Monthly Archives: June 2009

Blog Travelling

Today I went nettouring and this is the best darn thing I’ve brought back from my travels…

Picture 4By Terri Timely, via Core 77

Archives of Re-Incidence #02

Some people say there are no co-incidences, pero que las hay, las hay. As I was gathering incidences for this specific post series, little did I know that electronic intercourse with Volume was so underway… As Volume blog was publishing about all the beyonds, I was going through Volume’s last issue, on “Architecture of Hope” – as this certainly relates to Beyond’s forthcoming book.

Reading René Boomken’s The New Disorder of Creolization connected to ideas I’m currently working onand I do think creolization is an essential term for the 21st century’s emergent megalopolis - but it also rang a bell (talking about revival, just leave this on the background…) on an exhibition I’ve designed for the 2008 Torino World Capital of Design.

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My exercise on Flexibility consisted in transforming a 19th century prison space into an amenable exhibition space. But what I want to address here is: why should we see flexibility only from its economical, neo-liberal point of view? Flexibility is adaptation. And adaptation is imagination at work in the face of failure.

Another article in the same issue of Volume, “EasyEurope: The Young Continent,” brought me back to another trail of production…

The text by Tommi Laitio reminded me of how the curatorial argument of Metaflux, the Portuguese representation to the 2004 Venice Architecture Biennale, was all built around the idea of sudden generational difference and thus greatly based in references coming from youth culture studies.

ViewMetaflux4Cut

Also architecture has its youth cultures, of course. At the time of Metaflux, generations X and Y were  suggested as clearly opposed archiosociological phenomena – even if, against international standards, they presented an age difference of only a decade or so…

But after that, it is no wonder that, while Metaflux’s distinction generated a long-term effect in the Portuguese architecture arena, also within that same arena a generation Z has quickly emerged to media attention.

GenerationAWith Douglas Coupland being the trendsetter of all these notions, it is also no wonder that he is now getting ahead of himself and launching a new novel called… “Generation A.”

And with me being an “unabashed fan” of the Canadian writer, it is also no wonder that an excerpt of the upcoming novel is promised for Beyond’s take on Values & Symptoms.

Beyond and Beyond

Now that Beyond is showing up in reviews in Volume and Abitare it’s a good time to announce that, following the buzz on all the beyonds, I’ll be presenting the bookazine at the Beyond Media Festival, in Florence, on the 10th of July.

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I’m proud to be talking alongside Piero Frassinelli, from Superstudio – whose 1971 essay on “Twelve Ideal Cities” was featured as a reprint in the Scenarios & Speculations issue of Beyond.

The talk is on “Writing and Vision – Between Reality and Fiction” and is one in a programme of many, including international speakers such as Derrick de Kherkove, Marcos Novak, Beatriz Colomina, Peter Lang and Frédéric Migayrou.

Archives of Re-Incidence #01

Things come together eventually, but it sometimes takes years for them to gather some sense. Like Youssef Chahine said in “Chacun son cinema:” be patient, it is worthwhile waiting.

I’m undergoing this absurd experience where everything I read these days remind me of something I did or write in some previous life…  So, I keep adding stuff to this blog’s archives, as re-incidences get me back on a trail I left hanging somewhere along the way.

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I discovered, for instance, that the Post.Rotterdam exhibition catalogue somehow found its way back from 2001 into Criticat’s listing of important publications on the field of post-war habitat – much owing to Crimson’s contribution to it, undoubtedly.

That’s what I call a late but welcome reward on that very first curatorial effort on the theme of “architecture and city after tabula rasa.” (Not to be confused with Ben van Berkel’s retail experience…) The catalogue is now out of print, and so this reminded me to republish the curatorial text produced on that occasion.
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Re-reading the critical texts by Bart Lootsma and Roemer van Toorn included in the book, it is interesting again to confront that early assessment of the Dutch architecture hype with what went van berkel over these last years. Like a famous Portuguese retro-pop song goes: whatever happened to Dutch architecture?
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Little magazines (#02)

This image was floating on my desktop without any clear destination and I’ve thought it should land right here.

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I can’t exactly remember where the image came from, but it was there on my desktop as a reminder of a media category that, specially in the field of architecture – but also maybe of music, the arts and the literary – captures extraordinary attention and dedication. It must be some tendency to cling to the glorious feel of those student days…

Cynthia Davidson and her endorsement for (a) small (portuguese) magazine back in 2004 immediately comes to my mind. But also, of course, Colomina’s Princeton research on the same subject, originating the “Radical Architecture of Little Magazines 196x-197x” exhibition in places like the Storefront for Art and Architecture, at the CCA and later at the AA, always around the nostalgia of the “legacy and influence of 1960s and 70s print culture.

Now, I do think little mazines are still alive and kicking and there’s no reason to be mostalgic about some sort of primeval loss of a revolutionary printing spirit. Even in the midst of much web publishing the gloss and originality of small magazines lingers on – inside or outside the architecture field.

ArchdhIt is true that “little magazines” like Casabella (yes, Casabella was on the exhibition) are now shrinking into oblivion – just like other referential publications met their end at the hands of a merciless publishing market. L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui finished in 2007 – after 77 year of publication! – with a last issue on the ultimate surviving modernist, Oscar Niemeyer… Ironically, another last issue was announced on luxury in architecture, but I don’t think this has come out…

But every other day, everywhere, new small magazines appear to carry the flame of independent radical thought – or simply the new trends that will soon go mainstream – even if only for the small print reading minority. Digital print-on-demand will also take care that this can always be the case.

I wouldn’t know where to start to pick up the interesting examples. So I left my first choices to pure randomness. And I ended up with this two little magazines…

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Last wednesday, I lazily streched my hand from bed on to my bedside library and out came the premiere issue of SCRUB to enlighten my holyday lie in.      I didn’t even know what this was about. Any premiere issue that looks vaguely interesting deserves an immediate place in my magazine collection. It didn’t take much time to realise, though, that this was a gay magazine that, while being published in Berlin back in 2006, was totally focussed on New York.           (How’s that for a 70s revival?)

The very best piece there was undoubtedly a 32-page interview (how’s that for radical?!) with a 70s NY club-goer and fashionista that immediately makes you dive into the wild nightlife of an almost fictional pre-AIDS New York. I say, how’s that for youth nostalgics? My only disappointment came from the fact that a quick google revealed this one issue of SCRUB to be totally exposé online… Good news for those who feel like reading the Ruben Espinosa interview, though!

Another good (and more serious) read arrived through the snail-mail, and it was sent by Beyond’s contributor-to-be Valéry Didelon: another small magazine with important intentions, Paris-based CRITICAT.

criticat03couvertCurrently displaying its third issue, Criticat appears because, as its editors say, there is still a need for magazines that, while offering a space for critical reflection, are actually not tied to institutions – such as, I would say, universities, museums and big media groups… – and are therefore open to the “other actors of intellectual and artistic life.”

As such, this issue of Criticat again offers good food for thought on the return of modernism’s “others” (see my previous post). Somehow aligning with the very commendable sociologists that claim that late modernity never really left the scene – despite being under strong fire by post-modernist discourse – the magazine presents several interesting articles on the ideological recuperation of post-war modernism.

New heroes and narratives are discovered of course (as in the very interesting Marilena Kourniati revision of revisions), ideology itself is seen as a potential part of the problem, if not it’s Achilles heel (as in brilliant as usual Wouter Vanstiphout,  whose article I discovered also here…) and, last but not least, the political implications of the architect’s action is brought back to actuality by Didelon’s own editorial note on how today we’re already dealing with the “au-delà du spectacle.”

Little magazines are still there to offer us the most radical visions of architecture and its cultural (dis)contents. The problem is to discover and identify them in the midst of all the pseudo-theoretical mumbo jumbo that, like some digital wallpaper, now surround us from all sides.

Pancho Guedes: Story of an Exhibition

A truly massive Pancho Guedes retrospective, organized and put up by the architect’s own son Pedro Guedes, just opened in Lisbon.

The occasion presents a good motive to release my curatorial text on Pancho, written on the occasion of the exhibition I myself curated for the Swiss Architecture Museum, in 2007, and which later also traveled to South Africa. This was the show the architect himself has recently called a pudding – which can only make the Museu Berardo retro a true mixórdia (a word even the English speaking world will understand…).

Now that everybody is talking about the altermodern after Bourriand, it is funny to remember that the show was aptly called “Pancho Guedes, An Alternative Modernist,” and that its curatorial text even proposed that same notion of altermodernity two years ago… I think the catalogue-cum-magazine is still available for internet orders.

Like so many projects in the growing arena of free-lance architecture curating (Philip, salve in memoriam!), the venture was kinda crazy and took an incredibly long time to accomplish. And now I kinda feel like telling the whole story.

Bear with me, if you want – but be warned that this is like an excerpt of a future autobiography! If you’re not onto this sort of thing, pass on to the next post…

The exhibition was first proposed as early as 2003, after Nino Saggio asked me nonchalantly if I wanted to do a book on the anti-Siza over a nice lunch back at Archilab… (Nino, thanks for that initial challenge!).

Incidentally, the project was at that time presented to CCB, an institution not to be confounded with Museu Berardo, who actually “substituted” the earlier venue and is now paying good money for the new blockbuster retrospective.

At the time I presented the wild idea of doing a show on this forgotten but important Portuguese architect and Team 10 member – who was particularly hyperactive in Mozambique between 1951 and 1975 – the concept was welcome, but not quite yet.

After one chief curator gone, and another apologizing for not “being able” to realize the show, the idea was dropped on the basis of dramatic administrative changes… The interesting aspect here is that such a decision can take as long as 3 years to reach the final “no.”

This is the result of the well-known “nim,” a fabulous and ironic Portuguese concept – specially adequate to the institutional arena – a word that merges a “não” (no) and a “sim”(yes) in one single word.*

Which is like saying, “yes we want it, but we don’t really have the intention or ability to do it.” After the final “no,” institutions are thereafter obviously legitimated to realize the project with someone else. Not that this happens only in Portugal. But let’s say it is strangely more frequent in this small European country. It must be some residue of a long fascist tradition. Or whatever.

After I had totally given up on the idea, the director of yet another famous museum in Oporto heard about the story and pushed me again into thinking about the possibility of realizing the show in Serralves. (João, my thanks for that passing stimuli!).

By that time, with cancer and everything, I was already thinking some kind of African spell had been cast on the project (Ah! little did I know…) and I remember asking João: “Look, are you sure you want to do this?” He actually said a straightforward “yes!” (which is the most hardcore form of “nim”) and, still amazed, I traveled to Berlin for a much needed break.

Now, the real story starts. I met Francesca Ferguson when she was launching the “Talking Cities” magazine-cum-catalogue, back at the fabulous Urban Drift headquarters. Our introduction was coldish, but we manage to arrange a date for a coffee. And then we really hit it off.

At the time, Francesca was  discussing her position and preparing her program for Basel and it was magical to tell her “Look, I have this idea about this guy who was truly alternative in terms of modernism, and so on…” and to see her pick up her little note book and tell me “God, Pedro, that is an incredible coincidence” and indicate a small underlined sentence saying “alternative modernisms.” A true meeting of minds. This was 2005.

Some people know the rest of the story. Serralves Museum eventually dropped off the institutional collaboration being set with the Swiss Architecture Museum, but, with much dedication and some painful hardships, the show was accomplished in September 2007. (Francesca, you deserve the deepest acknowledgment.)

With the support of some – the team at SAM, Manuel Costa Cabral from Fundação Gulbenkian, the Instituto das Artes in Lisbon, etc. – and the unexpected contribution of others – like Simon Adler, who did an excellent contextual research in almost no time – the show was small and essential, but it got Pancho again in the international arena. Which he fully deserves, if only for being a radical eclectic before his time.

EntrancePancho

What gratification and lessons do I take from this story?

First, the enormous pleasure of having had the opportunity and the privilege to dive into the crazy oeuvre of the truly first international Portuguese architect. This I owe to Pancho, which was a gentleman in letting me do my work in Basel the way I wanted, providing me full access to his archive and agreeing with every option I submitted to his approval. Alas, he didn’t like my version of the story, but, as we all know, in a curatorial world that is bound to happen sometimes.

Second, and as a result of the first, I was able to leave behind a document that makes me truly proud. This was a very concise 30’ video documentary that was just presented on Portuguese TV with a very good reception and an audience of 60.000. Its international premiere is currently being discussed with the Architectural Foundation, in London.

Thirdly, I got myself a true-life lesson. Don’t take a “no” for a definitive answer. Sometimes, the lingering of a “no” in the form of a “nim” – despite all the pain it main cause – is only a way to mature a project until it finds its right partners. If things have to happen, they will happen.

Finally, throughout six years of dedication you inevitably cross paths with some bastards along the way – something that I carefully try to avoid as a rule. But, most importantly, you also meet wonderful and unforgettable people.

And that is funktastic.

Chapter closed.

(*Beware of the Portuguese language and its delicate subtleties: Portuguese is the 5th language of the world in terms of the numbers of speakers, after Mandarin, English, Hindi, and Spanish. I must say I have already considered the perversity of buildig up an audience for this blog and then, in about two years… switch to Portuguese language : )