28 January 2012

And yet the feeling of arrival never wanes upon departure, and vice versa, so the two coalesce and become less than one

"Because we abhor the utilitarian, we have condemned ourselves to a lifelong immersion in the arbitrary...LAX: welcoming -- possibly flesh-eating -- orchids at the check-in counter...'Identity' is the new junk food for the dispossessed, globalization's fodder for the disenfranchised ...."

"...the end of Enlightenment, its resurrection as farce, a low-grade purgatory..."

"Continuity is the essence of Junkspace: it exploits any invention that enables expansion, deploys the infrastructure of seamlessness..."

"Architects could never explain space; Junkspace is our punishment for their mystification."

"...Junkspace is the body double of space, a territory of impaired vision, limited expectation, reduced earnestness, ...a Bermuda Triangle of concepts... it cancels distinctions, undermines resolve, confuses intention with realization. It replaces hierarchy with accumulation, composition with addition."

"A fuzzy empire of blur, it fuses high and low, public and private, straight and bent, bloated and starved to offer a seamless patchwork of the permanently disjointed. ...welcoming an infinity of virtual populations to nonexistent theres."

"Junkspace is a domain of feigned, simulated order, ... flamboyant yet unmemorable,..."

"Murals used to show idols; Junkspace's moduless are dimensioned to carry brands; myths can be shared, brands husband auras at the mercy of focus groups. Brands in Junkspace perform the same role as black holes in the universe: they are essences through which meaning disappears..."

"There is no form, only proliferation ... Regurgitation is the new creativity; instead of creation, we honor, cherish, and embrace manipulation..."

"Junkspace sheds architectures like a reptile sheds skins, is reborn every Monday morning. ... At the exact moment that our culture has abandoned repetition and regularity as repressive, building materials have become more and more modular, unitary, and standardized .... Instead of developement, it offers entropy. ...Change has become divorced from the idea of improvement. There is no progress; like a crab on LSD, culture staggers endlessly sideways..."

"Traditionally, typology implies demarcation, the definition of a singular model that excludes other arrangements. Junkspace represents a reverse typology of cumulative, approximative identity, less about kind than about quantity. ..."

"Like radioactive waste, Junkspace has an insidious half-life. Aging in Junkspace is nonexistent or catastrophic; sometimes an entire Junkspace -- a department store, a nightclub, a bachelor pad -- turns into a slum overnight without warning: wattage diminishes imperceptibly, letters drop out of signs, air-conditioning units start dripping, cracks appear as if from otherwise unregistered earthquakes; sections rot, are no longer viable,..."

"Fascism without dictator. From the sudden dead end where you have been dropped by a monumental, granite staircase, an escalator takes you to an invisible destination, facing a provisional vista made of plaster, inspired by forgettable sources. ...Toilet groups mutate into Disney Stores then morph to become meditation centers: Successive transformations mock the word 'plan.'"

"...Can the bland be amplified? The featureless be exaggerated?..."

"JunkSignature™ is the new architecture: the former megalomania of a profession contracted to manageable size, Junkspace minus its saving vulgarity."

"Half of mankind pollutes to produce, the other half pollutes to consume."

"Comfort is the new justice."

"Not exactly 'anything goes'; in fact, the secret of Junkspace is that it is both promiscuous and repressive; as the formless proliferates, the formal withers, and with it all rules, regulations, recourse..."

"Through Junkspace, old aura is transfused with new luster to spawn sudden commercial viability: Barcelona amalgamated with the Olympics, Bilbao with the Guggenheim, Forty-Second Street with Disney. God is dead, the author is dead, history is dead, only the architect is left standing...an insulting evolutionary joke..."

"Junkspace reduces what is urban to urbanity...Instead of public life, Public Space™: what remains of the city once the unpredictable has been removed..."

"In the past, the complexities of Junkspace were compensated for by the stark rawness of its adjunct infrastructures: parking garages, filling stations, distribution centers routinely displaying a monumental purity that was the original sin of modernism. Now, massive injections of lyricism have enabled an infrastructure -- the one domain previously immune to design, taste, the marketplace -- to join the world of Junkspace, and for Junkspace to extend its manifestations under the sky."

"Deprivation can be caused by overdose or shortage; both conditions happen in Junkspace (often at the same time). ...[The stylistic minimum] does not signify beauty, but guilt. ...Ostensibly a relief from constant sensorial onslaught, minimum is maximum in drag, a stealth laundering of luxury: the stricter the lines, the more irresistible the seduction. Its role is not to approximate the sublime, but to minimize the shame of consumption, drain embarrassment, to lower what is higher. The minimum now exists in a state of parasitic codependency with the overdose: to have and not to have, craving and owning, finally collapsed into a single signifier..."

"Museums are sanctimonious Junkspace;...Monasteries inflated to the scale of department stores; expansion is the Third Millennium's entropy, dilute or die."

"We used to renew what was depleted, now we resurrect what is gone." 

-- Rem Koolhaas, "Junkspace" (selected excerpts)

27 January 2012

The subject, thumbing through the pages of his own effacement

Or: Post-Fordist Rubbernecking as Surrealist Slapstick

All that stone and concrete patinaed with age, the windows empty or broken or gaping, the random graffiti and intrusions of natural reclamation. The remnants, how they loom. No figures in the landscape. Ah, but if those walls could talk, what might they have to impart?

But chances are that by now you might be bored with ruins. I have been for a good while. They've kind of everywhere these days. More of the same, shruggingly navigate away. Pictures of them, anyway -- all over the web, in coffee table books, etc. And yes, I've blogged about them before; did so very recently in fact. A cultural meme/trend that's been going for several years; which isn't as ubiquitous as all the zombie bullshit and the proliferation of various eschatological scenarios in books and films that've also been quite popular for a while now. The appeal of which makes one wonder about the nature or source of that appeal; which for me has long been the main aspect of the ruins/Detroit meme that I have found intriguing. Intriguing, because there's been so little commentary or analysis accompanying it. Or I suppose there has been, but none of it amounting to anything substantial – not much aiming to get beneath the surface of the allure of so-called ruin porn.

These misgivings of mine being something I tried to address when writing about this topic a while back. The obvious point being that the current allure of ruins being something quite different from that of more Romantic times; because in the previous era that appeal came down to a sublime awe for the remnants of antiquity, whereas today it's a matter of aestheticizing the decaying foundations of the present society. And that latter aspect, I've long suspected, has a lot to do – consciously or not – with the recent proliferation of images, photog projects, magazine spreads, books, and etcetera. Yet the discourse that has accompanied all of it has been either scant or anemic, if not both. And that absence begs any number of questions.

But this is more like it. The '"this" being a piece in the winter edition of the Glasgow-based arts publication Variant, submitted by contributor John Cunningham, entitled "Boredom in the Charnel House: Theses on 'Post-Industrial' Ruins." Of Marchand and Meffre's photography book The Ruins of Detroit, Cunningham at one point observes:

"There’s a sense in that [the photos] reproduce the viewing subject as a consumer of dereliction, the images mediating the ruin as a theme park to be drifted through. A certain distance is necessary to enjoy the accumulation of debris since who would want to live in a ruin? Images of the contemporary ruinscape present the aestheticisation of the destruction of the world in much the same way that 20th century avant gardes such as the Futurists enjoyed the bluster of warfare. Except what is lacking in these images of our dereliction is the passion and joy that animated the parodic virility of the Futurists. Aestheticised might be better read as anaesthetised affect since The Ruins of Detroit for all the wide screen flourish and detail of the images gives me the sense that all of this has simply been curated for the sake of distraction and gazing – or perhaps grazing – upon the ruins. The lack of affect present in such acts of curation is even more accentuated in the repetition of the curating impulse on the web."

As the title proposes, Cunningham offers six possible theses for framing "ruin porn" in various discursive contexts, six possible means of unpacking the pop-cult fixation at hand. He perhaps gets closest to my original thoughts on the matter with his third thesis, "Ruined Passivity"...

"This process of the subjectification of a passive, neutralised subject might seem too much to read from the diffusion of images of dereliction but the theme park or art space is also immanent to the contemporary ruin. For instance, photographer and ruin auteur Camilo José Vergara proposed with a kind of blank irony that the ruinscape of Detroit be preserved as a museum of US capitalism. It’s worth noting that in Germany the industrial detritus of the Rurhr valley and the mining areas of the ex-Stalinist Eastern part of the country have already been transformed into such a museum of Fordism. In an essay upon this, Kirstin Barndt goes so far to write of a 'transformation of the subject' from worker to leisured (or unemployed) consumer and a 'new landscape of affect' produced through the aestheticisation of dereliction and its preservation as a post-industrial playpen with walkways, art galleries and perfectly preserved ruins. [...] And what might be termed affective subjects are partially produced through such spaces. As Ganser, the project director of one of the 'post' industrial theme parks in Germany comments: 'People feel better, even though objectively the economic situation remains unchanged'. This can also be shaped as configuring nostalgia in the shape of mourning for the past, a past where the local population was not quite as surplus to the requirements of capital. 'People feel better' is as good a motto as any for the disciplinary apparatuses of contemporary capitalism."

I'd recommend the .pdf version, as it's better formatted and includes the illustrations that Cunningham refers to at various points in the essay (whereas the poorly-set 'text' version doesn't).

* * * *

From ruins to wreckage...

"Even with our little lapses, we generally intend the best. We reason, calculate, tabulate. We conspire. We watch our backs, and we sometimes have the backs of others. And yet we stagger forward across seas on which oil from a busted well below is burned. We build reactors, and they are upset when we barricade the railroads that carry away their waste. We make dolls that chew the scalps of little girls. We bury waste in a too-shallow grave and now you can’t eat the cheese. We throw away pairs of shoes and books, and we make more of them, and we don’t burn the ones that should be burned. We starve or are starved. We are surprised that rocks exist."

Evan Calder Williams, currently residing & researching in Napoli, momentarily breaks his blogging hiatus to offer a spiel on a certain recent event. As usual for when he lays forth in long form, it's a corker.

25 January 2012

After Nature

"Like our bodies and like our desires, the machines we have devised are possessed of a heart which is slowly reduced to embers. From the earliest times, human civilization has been no more than a strange luminescence growing more intense by the hour, of which no one can say when it will begin to wane and when it will fade away. For the time being, our cities still shine through the night, and the fire still spreads."
  -- W. G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn

A seasonal mix. The discoloration of memory, weatherings, the passage of time and the tain of the mirror, deliberately degraded audio, with some oblique passing nods to Satie, Schubert, and Tarkovsky...

Soundcloud streaming version now disabled. Download still available here here for a limited time.

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21 January 2012

Oxford Modern

A collection of exhibition posters from the Modern Art Oxford gallery, gathered for the 50:50 program this past autumn. Full selection and info here.

via Socks Studio.

20 January 2012

Some Last Words on 'Collage Culture'

Not mine, but someone else's. Uncannily paralleling some ideas from the Aaron Rose essay I was talking about earlier...

Q: How long did this new sonic aesthetic take to come together? And was there a particular trigger that inspired the shift?

JF: I was drinking a V-SMOOTHIE, in West Hollywood, at this place called Earth Bar. The ambience was like cold, moist air-conditioned Eco-space, digital ringtones tweeting off, smoothie blenders, laptops. And then a blue-haired man walked up to the counter in his five-finger shoes, texting on his Blackberry. The space felt so online. I was in a diverse online rain forest of $60 eco-smoothies and flat screen TV menus. I just wanted to make music that sounded like this, something these people could blast on their iPods. The ideas got deeper then this later, but this was the initial starting point.

Q: So how much of an inspiration has the internet and the digital world been on [the Far Side Virtual album]?

JF: The Internet is dispatching everything in our globalised mega-city. People are essentially wearing the Internet, eating it, hearing it, talking about it all the time, because everything is like a symptom of an Internet driven society. It's really obvious, though it's not the main attraction in FSV's story. FSV is a still life. Everybody's music sounds like the Internet right now, from Top 40 to underground. Fashion looks like the Internet. It's this weird impressionism that everything embodies. I think there will be more and more artwork resembling this. Digital clarity has given us another perspective on humanism.

Q: Do you think it's possible to avoid making art that doesn't reflect the intenseness of the internet's involvement in modern society?

JF: If by chance somebody does achieve this they are truly avant garde.

James Ferraro, interview in The Quietus, Dec., 2011.

18 January 2012

Medium Cool

For a the past couple of decades -- up until quite recently, really -- a good number of my friends and acquaintances have been younger than myself; usually by a full decade, sometimes more. Naturally, I long ago noticed the differences across those ages, about how we each respectively viewed the world, our perspectives having been shaped by the different circumstances of our "formative years." My own youth having well pre-dated the internet, with VCRs and cable TV only fully entering the picture by roughly about the time I started high school. They on the other hand grew up in a culture that was awash -- flooded, morelike -- with a variety of media. And baring out the sociological stats that we've been hearing for some years now, I often noted the evidence that they were also the product of a generation that was aggressively, incessantly marketed to.

Not that my exposure to TV was limited when I was young -- far from it. But we never had more than one TV set at a time, and I don't think we owned a color TV until I was about 10 or 11 years old. As far as having the thing on in the background was concerned, turn it off if you're not really watching it -- you're running up the power bill. Which made sense at the time, not only because we were always broke, but because it was late '70s and thanks to the energy crisis everyone was being admonished to conserve energy by whatever means possible.

I only mention this in relation to a fine pair of posts that Carl has up'd over at the group-effort decades blogs. I'm impressed at how astutely he describes and sizes up the media landscape(s) of the era in question -- its transformation in relation to the broader culture. In hindsight, not too many years after the fact, I could look back and recognize the nature of these cultural shifts; but of course when you're younger and living in the midst of it all, it isn't the sort of stuff you give much thought to, on account of it merely being the way things are, and one's own lack of a frame of reference at that time in one's life.

At the '70s blog, a very sharp conflating of two very significant movies of the time, Network and Being There, and the role that television itself plays in each film...

"Chauncey isn't exactly a parody of Reagan but of a whole tendency toward the idea of the natural man; whose power is precisely his uncluttered, uninflected apprehension of direct truths that the more sophisticated can never attain, dogged as they are by psychological and existential problems, their optimism ruined by experience. This lionization of the homespun, the good plain sense of a true American spirit uncorrupted by doubt and fancy European book-learning will reach its peak/nadir with Forest Gump. TV is the soul of America made visible and Chauncey is its word made flesh. This is why in the final sequence as the Elders discuss his candidature for president we see him guilelessly walk on water, he is superhuman, a redeemer, has a direct unmediated access to the Oversoul, incarnates it. Diana in Network may be 'TV incarnate' for Chayefsky (indifferent to suffering and love alike, the phallic witch of the coldest of all cold mediums) but Chauncey incarnates TV as salvation, and what he will save is Capitalism." *

From there, Carl continues at the '80s blog, transplanting the theme of deregulation as it occurs in Being There and applies it to the emergent cable-TV market of the 1980s; more specifically to the boom in youth-demographic target marketing that came with that emergence. In the course of which, he makes the following aside:

"From the perspective of 2012 and the waves of nostalgic music that hark back to the 80s and portray it as a world of colour and fun, there is a pre-Lapsarian longing for a restoration not just of the loss of childhood but also a point in which media specifically intended to divert and engage with children of virtually every age were in abundance. The often low-fi and misty evocations of the past, the primary colours, simple shapes and themes seem to replay the very early experience of nebulous but scientifically honed and crafted eye- and attention-grabbing ads and products for very young children. This is also a kind of 'cathode pastoralism' in which a later generation looks back in longing at the pre-internet age of analogue TV and shiny, solid objects in the way early denizens of modernity perhaps idealized the rural and artisanal past."

Impressive too is the accuracy of the description of the U.S. mediascape in particular, considering that Carl's writing about it from other shores. Curious about the rest of the "work in progress."

Speaking of "other shores," I couldn't help but be amused by this recent post from another contributor.

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*  Admittedly, the ending of Being There is an ambiguous one; the sort that prompts a variety of readings. One could argue that the "Elders"/pallbearers in the funeral scene speak in a way that casts them as (more pointedly) behind-the-curtain manipulators -- members of a partisan cabal who shrewdly and cynically view Gardner as little more than a malleable agent (a stooge, effectively) for retaining their own power. The fact that they're carrying Rand's casket to a mausoleum that can only be characterized as distinctly Masonic in style supports this conspiratorial reading.

16 January 2012

The Location of Culture: Scattered and Increasingly Digressive Notes About 'Collage Culture', Pt. II

Asco - Día de los Muertos Takeover, East L.A. 1974

In his essay "The Death of Subculture," Aaron Rose relates a comment made to him by Glenn O'Brien, who had remarked, "Subculture is no substitute for culture." Naturally, because the former always evolves and formulates values and identity by way of its inverse relationship to the dominance of the latter. This putting me in mind of Koolhaas's topography of the Generic City:

"Identity centralizes; it insists on an essence, a point. ...As the sphere of influence expands, the area characterized by the center becomes larger and larger, hopelessly diluting both the strength and the authority of the core; inevitably the distance between center and circumference increases to the breaking point. In this perspective, the recent, belated discovery of the periphery as a zone of potential value – a kind of pre-historical condition that might finally be worthy of architectural attention – is only a disguised insistence on the priority of and dependency on the center: without center, no periphery: the interest of the first presumably compensates for the emptiness of the latter. ...The last vibes emanating from the exhausted center preclude the reading of the periphery as a critical mass. Not only is the center by definition too small to perform its assigned obligations, it is also no longer the real center but an overblown mirage on its way to implosion; yet its illusory presence denies the rest of the city its legitimacy."

* * * *

Two quite common, if not slightly clichéd, readings of the work of Alberto Burri...

The first is the materialist angle, concentrating on Burri's use of materials evocative of the landscape of a war-torn Europe -- the "sackcloth and ashes" of his earlier work being reflective of a society digging itself out from the rubble and the burden of a troubled modern history, with the later works using industrial-grade plastics and the like paralleling Italy's recovery thanks to the largesse of the Marshall Plan (if not of the short-lived economic miracolo italiano of the late 1950s and early '60s).

The other being the one that stresses the visceral associations bound up with many of Burri's works. An account anchored in the biographic, that cites his former service as a medic in the Italian military during WWII; and how that experience proved too much for him, causing him to turn his back on a medical career, only to take up painting shortly after war's end. The tears and cuts and stitching and scorchings that appear throughout his works calling to mind fleshly wounds, lacerations, bandagings, suturing and cauterizations.

Both readings being highly metaphorical, each being rooted in a different site of trauma -- the first socio-historic in character, the latter psychological.

* * * *

Alberto Burri's work gained almost immediate attention in the late 1940s; especially in New York, where a young Robert Rauschenberg quickly fell under its influence. By 1952, Rauschenberg traveled to Italy with Cy Twombly, the former with the intent of seeking out Burri in Rome. That artists like Rauschenberg and Twombly would come into the mature phase of their careers by way of European influence proves intriguing, partly because it flies in the face of certain critical accounts of art history in the second half of the twentieth century -- the common version that has it that American art during those years having been a scenario of self-invention and willful pioneering, taking no cues from a European scene whose Modernist momentum had faltered due to the disruption of WWII, and whose postwar artistic developments constituted lateral or idiosyncratic zags that failed to resonate in a broader international context.

By some accounts, the European postwar art informel movement was interpreted as a response to the historical plight of Europe in the middle of the twentieth century -- an expression of cultural and existential malaise, arising out of smoldering doubts about the metaphysical health of Western civilization that had resulted in two world wars, the rise of fascism, and the Holocaust.1, 2  The disparity between historical circumstances makes for an ironic contrast -- Burri and his contemporaries laboring in postwar Europe, engaging modern material culture in a tentative and ambivalent manner; Rauschenberg (and his contemporaries working in the more overtly "Pop" vein) working in a postwar American climate of emerging affluence and triumphant complacency.

14 January 2012

Intertubes Interlude

Recent weeks: A malady that arrived just in time to Grinchicize the holidays. Returning home to a dead modem and various stressful upheavals. The sleep-dep resulting from the first item on the list accounts for my scarcity of late. I suspect it's also responsible for being a-bit/all emo like a muhfuh'r lately. Such as frequent bouts of homesickness, to which the above can be attributed. Because (goddammit) I haven't had a decent Middle Eastern meal in some 2-plus years, and I miss regular (hell, any) exposure to things like the above. Was present at the first two occasions, saw the others in different settings on other occasions.

Cohran's the odd one. Yeah, "seminal" figure in the whole AACM & "soul jazz" hotbed Chicago southside scene once-upon-a, but for a long while his only regular appearances were playing at an Ethiopian restaurant on the northside -- switching out between a variety of instruments (harp, kalimba, sax, etc.) over a cheezy prerecorded backing.

And I guess there's the matter of missing certain friends that I haven't seen since I vacated on Chi & isht like that.

File under: Pure personal indulgence on my part. (Or the alternate that my friend & associate Pere Lebrun's so fond of: Without music life w/b a joke.)

Raiding the 20th Century: Scattered and Sundry Digressive Notes About 'Collage Culture', Pt. I

Simon brings an item to my attention, a recent slender volume titled Collage Culture: Examining the 21th Century's Identity Crisis, for which I was grateful, because it had otherwise escaped my notice. The book sports a pair of essays, one being by Aaron Rose, director of the Alleged Art gallery and the man responsible for both the book and documentary Beautiful Losers; with the other being by writer/poet Mandy Kahn. Kahn's "Living in the Mess" is the longer and more enjoyable of the two essays -- a hopscotching, discursive path over & around her own ambivalence about certain aspects of the culture of the past decade. A cultural landscape in which, amidst all the slippage of irony and clutter, a type of semantical entropy results from everything canceling each other out. "THERE IS DANGER IN A LANDSCAPE OF MEANINGLESS SIGNS," she concludes early on.

Rose's contribution, "The Death of Subculture," is another thing entirely, being something of a manifesto or clarion call to young creatives, culture workers, & artists to return to a "total existence of innovation," to ditch habitual plundering and borrowing. At one point he describes the cultural landscape of the first decade of the 21st century as being "a blender devouring the trends of the last century," which prompts him to worry:

"We are in danger of destroying the fundamental and basic foundations of our creative identity. Our culture has come to view the tenets of original thought and creative innovation as an outdated model – but it has yet to release a new version to replace it."

* * * *

In the musical context, what's to blame? Why was the previous decade so largely given over to an orgy of plundering, retreading, recycling, etc? I suppose one could partially blame the whole 'bastard pop'/ mashup trend for giving the whole thing a good bit of its momentum. Or how all the business with "Grey Tuesday" and the Joy Garnett case and whatnot politicized the whole matter of appropriation and "fair use" in the face of the rapidly-inflating realm of "intellectual property" and the corporate copyright police. Or maybe it had something to do with that fucking Rapture album, and with James Murphy and the DFA network, and with all the Brooklyn bands who in the early part of the noughties unanimously decided to resurrect the post-punk sound, thus kicking off a trend of plundering the sounds of the Reagan Era that unflaggingly continues to the present. Or with graffiti art (which traditionally always relied quite heavily on quoting and citing) finally, fully coming into its own via the post-"Mission School" generation of street art. Or with "acid folk"/"New Weird America" and its fascination with the past, creative precedents, the cultural archive. Undoubtedly yes to all of the above, as well as to about a dozen other things that don't immediately leap to mind.

* * * *

A question that's nagged me for a while: With all this recently enabled access to the cultural archive, if indeed it's now "everything time," why aren't things (then?) more eclectic? Seems that there's long been a tendency to return to one specific period (to one aspect of its look or its sound) and just put things in Park mode. The '80s being the overwhelming favored era, of late. About which, the less said the better.

13 January 2012

Forget the Future/The Future of Forgetting

Image: Dave Jordano [ # ]

At the Design Observer site Places, "The Forgetting Machine: Notes Towards a History of Detroit," in which contributor Jerry Herron sorts through the aestheticization of dereliction by way of the recent glut of "ruin porn," the Motor City's provisional efforts at urban reclamation, and the fate of Detroit as possible cipher or harbinger of the telos of contemporary economics...

"This is a history created by serial default. Nobody really planned the ends — the ruins — of these buildings, any more than they planned Detroit, or America for that matter, despite our dedication to continental-scale projects, beginning with the Declaration of Independence and moving through Manifest Destiny and continuing with the Urban Renewal programs that destroyed America’s cities. We’ve all had a hand in our collective making, and now we’ll have to live with the consequences, not the least of which is our ignorance about the origin of things, so that we stand stupefied or angry or fascinated — camera at the ready — before the monuments to ruination."

The essay is the first in a new series by Herron. The notion of "forgetting machines" was introduced and explained in the author's earlier serialized essay "Borderland/Borderama/Detroit," which appeared in the 2010 Routledge anthology Distributed Urbanism: Cities After Google Earth.*  In that prior essay, Herron analyzes Detroit's status as a city/not-city via a historical trajectory that circuitously connects Tocqueville's assessment of the American idea of individualism with Rem Koolhaas's observations about American urbanism. Of interest is his discussion of Henry Ford's famous "history is bunk" decree, in which Herron fleshes out something that I long ago recognized as a distinctly American pathology:

"A history reinvented each day is no history at all, of course, at least not in the usual sense, with all it implies about the narrative chain of cause and effect that binds the present inextricably to the past. And that belief in necessary cause and effect is precisely what Henry Ford is calling 'bunk.' We want to live in a kind of perpetually self-renewing now,... That forever present condition of the individual is precisely what Henry Ford depended on to create a modern industrial work force — not people enmeshed in tradition or each other’s affairs, least of all union affairs, but individuals unfettered from the past, whom machine-made prosperity would turn into believers in Ford’s evangel. What he built, then, both the cars and the factories that produced them, might be thought of as forgetting machines — industrial works that became so successful as to make Ford’s point about the 'bunk' of history seem self-evident. [...]

"Where 'nothing' existed before, then, we were free to plan as we saw fit, getting it right this time, in a way that the old world, mired in history and tradition, could never do. Our cities came into being first as designs — as contracts with some higher ideal that entitled us to do whatever it took. Thus liberated from history, these urban idealizations had embedded within them their own inevitable undoing. Nothing real can ever live up to ideal standards of perfection, so that all our cities in a sense have been cities/not — forgetting machines always already sabotaged by history. But that would come later."

The essay was also reprinted at Places in three parts, and can be read here: 1, 2, and 3.

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* Herron's notion having no lack of precendents over recent decades. For starters, much of what rests at the core of Herron's essay touches upon some of the themes explored by Paul Connerton in How Modernity Forgets.

01 January 2012

Dancing About Architecture, IV: 'Rather Than for a Real World'

Brasília under construction, photos by Marcel Gautherot. Via.

The Atlantic article (see link) and its pull-quote from Simone de Beauvoir prompt me to return to my copy of Robert Hughes's The Shock of the New, for the three paragraphs he devotes to Brasília.* In which planner Lucio Costa is also called out on the carpet for Supreme Malconceptualism. Hughes's verdict echoes that of Beauvoir:

"Brasília, as this place was named, was going to be the City of the Future -- the triumph of sunlight, reason, and the automobile. It would show what the International Style could o when backed by limitless supplies of cash and national pride. ...In the future, everyone would have a car and so the car, as in Corbusier's dreams, would abolish the street. This was carried out to the letter in Brasília, which has many miles of multi-lane highways, with scarcely any footpaths or pavements. By design, the pedestrian is an irrelevance -- a majority irrelevance, however, since only one person in eight there owns a car or has access to a car and, Brazil being Brazil, the public transport system is wretched. So the freeways are empty most of the day, except at peak hours, when all the cars in Brasília briefly jam them at the very moment when the rest of the working population is trying, without the benefit of of pedestrian crossings or underpasses, to get across the road to work."

Which makes me recall an musical item I used to own. Back in the late '90s, the label Caipirinha briefly did a short-run "Architecttura" series of releases of experimental musicians doing compositions that were thematically linked to certain works of architecture. For instance, David Toop doing Itsuko Hasegawa's Museum of Fruit (Yamanashi, Japan). But I recall Panacea's contribution to the series involved a homage to Niemeyer's Brasília. On which the artist completely ditched ditched his trademark drum'n'bass/quasi-gabber rhythms, instead opting for downtempo or beatless soundscapes that are often as cold and airlessly spatial and inhuman as Costa's city planning. An envisioned utopian as a synthetic dystopia. One sample from the thing ...

:: Panacea - "Void of Safety"

But that's just the atmosphere of the thing. I recall finding much of thing (musically) too angular, and not particularly bringing to mind the more curvilinear and organic aspects of many of Niemeyer's buildings. Much of it, somewhat appealingly, had a very depopulated and nocturnal vibe about it, as well.

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* Yes, I've been known to read Robert Hughes from time to time; despite the fact that he's so "conservative" and that I often disagree with him about on almost everything that's transpired since 1950. And I mainly like him because he's often, in the strictly technical sense, an impeccable and eloquent writer. Which helps, especially seeing how -- when it comes to architecture in particular -- he can often be a shameless hack, merely rephrasing the ossified & honored verdict or what other critics had long since decreed. Which (for example) has everything to do with his verdict on Pruitt-Igoe so rotely follows that of Charles Jencks, and which is probably why his remarks on Brasília shadow those of Beauvoir.

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