Sunday, August 31, 2008

Burning Man, A New Religion?

Visitors to center camp participate in guided meditative chanting. Group activities are a major theme at Burning Man. Photo: Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times

Should Burning Man be upgraded to a new religion?

Increasingly growing and ever so popular Burning Man has reached to level of a major gathering among the mostly white middle class liberal masses.
Started rather humbly as a bonfire ritual in 1986, San Francisco, the event since moved to Black Rock City, Nevada with a huge organizational logistics and ever upwardly folding budgets and participants. The tickets are now $295 per person in advance.
As many others, I have personally witnessed few of my boomer generation friends turning into "Burners" in recent years.
The organizers said as quoted in Wikipedia, "Trying to explain what Burning Man is to someone who has never been to the event is a bit like trying to explain what a particular color looks like to someone who is blind."
This is all good, however, we are not blinded and the statement does sound like a pre-emptive strike at the critics.

Photo by; Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times

With the ticket holders' media champs WIRED Magazine and countless other happening blogs covering the event, it won't be easy to throw critical words without getting slammed by the homogenized, radical self-expressives and self-reliants, the proponents and the subjects of this new "western" religion.

Wouldn't be nice if the world was an effigy and the current problems in various continents were burned down with their collective energies before they have filled the fuel tanks and returned to their homes to download the digital pictures of their wildly creative burner community on heightened state of mind?
It is hi-time that somewhat pentagonally organized burners suit themselves with their own army and tanks to put out conflicts wherever they might be encountered!

The "carnaval art" must be able to fire...

Burning Man from space, NASA

I am not too shy to place this phenomena on the same shelve with evangelical TV prophesies and surface adopted shamanism, mixed together in a mind blowing cocktail, that must be consumed under the desert heat and further dodge the bigger questions of the real world with the fantastic and the "temporary wilderness" before returning to day jobs.
See you at the employees cafeteria folks... Oh wait, you might be a freelancer instead... Well, see you in the 'Internet,' then...

Photo by Aaron Logan

By the way, there are over 3.5 million Burning Man results in the Google search but who can guarantee they all originate from Nevada desert? After all, men and women burn daily all over the world. Right?

One more sales receipt;
is this installation by IwamotoScott, a precursor to next year's burn as depicted by the official web site of the Burning Man?
It must be all about "shading" structures these days with the summer heat and all.
That is right, the carnaval visuals must burn... Just like architecture must burn.

All in all I had to hook this "ride" back to our blog's mother purpose.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Ancient Babylon: A Metaphor for the Dark Side of Civilisation

source_488da76f74e18_36_Theunissen_EinsturzdesTurmeszuBabel"The collapse of the Tower of Babel" by Cornelisz Anthonisz, Etching, 1547

Was the city state of Babylon in ancient Mesopotamia really a den of iniquity or was it in fact the world's first city of learning? Berlin is currently showing a comprehensive exhibition that dispels the myths about Babel and tells the truth about the ancient city of Babylon. Ariana Mirza reports.
Read the article; Qantara.de

"Babylon – Myth and Truth"
The exhibition is organised by the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, the Musée du Louvre and the Réunion des musées nationaux, Paris, and the British Museum

Freeway Pic of the Day: Dr. Pumping

dr. pumping
North 405 near Northridge

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Back in Los Angeles: Career Limbo

We have arrived home yesterday evening around six...
The last two hours of the road lasted longer than two days. As the freeway lines increased in quantity toward LA, the driving experience got more and more combative.
All in all, I would relate the driving experience more to point A to point B delivering cargo than taking an adventurous and vacation like "road trip."
I liked the banality of Interstate 40, which allowed me to imagine the road as a truck driver wannabe. In fact, I am now thinking that I wasted a lot of my years trying to be an architect.
I know this will pass, but the roar of trucks and endless interactive experience of driving is what I am occupied with right now. I really don't give damn about Peter Eisenman and the rest and their work as architects and what makes architecture relevant. I wish architecture was less important and I was an Indian trucker stopping in Texas Panhandle and ordering samosas for dinner after doing an eight hours of driving. I wish I had a nice truck with an ample cab. I wish I didn't take this trip and feel the carier limbo I am in right now.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Day 3 (Simulacra day): Texas-New Mexico-Arizona

open skies

10 am. Sunday morning, trucks are whizzing by and there are many attractions from the driver's seat.
Sunday special on 40 West.
I keep thinking about Baudrillard and Simulacra and Simulations.
He says and I quote;
"The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth--it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true."

I am still thinking over that quote as the Christian radio politicizing the benefits of the family and dangers of gay marriage.
Family is the economic engine of capitalism. Every advertisement is directed to family... At least on TV.
Of course without family, economy would go upside down and drown.
I add; no kids, no banking, no purchases, no school funds, no real estate sales, no bike purchases and no sales Christmas season.
Above "no's" with some safe little exaggerations for the effect.

The road is long. I jump from one thought to the other. And occasionally I get to understand something or an idea. Then, an image brakes in and makes everything forgotten or even more reinforced.

In Arizona, there is a small town called Adrian, just before a small town called Vega.
"Adrian Vega" would make a great pen name...

Only reality is the asphalt...

Some highlights;

Spotted the world's largest Cross (taller than the one we saw near Indianapolis but same design.)
largest cross texasLargest cross

hunter joeHunter Joe with his kills moving to Arizona

indian trucking
Indian trucker stop
. There is a whole Indian trucker sub culture on the road. My first experience with it depicted in these pictures.
indian trucking 3
Did you think I was kidding you?


old66Occasional visit to old route 66 for the nostalgia, but the Interstate 40 is where it is at. I add to what I said yesterday, "poetry of 66 is now four lane; two to the East and two to the West


bad boys of mcdonaldOh, bad boys of McDonalds "Fries please"

german touristsGerman tourists

paddygPaddy G is thirsty again...We love her! She is a Highway Star (click here to listen her song)

We are now in Holiday Inn, Arizona... The cargo is still safe. I feel like the traveling rug dealer dealing out of the trunk...

arch of arizonaAnd Arizona has its own arch...

Tomorrow is California... Home...

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Three States in One Day: Arches and Kiss My Cherokee Ass

DSCF5291smSt. Louis in motion

We have been driving on West 44 toward Oklahoma City and than switching to 40 West thereafter...
I remember getting into an argument with Tina over cleaning up the house when we arrive in Los Angeles. It happened while passing by Indianapolis. We should have stop there and see some friends, but the city was already ten miles behind and we were no longer arguing.
Please understand, the road is addictive and it feels like you are on a mission to add that extra milage so you are ten more minutes closer to home even though you still have over 1500 miles to drive.
Only sight seeing is from the driver's seat and mind.

The state of Indiana terminated in Missouri, where ever and omni present McDonald's clean bathrooms and Saarinen's Italian copied arch made impression.
I did not know that one time "show me how" state, MO, sat on a bedrock and is very pretty.

We are on historic route 66 but only poetry left is the next pit stop.

I am on a mission to get to LA. The car is loaded with three sets of china and a rooster lamp. Plus all the silver. We are loaded...

will rogers
The arch of Oklahoma and a tribute to Will Rogers


Oklahoma had its own arch over the interstate 44. The Bigmac could be consumed looking over the freeway from the arched building and Will Roger's statue. Sure you don't forget the name on the plexiglass and artifical stone veneer base... The name is used in next 30 miles or so with countless travel depended enterprises and special gift shop business.


A creative photo with the see thru salad plate lid


Oklahoma appears with its Halliburton economy, trying wind power and a Cherokee Chief saying "kiss my ass" in his own way... He only trusts the freeway below.
I was going to take a picture of a buffalo on the premises but the poor animal was too tired from the freeway noise and was hiding in the shade structure. So, here is an angry depiction of him in fiberglass.

fiberbuffolo
angryfiberbuffalohead


halliburtonHalliburton economy


The Chief


windpowerTwo sources on the horizon

More tomorrow, from Amerillo, Texas and New Mexico, and, maybe Arizona...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

On the Road Again


Ashland, Ohio, seems like a regular town somewhere South of Cleveland. This is where Myers Water Pump Co. was founded and irrigated vast fields of corn and wheat. Faultless made casters for your grocery carts and National Latex manufactured baloons and other toys you have purchased for your kids' birthday. Ashland was hit bad by NAFTA trade agreement and long before the current recession, the town lost or relocated its major industries.
Last year W-Mart moved in along with Home Depot trying to finish whatever else left in terms of local business.

Ashland University is the biggest employer as of now but it does import its faculty, so it is no great help to locals.
I have been coming to Ashland for last 8-9 years and even as an outsider I saw the town slowly losing its color and spirit or simply changing like any other American small town, adopting to new realities brought by globalization.

We have inherited a Cadillac Seville, from my beloved inlaw Patricia Gill. It has a license plate "PADDY G" with a little gold trim here and there and hopefully it will take us back to Los Angeles in 4-5 days.
I will be blogging the trip as the time and technology permits. 2300 miles plus, minus.
This is not my first cross country drive but there has been thirty years in between. It will be great way to take a note about the changes taken a place in the country and on the people.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

WHAT'S AFTER PREFAB?

In his 2006 Cal Poly Lecture, architect and filmmaker Bill Ferehawk critiqued the development of prefab housing solution and combed the subject via psychological, technological, economical and socio-political conditions that surround this type of housing to this day and beyond. This is the uncut version of his memorable lecture exclusively for elseplace.



“To find where the mobility of organization life is leading, the new package suburbs maybe the best place to look. For they are not merely great conglomerations of mass housing. They are a new social institution. It is a communal way of life and the residents are well aware of it. They are of many minds how to describe it. Sometimes they lean to analogies of life frontier, or the early colonial settlements, or a lay version of Army life.
But no matter how sharp the coinages – “a womb with a view,” “a Russia, only with money” – it is a way of life they find suited to their wants, their needs, and their times. Except for the onastic orders and the family itself, there is probably no other social institution in the U.S. in which there is such a communal sharing of property…”We laughed at first at how the Marxist society had finally arrived,” one resident said, “but I think the real analogy is to the pioneers.”

William Whyte, The Organization Man, 1956.


After World War Two there was a huge deficit in housing in America. Architects and builders transplanted the social and industrial patterns of World War Two into the planning and design of housing. The social cooperation and technology that won the war was now promising to build the American dream for everyone.


“Houses like Fords” is what people said. This was the American Dream brought to you by the industrial process.


“Houses like Fords,” On the left a Lustron home 1948, more like a Toyota Camry. On the right Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion house, 1946, more like a concept car.
There are two architectural directions to the task of prefabricated housing in this period.
One, make the design familiar to the broadest possible population. Two, make the design an experiment in technology itself.
Now let’s take a quick look at prefabricated housing today.


I think this beautiful Marmol Radziner prefab home, fits into the Toyota Camry camp, but with a few caveats.
The design of the prefab is a branding strategy to appeal to pretty well-off professional folks, who know a little about architectural history.
But I became interested in understanding what is behind this nostalgia. And when I looked more closely at it, it revealed some unsettling questions.


I want to take you back very, very briefly to the American Revolution.
What I want to suggest here is that there is a psychological component to this nostalgia that reoccurs during times of dramatic change in American history. Often in times of dramatic change the visual arts turns to reductionism. And this seems very natural. Often after a war or major calamity, ornamentation or the baroque, strikes one as indulgent. We can see this shift very clearly in the furniture made before and after the American Revolution.
The ornate, aristocratic decoration of the heavily English influenced Queen Anne and Chippendale furniture is abandoned in favor precise lines and inlay of the Federal Style influenced by classical sources. There is a cultural shift in America, after the Revolution, to Roman and Greek visual sources to legitimatize the new republic.


Okay, what happens after 911?
On the left is a Mac G4, 1999. Notice the round almost baroque design. It has color. It is fun and friendly.
On the right is a Mac G5, 2003. It is an ominous box, monochromatic and has sharp lines. It is serious and self-contained. God forbid that you try and break-in to that box, it may give you an electric shock or silently alert a security force.


The anxiety and fear of the post-911 context is evident here. Instead of “Houses like
Fords” this is “Houses like Macs.”
It seems that the prefabricated home in the post-911 context can be examined as a means to institutionalize personal and collective security.
There is the same serious, self-contained feeling in this prefab as in the G5. Once I’m inside, I’m protected. I find that the openings are more frames to organize the landscape, or hold the landscape at the edge of the opening, rather than letting the landscape come inside.
The promise of technology now takes on a new meaning in prefab: As thousands of units
are mass produced, our collective security is certainly assured.


There is also another facet to this that I find most intriguing. Just like military life was transposed into postwar prefab housing the office life is entering now our domestic domain.
The social uniformity of the workplace, it’s emphasis on emotional balance and social
harmony, has now found a form-world in prefab.
The conference room table and the laptop are now rendered into architecture.
Now prefab has become a living vessel that is clean, safe and emotionally even: the home has became an extension of the business life-style enclave.


The world is shut out, and inside, is an uncontaminated world where all one needs is laptop and where one can surgically socialize in digital space.
Today’s prefab home sits alone, a marker of our self-reliance and our desire to remain connected to American landscape.


But these sentiments are not new in American life.
On the left, a painting by Thomas Cole (Home in the Woods, 1846) and on the right the LV home in rural Missouri. The similarity in these images is quite remarkable, given their 150-year separation, but not surprising, because Romanticism in America has not waned.
In both images a self-reliant, virtuous pioneer lives in harmony, in a pristine American Eden.


I want to conclude with a few images that I hope will inspire you to think about prefabrication and the meaning of technology in ways relevant to our present and future state.
Aside from the Lustron experiment, prefabrication has been mostly a lot of hammering or welding inside a shop. So there is really very little change going on here, in terms of efficiency.


On the left the Lustron method of welding walls. On the right the Marmol Prefab method of welding walls.
I would like you, as students, to think about ways in which the industrial process can be used to manufacture architecture. This means that the role of the architect may need to change a little. The architect will need to be able to understand the industrial process and work with engineers and scientists in fields not normally associated with the making of buildings.
I would also like you to think of where we are headed. My suggestion is to look at the ways in which energy will play an every increasing role in defining our culture. The use of manufactured components; for example, to make housing more energy self-reliant would be a place to start. How can small communities of homes generate their own power and would this effect architecture.
And finally, I would encourage you all to think about global labor pressures on the American workplace and home. For instance, right now more and more architecture firms, whether they will admit it or not, are sending drafting and other architectural work overseas. There will be less of a conventional workplace culture in the coming years.
More independent, associations of small strategic groups are likely. You should be thinking about the roles architecture and building technology play in this cultural change.

-Bill Ferehawk,
What’s After Prefab?
Lecture Delivered at Cal Poly Pomona November 2006


___________________________

Bill Ferehawk is a documentary filmmaker who uses the built environment as a lens to examine important issues of American life. Recent films: Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future, Vladamir Ossipoff: True to Form and Lustron: The House America’s Been Waiting For. Bill holds a Master of Architecture degree from Yale School of Architecture and a Bachelor of Arts in Art History from University of California, Berkeley.

Ferehawk Films
___________________________


LINKS:
All about Lustrons
Lustron Homes, a case story
Hello Ray (Kappe), a related story
___________________________

Saturday, August 9, 2008

A CROWD PLEASER AT SCI ARC GALLERY; Voussoir Cloud is a spatial texture

Photo; Bustler.net

This week SCI Arc Gallery features Voussoir Cloud, an installation by San Francisco based architecture firm IwamotoScott, with Buro Happold.

The show is an instant charmer with the help of the alert media and the fans world over.
The venue having produced and/or displayed couple of PS1 shade structure winners in the past, again pitches a very likely candidate for the bigger and more crowd pulling venue in Brooklyn.
A school gallery that feeds its museum uncles, if you will. We will save the article on the role of galleries for launching and sometimes limiting architectural carriers in coming weeks.

Back to the installation.
Ahead of its opening, the show supplied the press with accompanying digital drawings, which can fool the viewer for the actual installation, as they did for me.
And that was good because this is where I want to enter the discussion.

It used to be actual installations trumped the drawings. Nowadays the equation has changed; after a brief stop at the physical construction, the drawing is the final object destination. It is the eager need to prove the digital media’s “see, it can be built” hook, that starts to eat actual ideas or overshadows the real critique of the work itself.
As stated by the architects, “By beginning with a material operation, the design process is focused on calibrating the relationship of digital model to physical result.”
One is the duck the other the egg, both on the same plate.
But let’s not conclude it with that obvious call.

What about this?
Another quote; “Voussoir Cloud’s design explores the coupling of potentially conflicting constructional logics – the pure compression of a vault with an ultra-light sheet material.”

The compression forces are well countered with the shape of vault like structures even before the actual material choice.
Therefore, I again like to point to architect's wording, the accumulation of peripheral references. It is no scientific wonder or discovery point that a sheet of paper like veneer will be more resistant to compressive forces if bent like a vault, however doubled or tripled the surface curve with the frame like stiffened edges and ribbing are, no?
Pragmatically clever, yes.
Think of solid brick vaults with occasional void to create the web like transfer of downward wood veneer weight and bi-benefit of the light transfer through the holes or through the material itself.

Oddly enough, the compressive resistance movie was also played in the previous show by the blob guru Greg Lynn in a rather toyfull way.
Same place-same compression show, I even vaguely remember there were other
similar installations, to sample.
However, each time this vaulting, reverse vaulting, thinning the material, carving it from the plastics, hooking it to walls or self supporting; the ways one can resist the gravity via arching are familiar subjects.

Where are the punch lines of the installation?
The eye catching aspects of this show rely on material qualities, light transmissions, shadow castings, precision coupling, edge sharing, bending via digital resultants, modeling, and, achieving candidacy to next year’s PS1 canopy sensation.
If anything, that might prove to be the ultimate destination of this installation and rightly so.

But let’s not veer off, we are still talking about “spatial textures” undercover for now.

Photo; Bustler.net

SCI-Arc EXHIBITION: IwamotoScott Architecture: Voussoir Cloud
Los Angeles, CA - SCI-Arc Gallery
Friday, August 08, 2008 - Sunday, September 14, 2008

BACKTRACKS:
More from BIOS
IN-OUT Curtain
Lisa Iwamoto and Craig Scott

Jellyfish House

Friday, August 8, 2008

ISTANBUL ISTANBUL



Built on many layers of past empires and having shed glorious names like Byzantium, Constantinople and Stambuli, Istanbul is a much contested territory at the moment by foreign and domestic investors and by the international architects playing the we-know-how card.

The city's regain of rock star status is on the charts everywhere. The original junction of the civilizations still performs that great act.

Istanbul's architectural pedigree is impressive, you can study centuries old masterpieces still in use, have a cup of tea in the same coffee house where Corbu drew sketches for his Journey to the East and trace hillside homes by Bruno Taut, Ernst Egli and others. There are many Turkish modern buildings from the Republic's early years after the tired Ottoman Empire. Those were the days, the second quarter of twentieth century, when the idealist young architects of Turkey produced works worthy of their modernist mentors' praises and confident of their own identity.

Then, something drastic happened in 60's. Coupled or tripled with political unrest, democratic regression, economy without ethics, cities and buildings without architects became the norm.

Architects and planners simply did not disappear; they have just become puppets in the hands of speculative builders who did not know what a plan meant and why there should be architects designing buildings. These instant entrepreneurs caused a lot of damage that most Turkish cities will never recover from.

Although, with its largely infected fabric, Istanbul is not beyond the reach of urban solutions within its physically and economically dilapidated sections, and against its dubious land transactions.

These days, many foreign architects are visiting the city, giving lectures and offering solutions. Bold plans pitched to the mayors and high-level politicians, distant friendships made and large districts of the city are eyed, often in the name of unfair gentrification schemes called, 'Urban Transformation Projects.'

Market researchers and PR people from the Gulf Region, Western Europe and United States based large firms are busy to get contracts signed for their developer clients. Their architects are also busy finding local offices to carry on their projects designed in their home offices elsewhere. They want a building in this highly symbolic place that spans between the continents and joins them via the monumental handshake of two Istanbuls, one from the East and one from the West. Civilizations will have to brace each other over Bosporus before they fly off to Baku, Almaty and thereoff to build the future cities.

In Istanbul, the task is mainly a repair job, but a very delicate one.

Lesser known to most outsiders, this fascinating metropolis is also a place of beehive like activity for the domestic talent. A place for a young group of Turkish architects who are mainly surviving through national competitions, designing for emerging new communities, businesses and institutions. They want to shake things up, establish their territory, build various scale buildings compatable with their foreign counterparts, and perhaps start to export their talents in all directions from their strategic location.

This article started out as a rather personal research to find out what was going on in Turkey via Istanbul and its architects point of view. I was trying to get a certain cross section of younger generation of Turkish architects, who were mostly educated in Turkey and ask them about their work, challenges and daily grunge. It quickly developed into a multiple long distance short interviews with the help of Emine Merdim-Yılmaz, editor in chief of Arkitera, I was able to construct my own very first 'five architects' curatorial article, to say the least...

Some readers will be surprised with the familiarity of the issues these architects are dealing with, and if you are slightly familiar with the chaotic context where they are executing their work, you would appreciate their resilience, quest for quality and fighting spirit.

The unchecked obtuse growth, many irreversible urban design and architectural blunders committed on daily basis in their vicinity, these Young Turks have to wear their battle gears on all phases of their work and year around with no rest on sight...

They are political, active, business savvy, determined and restless. We have few things to learn from them.

I asked similar and sometimes the same questions to the architects, and when I understood the context of their practice better, the preciousness of their work became all the more apparent.

They say, as an architect you'll get better as you get older, but you will be doing your most important and difficult work during the youth of your professional life.

- Orhan Ayyüce, Senior Editor, Archinect

With special thanks to Emine Merdim-Yılmaz, Editor in Chief, Arkitera, all the architects and their staff who participated in these interviews.

Full Feature in Archinect

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Our New Capitol


"At 10am, the delegates walked to the Carpenters' Hall, where they took a view of the Room... The general cry was that this was a good Room and the question was put, whether we were satisfied with this Room."
- John Adams recounting the first meeting of the Continental Congress on September 5, 1774


Our New Capitol from Bryan Boyer

If you remember when I have posted Harvard GSD master's thesis proposal of Bryan Boyer, you will now enjoy his completed thesis. Boyer published his brilliantly worked out proposal for the new US capitol in his blog at Archinect and the work is now my favorite thesis project in a long time.
It is one of those works that actually come to a thesis grade frutation via thesis grade thinking, selection, proposition, research, position, political commentary, design know how and critical properties. I will not say more since it is beautifully documented and developed.

An ephemeral Detail from the project

More with comments at Bryan Boyer's Archinect blog
&
@ flickr

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Lamya Gargash: Presence

Pink Ninja

In this age of rapid building and unprecedented devolopment activity in United Arab Emirates, there is also large scale abondonment 'presently' underway. Dubai artist Lamya Gurgash photographs these unwanted places in her native country.

Blue Purple Chair


Below is the artist's statement from UNIVERSES in UNIVERSE;

Lamya Gargash: Presence
Statement by the artist

"Presence deals with the idea of subsistence in renounced spaces, and the prevalence of identity within unwanted houses or structures in the United Arab Emirates (specifically Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman). The quarters documented vary from being semi-abandoned (people about to move to newer houses) to those soon to be demolished. These interiors represent a young culture that came to life, post the oil boom, nearly thirty years ago. Now, with the need to be "modern" taking over, cultural extinction is sadly inevitable, and a new identity is forming. The fast rate with which these structures are being renovated, or formed, leaves very little time to grieve over these spaces.

Jalabiyat


The houses or edifices presented in this project entail different features. Some are recently vacant, whereas others have been deserted for a long time. There were some houses that still had people living in them when I began my project; the families residing there were preparing to move to newer homes.

Meelas Yadee


The levels of desertion illustrated in these rooms reflect the history of these areas as well as concluding their fates. It is uncertain what lies ahead for these buildings, but one can almost determine what transpired within them. Unfortunately, the present trend of modernization has transformed the old, cultural infrastructure into beach resorts, rental compounds and even shopping malls.

Greatgrandmother's toilet

This project is a visual journey through spaces and rooms that express character and identity through their lack of physical attendance; it documents the space, and the visually non-existent characters. These spaces consume the viewer, and a narrative is formed. They speak of lives that once existed, or still exist, and depict the sad notion of estrangement. The characters are present in the details trapped in these places; they provide an insight into their private lives. A new culture and a new past will evolve from the reminiscence of the estranged.


The Sofa

All the photographs by the artist

Friday, August 1, 2008

Art Review: Michael Asher at SMMOA



Background from the SMMOA site;

"From January 26 to April 12, Santa Monica Museum of Art presented Michael Asher, a monumental new installation which was a conceptual history of SMMoA’s exhibitions from 1998 to the present. For the installation, Asher reconstructed all the temporary walls—44 exhibitions’ worth—built during that time period.

The exhibition’s labyrinth of metal and wooden studs, which conform to the original wall constructions, revealed how the non-collecting Museum—a kunsthalle—reinvents itself with each new exhibition. SMMoA has no permanent collection. Its institutional history can therefore only be understood by looking through documents and catalogs. Asher’s installation translates the historical infrastructure and museological process into visual form, highlighting what would otherwise remain seamlessly hidden. The skeletal frameworks illuminate what art historian Miwon Kwon describes as “the temporariness of the architecture of temporary exhibitions.” With this work at SMMoA, Asher continued his artistic practice of institutional critique—uncovering the ways in which museums and galleries display and interpret art."




I have seen the Michael Asher Exhibition before reading Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight’s review relating the show to Piranesi’s Imaginary Prisons. There was hardly anything Piranesian about Michael Asher's installation at the Santa Monica Museum of Art last spring.




Stone walls of Piranesi and aluminum studs of Michael Asher make good contrast but it is the time dimension not the physicality of the two might relate if any.
While the key to Piranesi's constructions on paper is the time element and architecture theory angle, the relationship of Michael Asher's constructions needs to be found in political and economical impact of art in the cultural landscape of museums, private art galleries and art as ever inflating capitalist commodity and further discussions it generates.
Add to it, there is a personal theory on my part that Mr. Asher might have wanted to further layer his ‘commissioned’ installation for the archive less museum, by archiving, temporarily, the physical spaces of previous shows?



There are two major works of the artist, Los Angeles art community would perhaps remember about.
First, Mr. Asher’s Michael Asher Lobby in the inaugural show of Temporary Contemporary, now Geffen Contemporary, is particularly interesting in regards to artist’s situational critique of museum contents. As he gets the museum to sign a contract for two years, surrendering the rights of the area of the entrance lobby and the information desk to the artist’s control, sort of landlordship.

Second work is in the same space in a large survey show called, 1965-1975: RECONSIDERING THE OBJECT OF ART, where Mr. Asher places a large air blower in the ceiling, blowing air to a pre determined spot below, in about the same area where the Asher Lobby was situated.
Popular art as blowing air?
I have heard the personal story that museum asked Mr. Asher what to do with the air handler after the show only to hear from the artist that they can thrash it if they don’t have any use for it.

Christopher Knight is not alone, even the museums can miss the point.

Without going any further, I will leave you with a better review of the show by Andrea Fraser in artforum with some quotes directly from the article called Precedural Matters. Andrea Fraser has an illuminating way into the artist’s work and with that background information on the artist the work is best viewed.

"Many critics looked to the formal qualities of the installation for a key to its critical content. Christopher Knight of the Los Angeles Times experienced the densely placed studs as an “imaginary prison” rendering the museum “vaguely but viscerally oppressive” and contradicting the self-representation of museums as free spaces. Roberta Smith, on the other hand, found a “strong pleasure component” in the work. Her review for the New York Times resounds with the language of fiction, describing his interventions as “fabulous tall tales” of “irrational, gargantuan” effort, a kind of “Minimalism gone nuts.” Even Buchloh couldn’t resist evoking labyrinths and halls of mirrors in his lecture at SMMoA the day after the opening, describing the project as “mannerist.”²

What is to be interpreted in Asher’s work are not the formal qualities of the installation but the procedures of which they are the product, as well as the relationship between those procedures and the conditions of the site and situation for which they were undertaken.

The post-studio practice Asher has pursued since the late 1960s has often been characterized by a rigorous site-specificity limited to removing, displacing, reconfiguring, or reproducing existing or once-existing elements of the sites in which he works. Asher, along with Daniel Buren, reinterpreted the site-specific art that had emerged earlier in that decade, developing practices of formal investigation into strategies of critical intervention. The object of their critique, however, was not only the sites of art’s presentation but its traditional site of production as well. For it is the studio, and its distance from the gallery and the museum, that dictates the production of transportable and transferable works—discrete objects predisposed if not predestined to circulate as commodities. By closing the gap between sites of production and consumption, site-specificity provided for a direct and potentially critical engagement with the social contexts of art, at the same time that it freed art from the logic of commodity production.
While many artists making site-specific work have also created discrete objects, or packaged documentation, that circulate as commodities, Asher has consistently eschewed all commodity production and exchange. His is not a utopian rejection of economic exchange as such—a gesture which, in a capitalist society, can only be symbolic—but a very practical and specific substitution of one economy for another. What artists receive on sales is not payment for labor but rather a portion of the value to be realized (or not) by the buyer in the market where that value has been (or, it is hoped, will be) established: It is an advance percentage on an anticipated profit. Since the early 1970s, Asher’s only compensation for his projects has been in the form of fees. With the development of this fee structure, Asher conclusively redefined his activity, shifting from a model of goods production to a model of what, in economic terms, would be described as service provision: a form of labor that does not fix itself in a vendible commodity and can’t be subject to further exchange. However, the most radical feature of Asher’s work may be that it is not only site-specific but temporally specific as well. His installations cease to exist after a contractually determined period of time."




Even though the show since de-installed, like many of Mr. Asher’s works, the discussion continues and perhaps the artist further impacts and defines the artist’s work as professionalism like any other, with its complicated intellectual properties, spatial positionings and exchange values.
And, of course the playful ‘mannerism,’ as the art historian Benjamin Buchloch calls it, to boot.
I have walked between the metal studs for taking pictures but other than that it would be pointless. I am still wondering why the artist still left that area in gray even though there was a hand out on how to view the show.

Suggested viewing Diagram by the artist

List of selected reviews of the show:
Labyrinth from the artist’s mind, Christopher Knight, LA Times, Feb.,2008
Precedural Matters by Andrea Fraser, artforum/Summer 2008
How Art Is Framed: Exhibition Floor Plans as a Conceptual Medium, ROBERTA SMITH, NYT/ March 8, 2008
A perfect lack of a plan, Suzanne Muchnic, LA Times, Sunday, January 20, 2008
Michael Asher @ SMMoA, Ken Ehrlich, Surface Tension/ January 27, 2008

Photos in the article by Orhan Ayyuce