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23 August 2015

The 'Eighties Revival, Pt. 56





Owen Hatherley, screeding about postmodern architecture (and its supposed "revival") at Dezeen:

"Defenders of Pomo who combine their liking for it with left-of-centre politics can point to the way that early Pomo was linked to local campaigns and ideas of "community architecture", against the collusion of big business and the state in places like Greenwich Village and Covent Garden. The architectural results of those events are pretty minor, but in the West Berlin IBA of 1987, Postmodernist ideas about streets, complexity, juxtaposition, decoration and context did result in some of the most interesting social housing schemes in a city already full of them. 
"But there is a reason why Postmodernism and the Thatcher-Reagan revolution became so closely linked. Charles Jencks's inaugural manifesto-compendium on Postmodernism included within it a staged knife attack in Robin Hood Gardens, one of the social housing schemes written off therein as a social failure largely because of its design. A great way of intensifying the rationale behind a design choice was the old Ruskinian appeal to morality. Modernism meant bad concrete estates full of bad walkways and bad open spaces and a bad lack of ornament and tradition, which produced bad people committing bad crimes. If you think that's a reductio ad absurdum, read practically any book on architecture and planning published between 1975 and 1995. The results, for those in those apparently "bad" buildings, would be drastic. The new "common sense" was that their housing was so awful that it probably needed to be demolished – eventually, as you can see in, say, London's Cressingham Gardens, no matter how much residents insisted they liked their Modernist houses. 
"It's not Postmodernist architects' fault that in most of the west, social housing stopped getting built at around the time their ideas came into fashion. However, the fate of Modernist social housing is partly their fault, in that they willingly gave the aesthetic alibi for a political campaign."

03 August 2015

Beyond the Shock Box (Slight Return)


On retiring the notion of the "banality of evil"...

"A spate of books have made similar arguments about the psychology of Nazi functionaries in general (see Haslam & Reicher, 2007a, for a review). They all suggest that very few Nazis could be seen as ‘simply following orders’ – not least because the orders issued by the Nazi hierarchy were typically very vague. As a result, individuals needed to display imagination and initiative in order to interpret the commands they were given and to act upon them. As Ian Kershaw notes, Nazis didn’t obey Hitler, they worked towards him, seeking to surpass each other in their efforts. But by the same token, they also had a large degree of discretion. Indeed, as Laurence Rees (2005) notes in his recent book on Auschwitz and the ‘final solution’, it was this that made the Nazi system so dynamic. Even in the most brutal of circumstances, people did not have to kill and only some chose to do so. So, far from simply ‘finding themselves’ in inhumane situations or inhumane groups, the murderers actively committed themselves to such groups. They actively created inhumane situations and placed themselves at their epicentre. This was true even of concentration camp regimes:
'Individuals demonstrated commitment by acting, on their own initiative, with greater brutality than their orders called for. Thus excess did not spring from mechanical obedience. On the contrary; its matrix was a group structure where it was expected that members exceed the limits of normal violence.' [Sofsky, 1993, p.228]
"In short, the true horror of Eichmann and his like is not that their actions were blind. On the contrary, it is that they saw clearly what they did, and believed it to be the right thing to do.

"But even if Hitler’s killers were not the mindless functionaries of fable, doesn’t the work of Milgram and Zimbardo still show that ‘ordinary men’ can become brutal by becoming mindless under the influence of leaders and groups? Not really. For if the studies of Milgram and Zimbardo are subjected to the same close critical scrutiny that has transformed Holocaust scholarship, their explanations are also found wanting. In arguing this, we are not questioning the fact that both studies are of great importance in showing that ordinary people can do extreme things. The issue, rather, is why they do them." 
- S. A. Haslam and S. D. Reicher, "Questioning the Banality of Evil"  

Chances are that if you've ever given such socio-behavioral dynamics much thought or analysis (or ever held a job in certain types of environs), intuition might've led you to find the conclusions of Arendt, Milgram, Zimbardo, et al., lacking. Not that Haslam & Reicher's unpacking fully unpacks the matter, but it at least points in a more astute direction.

29 July 2015

Scenes from the Middle of a Short Century



Connecticut General Life Insurance, Bloomfield, CT 


TWA Terminal, Idlewild (now JFK) Airport, New York, NY



Manufacturers Trust building, New York, NY
(with Harry Bertoia "screen" wall sculpture)


United Nations General Assembly, New York, NY


IBM 702 Model


GM Technical Center, Warren, MI


Philip Morris Research Building, Richmond, VA


Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY


CBS Columbia Plant, Long Island City, NY



Photography by Ezra Stoller.


[ via Socks Studio ]

28 July 2015

Before, During or After the Fireworks




Peter Schjeldahl, recently interviewed at the Brooklyn Rail...

"Aren’t feelings the only things in the universe that we can really know? They’re the actual us. Thoughts are just lawyers for our feelings. Memory is a pile of stories determined by feelings and constantly revised to fit new feelings. I guess the emphasis in my writing has to do with my never having been educated in art. I saw and loved art before I knew anything about it. I lucked out of the problem of learning about art before you see it — because you will always be dealing with that information at the expense of what moves you first-hand. I discovered very quickly in the ’60s that I was the world’s leading expert in my experience. And then I got praised for making the most of that. I think Jasper Johns said one of my favorite lines, which I remember vaguely but goes something like 'Style is only common sense. You figure out what people like about you, and you exaggerate it.'"

I'm assuming that by being "I was the world’s leading expert in my experience," Schjeldahl means something along the lines of: A first-hand authority on my own experiences. To the degree that: subjectivity vs. experience + subsequent knowledge and exposure = an expanded frame of reference in which to ground one's expertise/worldly compass.

Anyway: Noted, the way in which the matter of "feelings" -- and how "feelings aren't facts" -- turns up later in the interview in a wholly different context; but then dovetails into a bit about the place and presence of an artwork re intention and effect, and the matter of artistic failure(s), that last aspect being returned to later still:

"Looking at art is like, 'Here are the answers. What were the questions?' I think of it like espionage, 'walking the cat back' — why did that happen, and that? — and eventually you come to a point of irreducible mystery. With ninety percent of work the inquiry breaks down very quickly. You reach an explanation that is comprehensive and boring. Bad art, as any good artist will tell you, is the most instructive, because it’s naked in its decisions. Even adorably so. When something falls apart you can see what it’s made of. Whereas with a great artist, say Manet or Shakespeare, you’re left gawking like an idiot."

22 July 2015

Habitat, # 11






















Images: Sophie Ristelhueber

19 July 2015

Unbuilding (Slight Return)





As another Zaha Hadid stadium becomes the object of criticism and controversy, at the Citylab site, contributor Kriston Capps bluntly concludes:

"No place with real oversight can commit itself to the surreal developments that mega-events entail today. The bid process is a game rigged to favor totalitarian countries, where costs and corruption and the lives of workers are idle concerns. This is a game democracies can’t win, and it’s not the fault of any architect. Instead of competing within this system, Western nations must pressure the International Olympic Committee (and FIFA as well) to accept and endorse bids that are realistic and healthy for cities.

"And if they won’t accept that, these groups should find the most god-awful corner on earth and build a permanent site for the Olympics and World Cup there, once and for all."

+ + + + +


Art historian Dora Apel on contemporary imagery of urban ruins, and the narratives suggested by ruin porn's unanimous preference for a "Neutron Bomb School of Photography" framing of urban ruination and decay:

"Hence the paradoxical appeal of ruin imagery: as faith in a better future erodes, the beauty of decay helps us cope with the terror of apocalyptic decline. In the cultural imagination, the idea of Detroit has come to serve as the repository for the nightmare of urban decline in a world where the majority of people live in cities.
"Detroit ruin imagery also serves another function — it geographically circumscribes and isolates the anxiety of decline, making the predominantly African-American city a kind of alien zone. The ubiquitous photos of derelict skyscrapers, churches, businesses, and homes, and abandoned factories like the Packard Plant — the nation’s largest ruin — are repeatedly compared to war zones, hurricane wreckage, and the aftermath of a nuclear explosion." 
[...]
 "If the victims of the city’s decline disappear, the discourse of ruination becomes one about architecture and landscape and the city’s inevitable “reclamation” by nature, whether that means a return to a pre-civilized state or the emergence of a new ecological idyll. Photography that focuses only on the beauty of decay in architecture thus distances the viewer from the effects of decay on people and obscures the ongoing crisis of poverty and unemployment. 
"This effacement of the populace also reflects and reinforces their invisibility to corporations and the capitalist state, who helped create the patterns of ghettoized, racialized poverty that have long prevailed in the city while simultaneously absolving themselves of any responsibility."

+ + + + +


Certainly the death of something or other, one would sort of have to think.




image: Kikuji Kawada, "The A-Bomb Memorial Dome and Ohta River," from the series The Map:
Hiroshima 1960-65
.

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