Future Ruins by Michelle Lord (inspired by JGB)
While cleaning-up my digital archives yesterday I “ran into” a letter I wrote to James Graham Ballard two and half years ago, then (shamelessly) hoping to start an epistolary exchange with him. What I did not know when I sent this letter to him on April 14th 2009 was that he was going to die five days later! This letter probably never reached him… Although I am clearly embarrassed by some parts of this text, I wanted to share it here in an unedited version (my written English was even worse than now back then!):
Bombay on Tuesday 14th April 2009
Dear Mr Ballard,
I have some difficulties to find my words for you, facing the fact that yours already reached me long time ago, allowing me to discover imaginaries which helps me to comprehend the real’s complexity. Therefore, I would like to help me by quoting somebody you might know, Emil Cioran in his Histoire et Utopie. In fact, Cioran has a way to consider the world in its whole ambiguity, that is why it seems expedient to quote him in order to penetrate into the topic I am interested in:
Francois Roche has been recently commissioned to curate a competition for less than 30 years old artists/architects which will see the winning project being built in a wild site near Bordeaux. In this regard, he dedicated a website to this “call for scenario/fabrication/exhibition” that he called Ca s’est passé ici which includes the beautiful introductory text that follows:
“Grass produces neither flower nor sermon on the mountain, nor airplane carrier, but in the end it’s always grass that has the last word. It fills emptiness, grows between, and amongst other things. The flower is beautiful, the cabbage useful, the poppy makes us mad, but grass is overflow.” / Henry Miller
We are at the crossroads, where, faced with the autistic, blind, deaf and mute violence of our mechanisms of technological, industrial, mercantile and human domination, nature reacts…with violence and without warning, in a faltering of the original chaos…in mutiny against the organization of men… Gaïa seems to take revenge (Katrina, El Niño, Cyclone Jeanne, Tomas et Nargis, the Xynthia storm, Ewiniar typhoon, Indonesian and Japanese earthquakes, collateral Tsunamis all the way to Fukujima…chain of devastating incertitude, unpredictable in spite of our seismographic sciences). The elements rage and the gods, so quick to pardon our folly, seem powerless to appease the rebellion, armed with infernal force…
This time of the year is always a good moment to look at the production of schools of architecture in the United Kingdom as many projects are competing to win the yearly RIBA Silver Medal. I will therefore publish few projects which, in my opinion, reach a certain degree of uniqueness as well as an interesting approach in given narratives.
The first one comes from the Bartlett and has been created by Justin Randle. With his California Cooperative, Justin proposes an architectural vision of a fictitious immanent community of production. His almost exclusive use of physical models to represent such architecture is probably not innocent as those relate better to the self-construtivity of the cooperative’s built environment, as he imagines it to be. This example is interesting to study as we usually attribute some authoritarian characteristics inherently contained by architecture of normal spaces of production (assembly line factories, open-space offices etc.). We need therefore to invent rather than plan, an architecture that would liberate itself as much as possible from those characteristics, both in the way that it is been designed and built and in the way it operates.
The following text is Justin’s own introduction to this project:
This project uses a series of complex models to investigate the spatial implications of the cooperative principles of universal admission, democratic organisation, barter, full employment and shared ownership. The proposal is to form a cooperative from the recently unemplyed among the remanaents of the former Haynes generator station on the banks of the San Gabriel River, Los Angeles. Using their skills and the ideas outlined above the cooperative seeks to provide work, shelter and the necessities of life.
The Criterion Collection‘s website recently release a beautiful series of stills extracted from four movies by Michelangelo Antonioni: Red Desert (1964), L’Eclisse (1962), Identification of a Woman (1982) and L’Avventura (1960). Those stolen cinematic moments reveals Antonioni’s construction of a very dexterous mix between material and atmospheric environments all along his films. Red Desert, as I had the occasion to write before, can probably be said to embody the paroxysm of such dialogue. Nevertheless, his materialism finds its essence in the presence of the human female body who, by its posture contrasts and challenges this environment. One of the introductory scenes of Red Desert in which Monica Vitti’s elegant character walk through a toxic mud field in an industrial context is exemplary in this regard.
Occupy the Brooklyn Bridge on November 17th /// Photo by Leopold Lambert
There has been few debates since the beginning of the Occupy movement about its very name. This name started with an assumed martial connotation against Wall Street and some of us, who could not dissociate this notion from a colonial context, were fairly surprised that this name was extended to the other “islands” of the movement. We were considering it as problematic and were trying to orient the terminology towards the more inclusive notion of 99%. However, I am now convinced that we were missing a very important point that was probably obvious to the occupiers themselves. There has been an important emphasis on the importance of “bodies” since the very beginning of the movement -I remember a General Assembly at the end of September that was already addressing this notion- and an acknowledgment that, while some people brings skills and knowledge on the table, some other simply brings their bodies. Our body can only be at one place in the world in a given moment. This place is the place we have been choosing to…occupy and although it is an unavoidable choice, this choice constitutes a radical political attitude in the exclusivity of the space it stands in and the exclusion of the ensemble of others.
Occupying a public space therefore carry a violence that is partially similar to the one unfolded by the colonial occupation -in the West Bank for example. However while the latter violates the right of a nation to govern itself and constitute a collective project, the former is the full expression of a right agreed upon at the foundation of the nation. In a country that brought the idea of freedom to the rank of pure ideology, we must turn back to Foucault, for who, freedom can only exist through its practice.
It is true that 21th century social movements are not the same than 20th’s ones thanks to the tools of communication that they are using; however we should not fool ourselves, the importance of the bodies’ presence, the occupation has never been so strong.
‘Highway damaged by the Northridge Earthquake, California, January 1994′ from Bruce Mau (2004). Massive Change. (London: Phaidon).
This week, this is Carl Douglas‘ turn to use the space on the Funambulist dedicated to friends and other guests for them to share their vision on a topic they chose. I won’t introduce him since he wrote a brief paragraph about his platforms and interests that you can read right after this paragraph. His essay Off the Grid. Left out and over begins with a novella that I am sure will be very evocative to most of its readers: Concrete Island by James Graham Ballard. This story of a man trapped on a piece of land surrounded by high speed highways is the perfect model of the heterotopic condition of an enclosure included within a world, thus developing an interesting paradox of inclusion and exclusion at the same time.
Off the Grid. Left out and over.
By Carl Douglas
I’m a lecturer in Spatial Design at AUT University in Auckland, New Zealand. I’m motivated by the concept of assemblages (via Deleuze and De Landa) and Latour’s actor-networks; which I think are very commensurable ideas. I also have a lot of sympathy for the Object-Oriented-Ontologies group. This essay is an edited version of a longer paper forthcoming in the journal Access. It’s part of the groundwork for my upcoming practice-based PhD, which is going to be concerned with the development of South Auckland’s Mangere Inlet.
I blog at Diffusive Architectures , Twitter occasionally as @agfa8x, have links at Delicious and I’m on Google+.
In 2008, the Japanese artist collective Chim Pom managed to invade some specific landmarks of Tokyo, like Shibuya or the Parliament building, with a swarm of wild crows ingeniously driven by a taxidermic bird and a megaphone using crows’ screams. This project is appealing (see the video below) for the introduction of wildness in our tamed domestic environment. In order to do so, they used animals that we are used to see around but that never really reach to carry this strange anxiety that this scene provides. I thus interpret this operation as a manifesto for strangeness as a political weapon, the one that makes a well known environment slightly different from normally and this way, triggers the awareness and imagination.
I have been recently commissioned to write a short article for the first issue of Studio Magazine entitled [from] CRISIS [to] and I was happy to write the text that follows this introduction. This issue exists in its digital version, but also very soon as a hard copy in Milan where RRC Studio, the editors are practicing architecture. They came up with an interesting mix of mediums between essays, reportages, fictions, photos, architectural projects etc. with a very good graphic design. I therefore recommend to explore this issue either via issuu or by downloading the pdf version.
Tower Of Joy, Ulan Bator, April 1992
By Léopold Lambert
A few months after my friend and mentor Theodore Antonopoulos had passed away, his wife suggested that I organize his archives that had grown to consume the entire building of their home in New York. This “assignment” came to overwhelm me, as I was discovering a multitude of previously unknown books and references that seemed to have influenced Theo’s work considerably. I decided, then, that I would dedicate all of my efforts to exploring what made his films and novels so powerful.
At the end of my fifth day spent in the chaos of his archives, I realized that, so far, I had only succeeded in making the hundreds of documents, books and films of the house more disorganized. As I stood dumbfounded by this observation, my eyes encountered some text written on a VHS that was partly submerged in a pile of films covering most of the room’s floor. The caption was reading “Tower Of Joy, Ulan Bator, April 1992”. The fact that Theo shot a movie in Mongolia did not come as much of a surprise as I often reflected that he may have visited every country in the world; nevertheless, this title, “Tower of Joy,” piqued my interest enough that I stole it away to watch later.
Cardross Seminary, Living Quarters – by TenThirtyNine
This week’s guest writer is Claire Jamieson whose student project Eternally Yours had been published on this blog (on boiteaoutils actually) a few years ago. She is now a PhD candidate at the Royal College of Arts in London and is absorbed in the relationship that literature establishes with architecture and vice versa. In the following essay, The Possible Worlds of Architecture, she gives us a useful preview to this question by firstly establishing the bases of such research (architecture & narratives) and then by focusing on this same relationship within the novella Sanctuary by Brian Dillon (2011). I have to confess that I am not at all familiar with this author but it probably comes as fresh air for some of my readers who might feel claustrophobic by my repetitive personal references! In any case, this essay today is expedient as the first event of Archipelagos next week will be around literature and can thus constitute as good entrance door for such discussion.
The Possible Worlds of Architecture
By Claire Jamieson
“A hand rests for a moment on a parapet above the central courtyard, traces the curve of a thin metal banister that spirals deep inside the main block, and holds back the branches covering the entrance to an outlying building. Heavy boots kick aside plaster and glass to test floorboards in the half dark, and the place starts to reveal itself to a new and fearless gaze.”
Privately Owned Public Space‘s policy
As I have been writing few weeks ago, one very interesting aspect of Occupy Wall Street consists in the re-appropriation of public space as what it is supposed to be by definition: public. The constitution of an agora accessible by all because territorialized in an open space is the certitude of the democratic essence of this movement. That is for this reason that I am calling my working group to gather in the public space rather than in a classroom at the New School as I have been also writing about recently. My feeling is that, not only a classroom makes us think differently and withdraw the urgency of the project we are trying to create, the Nomadic University, but the reunion of such a working group in a private space prevents any uninformed person to take part to such meeting.
I am therefore in charge of finding us one or several parts of public space in New York City in which we could meet, talk, work and be protected from the cold weather and thought that some of my readers would be the perfect people to ask about such a piece of information. If you have an idea of an adequate place, please send me an email at contactDOTfunambulistATgmailDOTcom.
Thank you very much in advance.
Having question the relationship the body creates with its physical environment in the two last articles, I find appropriate to bring a very expressive and beautiful illustration of this relationship found in the choreographical interpretation of The Rite of Spring by Angelin Preljocaj (2000). In the following excerpt of this contemporary ballet, the young woman, soon to be sacrificed is pushed and fall on a little piece of terrain on which she is contained by the Pagan crowd around her. Oppressed and violented by the terrain, she is nude which, of course, creates an eroticism for the scene but more importantly engages the body in all its fragility and all its expression with its direct environment. Each contact with the ground can be read as exercising a strong influence on the body.
After the young woman get accustomed to this terrain by experiencing its violence, she develops a dance of resistance half combative half voluptuous and affirms her territorial presence. A while after this ultimate revolt, she dies and seems to make one with this same terrain on which she slowly falls.
For an even more expressive body interpretation of The Rite of Spring see the 1975 Ballet of the great Pina Bausch.
Arakawa + Gins, Bioscleave House (Lifespan Extending Villa),2004, photo: Léopold Lambert
Today, I release the second part of the conversation I have been recently having with Madeline Gins about the Reversible Destiny Foundation co founded with Arakawa. While the first part was more an epistolary assignment, this second part is a face to face conversation at the end of a day spent a the Bioscleave House (Lifespan Extending Villa) built three years ago in the Hamptons (Long Island). I, indeed, was lucky enough to experience the constant reconfiguration of the body in order to compose an harmonious relation with architecture. We can write dozens of pages about that, but nothing really expresses it as the feeling of experiencing it with your own body. What we usually wrongly dissociate as mind and body are here fully reconciled in both an awareness of each part of our body as much as the parts of architecture itself. This experience is truly what Arakawa and Madeline Gins conceptualized as the Architectural Body.
Once again I would like to thanks Madeline herself, Esther Cheung, Hiroko Nakatani and Maurizio Bianchi Mattioli.
Reversible Destiny: Architectures of Joy: A Conversation Between Two Puzzle Creatures [Part B] (read Part A)
3. Léopold Lambert: Let’s consider the place we are in: Bioscleave House–Lifespan Extending Villa. I don’t think that we should hold back from using the word playground when speaking of it. We should just attribute a particular meaning to this word, the same meaning I was getting at in my previous question (see the second question of part A).
Madeline Gins: The term life-invention playground comes to mind.
Arakawa + Gins, Yoro Park – Site of Reversible Destiny, Gifu,1995, Photo Trane DeVore
It has been several months now that I started an oral and written conversation with Madeline Gins, co-founder with Arakawa of the Reversible Destiny Foundation that I have been evoking many times this last year (see the list of articles at the end of this post). In this matter I shamefully recommend the essay I wrote about a Spinozist interpretation of their work as an introduction to this interview for whoever is not familiar with it.
Summarizing Arakawa/Gins’ thesis in one or two sentences is a dangerous assignment as their work is infinitely more complex and as a shallow reading usually leads to a misunderstanding of this same thesis. If I nevertheless decide to try, I would say that their work explores theoretically and practically the possibility of composing an Architectural Body, which lays in the relationship created between the human body and architecture. The former being stimulated by the latter, a deep understanding of this relation informs design in order to allow the body -body here needs to be understood as a person in an absolute refusal of the Cartesian dichotomy between the mind and the “body”- to acquire an awareness of its environment and thus strengthen its internal composition. For whoever who is not satisfied with this thesis simplification -and you should not be !- I invite you to read the following interview and the various books that Arakawa and Madeline Gins wrote since the end of the 1960′s.
This interview is divided in two parts. The first one is an epistolary exchange between Madeline and myself informed by two face to face conversations. The second, that I will publish tomorrow is a discussion we luckily had in the Bioscleave House designed by Arakawa + Gins and achieved in 2008 in the Hamptons.
Pessoa, Dostoevsky, Kerouac and Artaud in one portrait
I am very happy to announce the first event of Archipelagos that I introduced few weeks ago (see previous post). This first gathering will trigger a conversation around literature as four architects, Carla Leitão, Martin Byrne, Sofia Krimizi and myself will briefly present a paper about four authors, respectivally Fernando Pessoa, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Jack Kerouac and Antonin Artaud. Those short presentations will be followed by an exchange between everybody who will have came in order to create an interesting conversation. While preparing this event, we also figured that a good way to maintain this discussion’s casualness -which pretty much constitute the spirit of those events- we will propose to people to bring their drinks.
This event will occur on November 22nd at 8:00PM at 170 Tillary Street in Brooklyn (closest subway stations, Dekalb Avenue (Q,R,B), Jay Street (A,C,F) and Burrough Hall (2,3,4,5)). Since the space is not so big, we would like to have an idea of how many people will actually come; you can thus RSVP at the following email address (replace the the capital letters by symbols): archipelagosDOTfunambulistATgmailDOTcom
I will do my best to film the event and post it afterward on the blog as well as publishing the four presentation texts. We look forward to see you there.
Living in New York for quite a while now, I regularly noticed that only few people here knew the work produced by Didier Faustino and his Bureau des Mésarchitectures back in Paris. I therefore decided to introduce a small collection extracted from a long list of projects since 1996.
There is no human mind without a body to live in this time of new media and communication networks, you must recover your awareness of the physical world. Architecture may be a toll to emphasize our senses and sharpen our consciousness of reality, which tends to be erased by speed and over-information. Experiencing Fragility.
In this introductory Manifesto of the Design Document dedicated to the Bureau des Mésarchitectures (2006), Didier Faustino expresses the common link of all his projects. Influenced by Deleuze and Foucault as much as more popular references (see each project’s title), his practice refuses a Cartesian vision of the world that separates the mind from the body. On the contrary, his projects, whether they belong to architecture, industrial design or art, engage the body as a whole and explore its limits, its fragility, its flexibility, and more generally its ability to sense its environment.
This is just a very short introduction to this work which would deserve to be the object of a more precise and developed article:
In the context of the exhibition Landscape Future: Instruments, Devices and Architectural Invention curated by Geoff Manaugh at the Nevada Museum of Arts (August 13, 2011 – February 12, 2012), the Princeton Architectural Press had the good idea to create a “Landscape Futures Bundle” composed by three books written by some participants of the exhibition:
Subnature by David Gissen: As I had the occasion to write earlier, Subnature is a very interesting book, already used as a reference for another idea of ecology than the formatted one that capitalism sells every day. Express through historical and contemporaneous architectural and urban projects, this ecology is based on the consideration and integration as generator of all the sub-products of a too controlled environment: puddles, debris (see previous article), mud, dust, smoke, insects etc.
This week’s guest writer’s essay brings us about four hundreds years ago around an architecture treatise written by Jacques Perret of Chambéry during the French Renaissance. This essay’s author is my friend Morgan Ng who gives us a preview of his research he is currently overtaking for his PhD at Harvard. Beyond his scholar rigor, Morgan interprets J.Perret’s work in a very poetic attempt to mix religion/politics, space and sound. The Textual-Sonic Landscapes that he evokes are in fact a construction based on the political context J.Perret, as a Calvinist was experiencing at his time, and his mysterious drawings of citadels in which a layer of fortification is composed by nothing else than the words of a psalm (see the picture above). This confusion of signified, signifier and mysticism has something that intuitively makes me think of another religion, Judaism, and more specifically to the Kaballah. However, since Morgan attaches more importance to the sort of incantation of the psalm as a sound -the psalm being a song- than its written version, it also makes me relate to an episode of the Bible (which I wrote about a long time ago): the battle of Jericho. In fact, in this story the sound was not what protected the city but rather what destroyed its fortifications. This apparent contradiction appears to me for what words are, weapons that can be used defensively or offensively.
I am now doing what I do best, digressions but Morgan introduces himself his text in the following text, and is even kind enough to compare his work with mine for their similarity of envisioning architecture as inherently political, if not militarized. If this thesis is accurate, it is thus not surprising that we are able to observe it for any historical era.
The Textual-Sonic Landscapes of Jacques Perret’s Des Fortifications et Artifices
By Morgan Ng
It’s exciting to contribute to the dialogue here because—despite our divergent historical interests—I feel a strong intellectual kinship with the editor of this blog. Rendered in striking graphic form and rife with modernist literary references, the editor’s recent design research on architecture in the West Bank explores the full range of oppressive and emancipatory potentials in an aesthetics of militarization. We must of course heed the warning (pace Baudrillard) that an aestheticization of war runs the risk of dulling the senses to the reality of violence. Yet it’s equally disempowering—especially for the disempowered—to reduce this violence to the mechanics of technical reason. War from the beginning is aesthetic: for the complicit it’s mediated by political propaganda; for the traumatized victim, it’s fought on a psychological, as well as a physical, battlefield. If our poetic relation to war forms our escapist habits, I believe it also bears the potential to catalyze emancipatory action.
Manhattan Archipelago by Leopold Lambert, Oct 2011.
It would have probably not escaped to my regular readers that I am very much interested with the notion of archipelago. After celebrating the philosophy of Edouard Glissant, the poet of the archipelagos, after having created a metaphorical map representing the effective Palestinian territory under occupation as an archipelago, and after having launched a series of events external to the Academia with the same name, I would like to address the spatial implications of Occupy Wall Street via a similar filter.
It is true that this movement has been using the new technological tools of communication in order to spread its existence which was ignored by the Press; however it would be absolutely incorrect to assume that the “occupation” concerned here does not fund its principle on the presence of physical bodies on a given space in order to be effective. The practice of direct democracy exercised on this space registers the latter as a territory within a broader system, an heterotopia as Michel Foucault would describe this type of space, or more simply an island. Occupations started on Liberty Square, then on Washington Square Park, in Harlem, in the Bronx, in Brooklyn but also all over the American territory, thus composing an archipelago of “liberated” islands functioning in a precarious yet effective autonomy. This idea is fundamental in the construction of the movement as it differs from “traditional” revolutions that aim to conquer the centralized power’s territory but rather to propagate by the constitution of those islands that applies a form of society only for the bodies present on their territories. Of course, this territorial mean of acting is more difficult and requires more time than the traditional ones; however this seems to be the way to achieve an aware implication of each person on a given territory.
This model of the archipelago also helps us not to necessarily think in terms of totality but to accept the fragmentation of a territory in smaller ones on which it is easier to approach consensus. The very principle of the archipelago is to construct a collective essence with various individual -for each island- identities. The image of the interstitial water also allow to imagine a fluctuation of each island’s borders that can continuously evolve through time. In a general matter the archipelago spatializes a political system that diverse to be experienced. The Occupy Wall Street movement is a good opportunity to attempt such thing.