At the Chicago Architecture Biennial, the role of the horizon in architectural display and setting for events was noticeable—both in the biennial's discussions held at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) Chicago during the opening as well in the main exhibition in the Chicago Cultural Center. Here is what made instant impressions. When the dust settles, various other things will emerge, that I am sure. IIT threw a party for the biennial, as well as hosted panel discussions earlier that day. Without a doubt, Mies van der Rohe's Crown Hall is an unbeatable example (on its ideological turf) of how rigorous rules of platonic geometry still drive the photogenic nature beyond actuality, and somehow end up being free of time. The Crown Hall is not only a setting of purity in Cartesian world of grids, but also an organizational force that persists as a monolith in face of any pluralistic trends of the moment, many of them that are present at the biennial. Two discussions "crowned" the morning of that day. First, by reviewing a group of "Emerging Voices," a descriptor meant for a youngish architecture practice established by The Architectural League of New York. After presentations by Dan Wood, Tatiana Bilbao, Michael Meredith, Florian Idenburg, Paul Lewis and Kim Yao, along with a Martin Felsen-moderated discussion, Anne Rieselbach, of the Architectural League, asked the question that was hanging in the air (paraphrased): For how long will emerging architects will still be considered emerging? Judging by the work presented, the offices owned by the panelists are well ahead in their production of some very important projects. Yet, ideologically, what is the position of supporting institutions of Emerging Voices in order to understand the advance of such highly educated architect makers, influenced by being apprentices to their "parent" architects such as OMA, Peter Eisenman, Steven Holl, Diller Scofidio+Renfro, and SANAA. Are they, the “emerging children,” still struggling to assert their own brilliance and excellence already on record? The interesting and lateral voice was Tatiana Bilbao, architect from Mexico City and the only woman on the panel, for whom the question of influence nor mentorship really seemed to matter. It is always good for the debate to see someone shake the table horizontally and get the discussion to go further. Bilbao is from what people in the North call the South. Which leads me to the observation of the second panel at IIT, moderated by Fabrizio Gallanti and titled "South-North," as an inversion to common understanding of geography. This conversation involved two architects from the “South” and two architects from the “North.” Felipe Mesa and David Barragan, spoke about how different it is to be an architect from the south, and how the south is discovering new phenomena in the last five years, such as tourism. Architecture seems to play a large role in the trend of emerging tourism in locations that were not usually visited before. The lessons from these conversations at this time seem two fold. At one end, the inclusion of the south is simply not just having south, it is about being south from the north. In terms of competence of design and construction process, there seems to be no difference, yet there is asymmetry due to different climates that impose legal regulations onto architecture. David Barragan from Quito referred to vernacular architecture in Ecuador as an escape from the curriculum of the architecture schools there that teach detail drawings made to Swiss and German standards, which no one can read and perform there. The case in point. A side discussion with Paul Lewis unfolded at the scene after these two panels. We both looked at the ceiling of IIT covered in tiles that are in square shape while the entire geometry of the Crown Hall is rectangular. It is good to remember that ideas behind pure architecture are indeed purer in geometry, and not necessarily in economy. Back at the Chicago Cultural Center, three installations stand out as direct answers to the title of the biennial: The State of the Art in Architecture. If not noted before, this title is borrowed from Stanley Tigerman’s conference held at Graham Foundation in 1977. For me two projects presented at the biennial draw attention to this topic at best: First, Nikolaus Hirsch & Michel Müller and, second, WORKac & Ant Farm. They take the aspects of the future from the past seriously into the design process of crafting them now. It is a fantastical world of day-dreaming of architecture that crosses through any statements of architects trying to do art…and fail gracefully…into the next set of ideas of what the future of art shall be, by architecture.
Posts tagged with "Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss":
At the Aronson Galleries at the New School, a wall of pickle jars taped with black-and-white cutout portraits of twenty dictators lines the windowsill. A standard 8 ½ x 11 paper sign invites visitors to Pick Your Own Dick by placing a poker chip in a jar. Chairman Mao, a world-class “dick” whose Cultural Revolution starved and murdered millions of Chinese, and Turkish President Erdogan, an elected Muslim fundamentalist morphing into a military strongman, handily won opening night. Romancing True Power: D20, the mischievous exhibition designed by Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss of NAO and conceived by Nina Khrushcheva, associate dean and professor at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy at the New School, cheekily invites public debate about the nature of and difference between types of dictatorship, taking special glee in thumbing its nose at ostentatious symbols of power. The exhibit was accompanied by a journal compiled by Khrushcheva with Yiqing Wang-Holborn and by a book of graphic novellas designed as a result of Weiss’s seminar on new ideologies at Columbia GSAPP, both profiling selected dictators and their trappings. The co-curators selected twenty of the world’s biggest dictators—dicks for short, according to the lingua franca of the exhibition—considering them by various yardsticks and quantitative measures. It’s a pun that offers itself willingly and fluently throughout, and why not? Mark Halprin may have had to resign as an analyst at MSNBC in 2011 for disrespectfully characterizing President Obama’s as acting like “kind of a dick” after a press conference, but it’s good to know there’s still some humor left in academia. In the exhibition space, celebratory tchotchkes and representative “dick kitsch” adorns a roomful of stacked white cubes Scotch-taped with information about each leader. On the gallery walls, informational print-outs graph in three dimensions the greatness or infamy each of the selected dictators, and a video collects scenes of the symbolic displays of power—choreographed military parades, building-scale posters, salutes--that are the trappings of authoritarianism. In the hallway, a hall of dictators designed by NAO composed of photocopied black-and-white sheets invites you to compare each dick’s stature—with the exception of Margaret Thatcher all of the prime examples chosen are men—and each is crowned by his dick palace. Inflected by a distinctly Slavic black-humor, underlying Romancing True Power is an academically rigorous examination of the forms dictatorship takes relative to different systems of government. Most of the exemplars are conventionally accepted members of the group: President Vladimir Putin, a true dick by any standard, evinces a visible pleasure in flamboyant dissembling, willfully erratic behavior, and contempt for his opponents. Putin is joined as co-representative of Russia by his typological predecessor, Joseph Stalin, General Secretary of the Community Party of the Soviet Union, one of the great mass-murderers and political assassins of all time: another order of dick altogether. Vice President Dick Cheney, great fabricator of post 9-11 conspiracies and silencer of political opponents, is placed alongside another legendary Dick, President Nixon, known as Tricky Dick long before he was uncovered spying on Democratic opponents during the Watergate scandal and forced to resign. Khrushcheva and Weiss selected the twenty dicks in a lively debate while developing the book and exhibition, and created appendixes listing second and third tier adherents of the club. The European fascists of the WWII era fall into this latter category, along with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, currently a leading proponent of the genocidal category; possibly they’re too intellectually obvious and uncomplicated to make the first cut. Apart from academic credentials Nina Khrushcheva had special access to this field: she is the great-granddaughter of Soviet First Secretary of the Community Party Nikita Khrushchev, an honorary third-tier dick notorious for taking his shoe off and banging it on the table for emphasis at the UN. The twenty chosen “dicks,” the D20, are offered as a counterpoint to the G20, the leaders of the world’s 20 most industrialized countries who meet in Geneva each year to decide the fate of the international economy. The sole function of the twenty dicks, by contrast, seems to be to intimidate, harass, punish, dominate, silence, and display their true power. That is, their dickpower. The beauty of the show at the New School is the opposite. It constructs a public display about dictatorship that is itself an open public debate. The opening night panel discussion with Bobby Ghosh, a CNN Global Affairs analyst, exposed that debate to public scrutiny. Its exhibits are all paper monuments created samizdat style, in the manner of the Soviet dissidents of old, who secretly distributed photocopies of books and political pamphlets as handmade productions that were no less important because of their improvised character. Both the exhibition and the hardcover journal, available as an online journal, with informative chapters such as “Dicks and their Love of Sports” and “Dicks and their Music,” repudiates abuse of power by making it the subject of debate, play, and mockery. Nothing is as worthy of ridicule as the exercise of dickpower.
The School of Missing Studies and Slought Foundation have recently returned from a “photo safari” to Petrova Gora in Croatia, one of many languishing memorials from the socialist era of the former Yugoslavia. Conceived in 1981 by Vojin Bakić, a Croatian sculptor who won many state-funded commissions, working with the architect Branislav Šerbetić, the project was designed as a 12-story-tall social center, set on the site of a Partisan field hospital used during World War II. Finally completed in 1989 as a monument to Yugoslavia’s resistance fighters, the memorial was used as intended for only a brief period before the Balkan crisis erupted. The wars that ensued scattered refugees around the region, and practically erased the political cause this structure was meant to embody. Today, Petrova Gora stands unused and empty—but not secured with lock and key. Thanks to the neglect of Croatia’s democratic government, which looks away from its socialist past, the memorial is more approachable and free than ever intended. Anyone can come here, enter the site, walk inside the monument, and wander upward through 12 interconnected levels all the way to the roof. The feeling of melancholy inspired by Petrova Gora is overwhelming, but it is irresistible to call it beautiful. Furthermore, an astonishing aspect of this monument is that inside, it is the size of a small Guggenheim museum, positioned on a dramatic hilltop site. It also is significant that the building is the work of an abstract artist, and that the architect played a minor role. Today’s contemporary artists have discovered this inhabitable monument, and are cementing careers by embracing Petrova Gora in their work. Take the video produced by David Maljkovic, which portrays the structure deep in the future as a neglected fiction. Other projects and expeditions to the site have produced similar imagery, evoking “nostalgia for the future.” All of these projects raise awareness about this exceptional work, and about the exceptionality of Yugoslav socialism when compared to the idolatry of the Soviet bloc. However, these artists’ projects fail to ignite strategic thinking and analysis, especially within the context of contemporary practice, about ideologies deploying art in place of design. Moreover, little if no work has been done to relate this monument to American influence upon Yugoslav cultural policies during the Cold War, making Yugoslavia an ally to the West and offsetting the Soviet East. American abstract art, conceptual art, and corporate architecture all play provocative roles in this history. So while artists exhaust the repertoire of visual interventions, the time is ripe for architects to step in. In contrast to socialism, which tended to freeze time and artistic competence, today in the emerging democracies in the Western Balkans the situation is much more open. Paradoxically, perhaps the best aspect of emerging democracy is that being behind may mean being next. Yet time is also limited for further action. Visitors to Petrova Gora have already spotted men with geodesic equipment measuring the site of the memorial and the monument itself. This may mean that we are already late on the scene, and that there is perhaps little time to think of a strategy to put this monument back in the future, either for an authentic use (which few would fund without a neoliberal zeal for profit returns), or preserved as a beautiful ruin. The time of earnestness may be over. This text is part of a forthcoming book created by Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss in collaboration with Berlin-based photographer Armin Linke, which explores the fate of a number of Socialist memorials in the region. The photo safari to Petrova Gora, along with further discussions among the participants in Zagreb, was part of the Slought Foundation’s traveling exhibit at the Croatian Association of Visual Artists and the School of Missing Studies’ workshop “City as a School of Politics,” held in Zagreb with local participants and curated by Katherine Carl.