And yet, humans (cognition) have individual life spans, capitalism changes lives and reincarnates, after dying (if only a little).
So, in thinking of achieving a human-scale total cognitive map, key, is the need for optimised communication (in the same way articulation of space is imperative to the functionality of capitalism). Hence, what space is to capitalism, communication is to its dysfunction.
For art, an attempt to “map” it visually may see its static nature render it as limitation. Architecture, well that too is problematic (albeit, thoroughly interesting). [Has anyone thought of an architecture as a means to hinder capital generation.]
Barney, Matthew, 2003. Drawing Restraint 8: Natal Cleft. Drawing (Detail). Here Barney restricts the self in the process of creation, to redefine the act of painting.
The mental centre (armed with language, which is too, adaptable) is left standing to keep up with the adroitness of capitalism.
So is Steven Shaviro’s call for a renewed “economism” just another trend of reformism (re)adapting to the perpetual changing of capitalism? Maybe he’s right to want redefine it, and maybe he’s just fulfilling a task we should always have borne in mind.
(Advanced Capitalistic) ‘Planned-Neglect’
The behavioural patterns of the rural and the city have now been reversed. Rural land is now meticulously organised, perpetually executed/exploited beyond what could have been imagined when the industrialisation of agricultural land began. Today, as Jameson (2004, pp.49) puts it, ‘it is the city and the urban that grows wild like the state of nature… whereas it is nature which has, in late capitalism and the green revolution
--but perhaps all the way back to the original neolithic revolution itself
--been subject to careful planning and engineering.’ Thus, it is not ironic that there increasingly exists places, at the centres of cities, that ‘appear’ as explicit cases of ‘non-design’, or deliberate dilapidation or as manifestations of what Lacaton & Vassal might say as spaces that are ‘better-left-alone’. It is strange though that this phenomena sometimes represents the pertinent sites on any tourists’ agenda, for example Berlin. Yet when you look at it closely, these contradictory territories make a mockery of places in which neglect of a central is the only answer to solve other real and pressing economic problems. I can’t help but see a link here between these (advanced capitalistic) spaces of ‘planned-neglect’ (see images below) and the way Hollywood stars ‘dress-down’ and don a pair of jeans like something miners would wear in Harlan County, USA, Come Back, Africa or from deep down the limitless caverns of Coober Pedy. Why then
--even in cities where tourism represents a large portion of its own economic condition
--do these sites remain as ‘non-designed’? Similarly what motives do the Hollywood mega-stars have to ‘dress-down’ to appear more say ‘of the working class’? Only in this highly commodified landscape/existence we live in, can the ‘non-designed’ be itself a commodity: it represents the frontier of the commodity spectrum which, after so much market/spatial diversification, can the mimetic spatial/bodily accoutrements of poor/decay become accepted (like the Beuysian quest for a Gesamtkunstwerk).
Fashion trend-setters, West Virginia’s Finest.
Stars in Miner’s Jeans. Incidently the jeans are put through a labour-intensive "enzyme wash process, giving them the authentic look and feel of the jeans".
Advanced capitalistic space of planned-neglect 1: Forte Prenestino, Rome.
Advanced capitalistic space of planned-neglect 1: Forte Prenestino, Rome.
Advanced capitalistic space of planned-neglect 2: Kunsthaus Tacheles, Berlin. Left: Tacheles three years after the fall of European communism. Right: Now. Coincidently, this site is off Oranienburger Straße in Mitte (the bearer of Berlin’s tourism core).
Advanced capitalistic space of planned-neglect 3: Caledonian Lane, Melbourne. Left: This highly contradictory space at once appears as urban residue, a site of state/commercial neglect, however this area is directly abutting Melbourne’s ‘main street’ and serves as a cove for a muddle of those whom determine the covert embourgeoisement of the space itself. Right: The new renovation of Myer department store next to Caledonian Lane. The project promises a “state-of-the-art shopping environment, inspired by some of the world’s great retailers in London, New York and Paris”. This is the architectural moment Caledonian Lane seeks to resist but actively participates in as it struggles to ‘appear’ critical of its captialistic subsumption.
Bonus (irresistible) image:
Marxian-capitalism-space-vortex: circulation | money-as-engine-fluid (credit-as-nitrogen-oxide). The finiteness of space = maxed-out credit-card. An early artist’s impression of the renovation of Myer department store. A romantic Koolhaas (2004) on ‘Junkspace’
--his self-exclusionary rationale for architecture’s defecations
--"…enforced derives, we meekly submit to grotesque journeys past perfume, asylum seeker, building site, underwear, oysters, pornography, cell phone - incredible adventures for the brain, the eye, the nose, the tongue, the womb, the testicles…facism minus dictator…"
Jameson, F., 2004. “The Politics of Utopia” in New Left Review 25(272), pp.35–54 Koolhaas, Rem, 2004. “Junkspace” in Content. Köln: Taschen. pp. 162-171.
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