Multidisciplinary artists Gerard & Kelly’s Modern Living is a dance performance that has been presented in a series of famous modern houses, including Philip Johnson’s Glass House, the Schindler House, and Mies Van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House. This dance troupe cavorts through the spaces of each house to explore, in their words “intimacy and domestic space within legacies of modernist architecture.” There is additionally an emphasis on an exploration of “queer space,” where voyeurism and exhibitionism are uncovered through the interaction between the dancers through the transparency of the rooms they explore. The latest incarnation of Modern Living ran from September 28 through October 6 in Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, completed in 1930 in Poissy, a suburb of Paris. Probably his most famous house, at the time it was an astoundingly radical image of a floating white pavilion elevated on thin columns above the flat lawn below. It is shocking even now, and reminds us of Frank Lloyd Wright’s comment that “human houses should not be like boxes blazing in the sun.” It was a complete rejection of all things Beaux Arts and classical. Where a house was rooted firmly on the ground, this modernist villa hovered above; in place of small windows punched into a wall, it had a continuous horizontal strip of glass; where a gable roof would provide shelter, there is a flat roof terrace of paving and plants. Compared to the excessive ornament of the Beaux Arts, and even contemporary Art Deco interiors such as that of Robert Mallet-Stevens, the Villa Savoye is abstract and stripped bare. The walls are stucco, the only ornament is the occasional highlight of a deeply saturated painted color—architecture is reduced to space, form, and light, the house is essentially as “naked” as the Greek ruins that Le Corbusier admired. Villa Savoye first appeared in Le Corbusier’s’ Complete Works in grainy black and white photos, with barely any furniture inside. The Savoye family only lived there briefly, complaining that it leaked and was uninhabitable. The interior was seen briefly in a black and white film by Pierre Chenal in 1930 along with other Le Corbusier houses and his urban plan for Paris. It was occupied by the Germans, then the Americans in World War II, and was a derelict ruin used as hay barn until its restoration from 1985-97. Since then, it has been a mysteriously empty shell and absent of dance, even though Le Corbusier’s idea was that architecture is activated by the human presence in a “promenade architecturale,” as one walks through and around the forms and spaces of the house. In this sense, Gerard & Kelly have finally brought the Villa Savoye to life, in a choreographed work that is inspired in part by the purported affair of Le Corbusier with the singer and dance sensation of the 1920s Josephine Baker. Aboard an ocean liner from Buenos Aires to France, Le Corbusier met the black, American “chanteuse” who had performed in Paris and drew her nude. The Marilyn Monroe of the 1920s, Baker captivated the imagination of Adolf Loos as well, who designed a striped house for her on a corner in Paris, although there is no evidence she ever asked him to do so. Along with Cubism’s inspiration of African masks and culture as in Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, the perceived exoticism of Baker’s singing and dance had injected new life into these two uptight, polemical architects, certainly at odds with Le Corbusier’s Swiss Calvinist background. Baker went on to aid the French Resistance and became a Civil Rights activist, speaking at Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington. Taking Baker and Le Corbusier as a starting point, Gerard & Kelly’s six dancers glid, slid, sinuously snaked, and danced through the house, beginning at the entry, going up the ramp and spiral stair to the Grand Salon, then up the ramp to the roof terrace. Individually and together, singing and dancing to an insistent drumbeat, they joined to form a conga line through the master bedroom, then back down the ramp to the outside. Alongside the linear activity of the choreography, the dancers alternately formed pairs of male and female, black and white, gay and straight, gesturing to and intertwining with each other in intimate poses in relation to the internal architecture. They sporadically exposed various body parts, baring buttocks and breasts, draping themselves over the seductive curves of the spiral stair, and then outside on the roof terrace. The dance extracted the essence of the architecture as a magic box of possibility, where the audience and stage oscillate back and forth, creating an electrifying and exhilarating experience. Remarkably, at the end of the last performance, after the light rain stopped, a double rainbow emerged, a tribute not only to Gerard & Kelly’s multi-colored queer themes, but recalling da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, inscribed within the circle and square, the ultimate symbol of motion and stasis, and the harmony of architecture and humanity.
Posts tagged with "Villa Savoye":
The Spear in the Stone at Simon Preston Gallery brings together two works by Amie Siegel: Fetish (2016) and Double Negative (2015). Siegel, who made the film The Architects for the U.S. Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennial in 2014, has taken architecture as the subject of some of her works such as Provenance (2013) and Quarry (2015). Similar to these earlier works, architecture in The Spear in the Stone becomes the entry point to an aesthetic inquiry about the animism of objects and the means by which they attain value. One enters the gallery facing a photograph of the French coast. The photograph resembles an intaglio print and sets the tone for the exhibition, which oscillates between different mediums of film and photography. This variety highlights various aspects of what one might call our contemporary fetishes and how they become apparent in the institutional acts of documentation, preservation, and even cleaning. The first part of Double Negative is an installation consisting of two silent black and white 16 mm films that depict the Villa Savoye and its black replica, the building for the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in Canberra, Australia, designed by the firm Ashton Raggatt McDougall. In the gallery space, the projector occupies the center of the room and the two films are projected diagonally across from each other. The two films, initially made on 16 mm stock, are printed on 16 mm stock as negative images. This transfer from positive to negative leads to an abstraction of information and as details become less prominent, the two buildings resemble each other more. As the film itself is exposed to the air, dust, and humidity in the gallery, it presumably becomes scratched and loses more definition every time it loops. The negative print reverses the colors of the buildings. The reversal is further reflected in the environments of the two buildings. The opening scenes of both films display swans, one black (native to Australia) and one white, which are mirrored but at the same time reversed in color. Through these reflections and reversals, and through the loss of definition in the medium, the two buildings become equivalent, no longer one original and the other a copy, but negatives of each other. In The Miracle of Analogy: or the History of Photography, Kaja Silverman writes that the photographic medium did not necessarily develop out of a desire for reproduction and dissemination of sameness, but out of analogy and a desire to make traces and connections by means of images. When located in analog photography, the two buildings open up a conversation that slightly distorts the dominant story of Villa Savoye becoming a sign of Western modernism and being replicated for an institution dedicated to study of "other" cultures. Instead, by treating the two buildings as equivalents, the installation speaks of a fascination with architecture that raises the question: Why this fascination in the first place and why exactly is this architecture seductive? The second part of Double Negative is a color HD video that takes the viewers from the shores of France to the interiors of Villa Savoye and then from the beaches of Australia to inside the Institute, where archival material is being duplicated into digital copies. Here, the film focuses on the material that makes up the archives of the institution and also on the machines and devices that are meticulously recording and duplicating these items into a digital format. As we see a culture disappearing and being preserved by ethnography, we also see former technologies and mediums disappearing and now being preserved by newer ones. The two kinds obsolescence, cultural and technological, follow one another. Which one is more valuable, the actual object and its story in a given culture, or the ethnographic practice that tries to document and make sense of these? Fetish, in its ethnographic definition, is a "material thing with intense spiritual power." The "material thing" is as much a stone as it is the video of an ethnographic field trip that is being digitally duplicated and the "spiritual power" relates as much to a disappearing culture as to the foundations of ethnography as a discipline with its documents, archives, and methods. The meticulous duplication—the attempt to protect and preserve every bit and piece of information that is in the collection—directly contrasts the method by which information is lost in the first part of Double Negative. The hygienic environment of the institute also contrasts with the gallery where the 16 mm film is exposed to air. The next space in the gallery contains Fetish, another HD video formatted as CinemaScope, showing the yearly cleaning of Freud's collection of archeological artifacts at the London Freud Museum. Freud, one of the top theorists of fetish in the modern world, was an avid collector of small archaeological statues, which were displayed on his desk and shelves in his office. In Fetish, lights go on, the camera shoots the different parts of the Freud's office and focuses on the cleaning activity. The CinemaScope format allows tracking shots throughout the video, showing the objects on Freud's desk and shelves. While the tangibility of the objects is captured in the acts of cleaning and the sounds of brushes touching the objects, the visual environment of the CinemaScope hinder the touch. A contemporary version of fetish emerges between the objects and their images. The title The Spear in the Stone comes from an ethnographic video recording found at the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. Parts of original recordings can be seen in Double Negative as they are being digitally transferred. With these two works, the exhibition raises the questions: What is our spear in the stone; what are our myths and fetishes; what instills animism in our objects? And furthermore, what is the role of architecture? In this exhibition, architecture is where the seduction begins as an entry point to the object world. A material and spatial practice that is at the same time a sign of cultural predilections and preferences, architecture can also be imagined as the beginning of stories that animate our world of objects.
Modernism made you mad? One remedy might be smashing your Lego model of Villa Savoye into tiny pieces. If you don't have such a model handy, there's now a virtual solution to defacing Corbu with an online game called Le Petit Architecte. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nG2tOD7Ts0 Creating an “absolute architectural masterpiece” is no mean feat, but that is what players of Le Petit Architecte are tasked with achieving. In the game, you play as an intern attempting to "improve" Le Corbusier's design for the Villa Savoye, situated just East of Paris in real life. The game comes at just over 50 years after Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris' (Le Corbusier's) death which has meant that copyright in the majority of European countries (but not the U.S.) covering his work is no longer valid. Theo Triantafyllidis, a student at UCLA was one of the first to take full advantage of this. Naturally, he came to the conclusion that the first thing anyone would want to do to the Villa Savoye, if given the opportunity, would be to chuck a seemingly endless amount of objects at the house. Each object, of course, has its own sound effect which bears no relevance to its purpose size or shape or life form. An equally odd (and also perfectly befitting) soundtrack accompanies the game. The game was showcased at the #Decorbuziers exhibition in Athens, Greece late last year (on the 50th anniversary of Corbusier's death). Allison Meier at Hyperallergic succinctly stated: "Le Petit Architecte is a fairly simple game — create chaos in the face of modernist serenity. Yet it’s an enjoyably absurd diversion, and provides some digital retribution perhaps for those of us who still cringe over Le Corbusier’s mural defacement of Eileen Gray’s E.1027."
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts. Completed in 1963, it is Le Corbusier’s only major building in the United States, and one of his final commissions before his death in 1965. The renowned modernist architect envisaged a "synthesis of the arts," the union of architecture with sculpture, painting, and other arts. In the spirit of Corbusier’s unique style, the building stands out among the more traditional architectural prototypes of the Harvard campus. This is evident right from his initial concept sketch of the building, where Corbusier utilized bold colors to denote the new building, while shading the surrounding Harvard campus in dark brown—a color not typically part of his visual palette. The Center is unmistakably Corbusier, and reminiscent of the Villa Savoye with its smooth concrete finish, thin columns which break up the interior spaces, and a great curvilinear ramp which runs through the heart of the building, encouraging public circulation while providing views into the design studios. This achieves visibility and transparency of the creative process taking place within. To mark the anniversary of the buildings completion, Harvard displayed new material that revealed the evolution of this unique five-story structure. While Le Corbusier was never able to see his preliminary sketches come to fruition, the Carpenter Center for the Arts successfully unites a range of art disciplines, and continues to maintain the largest 35mm film collection in the New England region, as well as housing Harvard’s historic film archives.