Monthly Archives: July 2009

On collecting… (Little magazines & others…)

It’s the silly season and, as I prepare my next exhibition, I managed to go back to my collection of premier issues and find the by now sold-out O.K. Collections (not to be confused with the infamous OK celebrity magazine…).

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The O.K. periodical, appears twice a year and is the result of a new phenomenon: blogs that turn into magazines or books after they’ve built an audience, thus betraying the still pervasive ambition to go into print – even when print is supposedly going down the drain.

Collections are always a catchy theme, so this issue caught my eye just like minimal music goes well into my ear. I guess pattern repetition – and the obsessiveness it entails – is strangely attractive to the inquisitive mind…

I remember collecting, more or less in chronological order, glass marbles, political parties’ graphics (it was Portugal in 1974), world coins, soft-drink cans, cigarette boxes (stuff from abroad: my uncle was a traveller), 70’s erotic music stickers, UFO clippings, science fiction books, LPs by The Fall, Kafka novels, film postcards, Jorge Luis Borges short stories collections, films, all the books from Woolf, Mishima, Kundera, McEwan, Carver, Auster, Kureishi and a few others… And whatever else, until more recently I’ve apparently acquired a grown-up and “mature” taste and started collecting photography…

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Via “uberwert’s photostream” in Flickr…

Some collections I must have forgotten, some are comprised of only 5 or 6 items – like the African or Mexican masks – and others will go on forever – like cheap tin cars and the inevitable magazines. Others still are prompted by work itself, like when I started to get together daily images of architecture in delirium… (A set I’ve used in some conferences to illustrate a certain “state of the art”…)

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Axis Mundi, via ArchDaily: stacking it after MVRDV…

Other’s collections also fascinate me, probably because they are on stuff I would never dream gathering. This happens with some of the weird collections in O.K. but also, more curiously, with the ones that originated the exhibition on OMA co-founder and RK’s wife, Madelon Vriesendorp.

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“The world of Madelon Vriesendorp” (also a book) started at the AA, pictured here in Aedes, and has just passed by the Swiss Architecture Museum.

How can one even think of being a cultural actor without a taste for collecting?

Beyond the Digital Turn

Last week I’ve failed to air a quick succession of 140 characters tweets, just like I’ve failed to use the latest live-feed technology to try and let you understand how Beyond Media felt to me like a festival haunted by its very initial premises

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Now, instead, I’ll have to go back to the very old means of putting one word after the other – and one paragraph after the other – so as to try and telescope you into the heart of that simple argument.

But… this time, and so as to follow my musings,  you’ll have to jump into Volume blog, which kindly invited me to write about the festival…

Other Architectural F(r)ictions

Following previous posts, and as I am about to embark on a panel on fiction in the Beyond Media festival, here is the work of another photographer, who, following architectural studies and a collaboration with Herzog & de Meuron, decided to turn exclusively into constructions made virtual.

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After an appearance in Mark magazine, Philipp Schaerer was recently pointed out by Metropolis as one of “three European photographers” to follow up.

I remember an Autocad tutor I had years ago, who wanted only to build 3D virtual spaces and nothing else. She vehemently stated that she had no interest in the physical world, at least when it came to bricks and mortar… (Also she kind of hated architecture.)

Those were the pioneer times of exploring textures and non-gravity and the apparent freedom of the proto-SecondLifes of today. Which turned to be also quite boring and uninspiring – as you can see through the architectural quality of most virtual worlds and gaming visuals available today.

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Indeed, now it is again super-realism that interests us, and Schaerer’s buildings end up being quite interesting, not because they are escapist or unrealistic, but merely because they are… possible.

Like film once called for a notion of “suspension of disbelief”, also these images call for a knowing belief in their own narrative fiction – and that fiction somehow betrays a subtext of transparent architectural aspirations.

If not mediated by some sort of photographic aura, these images could easily be mistaken for the next piece of puzzling architecture hitting any of our given Arch Dailies… And that only tells us of Schaerer’s quality… as an architect.

On resistance: a confession…

Like anybody who enjoyed the eighties through the lens of a teenage pop world made of punk and indie, I appreciate a kind of resistance that is neither strictly political, nor purely ideological.

If something, I go for a notion of resistance that is somewhat anarchic, and declaredly anti-mainstream: a feeling that relies on the need to retain inspiration and a certain food for thought for a small minority that refuses to go along with the uncritical credo of the (now twittering) mob.

It was typical of this teenage mentality to reject any pop band that, after its first unknown albums, attained popularity and therefore became condemnable in the eyes of the elected few who knew better. In a word, after a promising start, they had sell out.

I’ve grown to joyfully embrace all forms of pop – from late Billie Jean to reborn Kylie Minogue – and, with a progressive degree of realism and a little bit of Adorno, I’ve also come to accept that everything will eventually be recuperated. And everybody seems to sell out at some point, even if only allegedly to be able to pay for the office bills or for their children’s whims.

Paradoxically, my idea of resistance now stems from the clarification that everything will, at some point, be re-integrated into some sort of system of mass consumption – like punk itself ended up demonstrating (even if in endless second comings).

The only form of resistance lies, under that circumstance, in the ability to undermine from within. There, I said it. I’ve stated my program. :-)                     (And the revolution will not be televised.)

This being said, it is also true that I tend to get terribly suspicious of gurus – so please keep me out of that club to which Groucho Marx did not like to belong. Incidentally, in my view of resistance, Groucho’s Marxism would be the only ideology I would gladly embrace.

So, naturally I agree with much of what Thomas de Monchaux says when he points to the problems of “overvaluing the guru” in a text on the latest Pritzker Prize, published in the excellent Design Observer. In such a case, it is not that I don’t recognize any of the wellknown masters’ flaming qualities, but I don’t think that licking the master’s ass does much good to either the licker or the licked.

In the same vein, I was quite glad to find out that also Lebbeus Wood recently posted on architecture and resistance, showing his usual concise depth in dealing with the notion. In his serious, yet delicious, “resistance checklist”, Lebbeus also warns of resisting the “people who seem invincible.”

GLOB_IN ARCH_LIBRI03_BIGPortuguese architecture, for example, was once renowned for its embodiment of resistance. Such a reputation owed much to Kenenth Frampton’s need to find good examples to support his neo-modernist theories, thus finding in Alvaro Siza and others good motives to oppose the then prevailing post-modernists. Critical regionalism, as earlier defined by Alexander Tzonis and Liane Lefaivre, used to imply an important political dimension.

Today, Portuguese architecture is totally beyond that early notion of (political-economical) resistance. As I’ve written at more length in another text, the master architects are also the most prized by the market. And only if they are true masters do they continue to (ocasionally) subvert from within…

On Humour (Another little magazine)

“My house is repulsive. If you saw it, you wouldn’t believe that any well-minded human being could inhabit a place so vile. The floors are lined with rotting garbage. Most of the windows are either smashed or covered in grafitti. There’s no heating or hot water. The whole place smells like a combination of wet cigarettes and dries blood. There’s a mushroom growing out of the fucking toilet. It’s wildly depressing.”

Karley Sciortino, from “Slaves”, in Apartamento

A few weeks ago a famous writer started a book presentation stating that, like everybody else, he hated architects. I perfectly see his point in this little quote.     I want my squalor and no one, but no one, is going to tell me how to live.

That is also why eye-catching everyday-life-interiors-magazine Apartamento is such a wonderful anti-wallpaper statement – although it will tend to be as “trendy” with young people as the other one was during its heyday.

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It’s another point of view. And, at least, humorous enough to start its 3rd issue with a piece like Enrique Giner de Los Rios’ “The Joke”. Forget marxism, forget minimalist chic, welcome the everyday life stories of the new fucked-up-and enjoying-it generation.

Coming from two cities overspammed by design, long after the yet-stylish Nest has disappeared, and even if it features one interview with three design gurus, Apartamento is what you can call the last resort manifesto for the personal design-free zone.