Monthly Archives: September 2010

Guess What I’m Doing #07

While I’m preparing my conflation of Reyner Banham and Manfredo Tafuri for the BIArch’s Theory, History & Criticism seminar – which I have the privilege to kick off this Thursday in Barcelona – it is also my special pleasure to announce that my first “solo” show is on its way.

Interiors” opens on the 19th October at Cristina Guerra gallery, in Lisbon, as one of the official events that run parallel to the Lisbon Architecture Triennale 2010.

I say “solo,” but I should say “collective.” As it should, the exhibition relates to ambiguity, collaboration, and interdisciplinarity. Is it an architecture show? Is it about photography? Is it about the spatial turn in contemporary art?

Interiors” features perspectives on some of my architectural work produced over the last 10 years by 4 artists and 1 architecture photographer: Filipa César, João Paulo Feliciano, Daniel Malhão, Edgar Martins and Fernando Guerra.

Each of the outlooks that surfaces in the exhibition presents a different reflection on the relationships of architecture and its visual representations, while allowing us to rethink interiors as a source of experimental and spatial practice. A practice that, after modernism, architects have gradually left behind to other players.

A limited edition catalogue will expand on the contents of the exhibition featuring work by yet another photographer, a film director and previously unpublished artworks by Carlos Lobo – an upcoming artist who coincidentally was just nominated to the seminal BES-Photo prize last week…

Fictional Whims

One month away from the Once Upon a Place conference on architecture and fiction – with early bird registration at reduced rates closing tomorrow – it is more than about time to ask why the connection between these particular ways of world-making is becoming so big.

Is it because, as I was wondering in one of the conference’s presentation texts, fiction has become the appropriate tool to investigate a reality that is itself… stranger than fiction?

Image via  Waxin’ And Milkin’.

At the recent International Campus Ultzama, people asked why do architects now show a tendency to escape the traditional limits of architectural practice.      I advanced the modest contribution that maybe young practitioners are not really trying to escape anything, but just rather trying to find a way out

A way out of unemployment, that is, or out of a lack of prospects of a profession which in recent times was wrongly taken as a sure path to stardom and celebrity… As Juan Herreros added, architects have now to invent what they want to do – as artists always have done.

And this is perhaps one of the reasons why fiction in architecture is suddenly enjoying such a revival, and is popping up in revisions that range from Bruce Sterling’s hypothesis of an architecture fiction to the likes of Beyond or the contents of blogs – and projects - like that of Geoff Manaugh and Liam Young.

If fiction was always a vague source of inspiration for architects, now it’s presenting itself as a concrete model for knowledge production or, as it turns, a device for justifying architectural invention – such as in the recently published work of John Becker, in which the fictive narrative of an inexistent client plays as decisive a role as the creation of forms and programs itself.

What the Once Upon a Place conference will decisively show this next October is that the takes on fiction coming from the architectural world are now many-sided – either allowing for a rereading of architecture fictions of the past, questioning the role of utopia and dystopia, creating architectural and urban narratives, or finding in fiction an impulse for pedagogical experimentation.

Haunted Houses & Imaginary Cities, as we also like to call it, will bring forward the thoughts of more than 30 authors, artists, architects and researchers – out of the 250 papers submitted and including key-note speakers such as Alberto ManguelSchuiten and Peeters or Kazys Varnelis.

So, if you are planning to visit the last of Europe’s fictional capitals in the near future, maybe this will be a nice leit-motif to enter the pretty unchanged townscapes of Fernando Pessoa’s original whereabouts, Alain Tanner’s Ville Blanche’s settings and Wim Wenders’ locations for Lisbon Story.

Today

Today, the ninth day of the ninth month of 2010, I went to the beach.

I went to the beach. And I’m not simply bragging. I know how such a sentence may spark a whole set of mixed feelings – some slimy emotions somewhere between envy and contempt. But, believe me, this was the most rational thing I could do in the middle of this training day.

Going to the beach is always therapeutic because, other than sinus, it is good to measure your smallness against the breadth of the ocean. I’m no surfer but, as you’ve gathered by now, I like to catch waves without the help of any stiff board. The Portuguese call this “fazer carreirinhas.” I suddenly realized this could be a most ironic metaphor on professional life.

Today, going to the beach was therapeutic because I had an early start in the Consulate of one of the stupidest States in the planet. And, no, this time this was not Portugal. (Even if Portugal frequently competes for the position of the stupidest country in Europe – no wonder televisions and newspapers are now giving so much airspace to a convicted pedophile.)

Now – you must understand that stupidity makes me really nervous. Like that Woody Allen’s character that couldn’t understand mimicry, in the face of stupidity I start to get cold sweats and spasmodic attacks. I can’t help it.

So, I must go to the beach.

This unfortunate condition is probably why I can’t really understand Diesel’s current media campaign that cleverly advises us to Be Stupid. The motto is itself stupid, unless these guys are really being smart asses and saying that in the face of major institutional and state stupidity we must, per force, play dumb.

As a major poet said around here, there are indeed places in which, if you want to be king, you must take one of your eyes out… You know the saying… It was actually Erasmus’ saying that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

One must not forget that these people are the same who have outrageously produced one of the best future scenarios we have seen in a long time in any ad – another of those images that was patiently seating on my desktop, waiting for the right moment to fit into some kind of unexpected train of thoughts.

I mean, this scene is bound to happen exactly as depicted somewhere along the next 1000 years. The cycles of history so dictate. However, as The Smiths used to sing, you just haven’t earned it yet, baby.

But, I mean, be stupid? I can still believe that being stupefied will very eventually make you more creative. But being plain stupid?

Anyways, stupid of me – or of my damned curator nature – because I thought I could be a sort of an idle cultural tourist in the middle of a sort of ongoing post-war zone. Rem Koolhaas has done it with Lagos, true. But what did really come out of it apart from his own enlightenment out of a near-death experience?

Only yesterday, the author of the wonderful “The Tourist Destination had already sent some revealing vibes in that direction. But that was yesterday. That was when I still believed that I was going to discover something inspirational in one of the world’s most dramatic emergent megalopolis.

Today, faced with a sort of bureaucratic stupidity that was only a pale version of the dark reality in which I was about to immerse, I finally gave up on my strenuous efforts to potentially offer some perspective on what was going in this oily place. And the airplane tickets were already in my hands.

I don’t deny that the fascination will still be there for someone who is interested in how cities develop out of the chemistry of chaos – someone who is moved by how people actually survive and are creative in the midst of such chaos.

However, in some way, this is only another story in which failure is able to trigger a fair amount of reflection. Sometimes is indeed better to fail – or, as Seinfeld famously put it, it is wiser to say “I choose not to run.”

This is why I am now starving to hear what Mr. International Curator has to say about “The Future of Curating,” this coming Saturday, in Lisbon. Indeed, when the luxury of conspicuous cultural consumption will come to a moment of arrested development, what is to become of this nice activity of showing beautiful and intelligent things to the people?

There other good reasons to go to the beach, of course.

Some of these reasons come straight out of this wonderful and rather young profession of “curating.” Once I stood in front of a museum director and I had to tell him that I would rather go to the beach than to accept the despicable conditions that his stiff board was suggesting so as to organize an exhibition.

Happily, bygones are always bygones. Especially after a 45-minute fight with the Atlantic ocean. As another pop band sung, this is only life, and how to live it.

And Beyond Venice…

As the Venice Biennale continues to generate its media buzz – and even some recurrent reflection on the usefulness of this kind of biennales – I would reiterate that what stays after any exhibition is still some book that someone will eventually be able to peruse in about 200 years from now.

In this instance, for me, that book was aptly named Emergency Exit and it seems like it will be very able to stand on its own – ever long after this year’s Venice Polish Pavilion will naturally have sunk into general oblivion, even after all the commotion it has provoked.

Emergency Exit, by Agnieszka Kurant and Aleksandra Wasilkowska, via Dezeen.

So, here is an appetizer of my own contribution to the book edited by Elias Redstone, which is now available trough Sternberg Press, featuring contributions by the likes of Hans Ulrich Obrist and Markus Miessen…

The Sky-Jumpers

There is no heaven or hell. Instead it is said that everybody who ever lived is reborn in riverworld. This is not a complete secret. There is even a novel about it. And a couple of games. And a dire TV series.

In riverworld nobody dies. Or else, if one dies, one wakes up again in some new spot along the meandering waterway that outlines the place. Humanity re-enacted, but fit with a new radical sport.

The suicide express is used by a growing number of enthusiasts to travel randomly about this world. Suicide as one of the fine arts has swiftly expanded into an array of precise cults: the death-fighters, the cutters, the asphyxias, the drownies and so many others.

The sky-jumpers are the most spectacular of the suicide sects: they build high, intricate structures from which to soar on to the ground. Their constructions take months to achieve, but they always take exquisite form and always remain as appreciated memorials long after the petit mort of their notorious authors.

Some say it is no longer clear if the sky-jumpers do their thing for the fun of travelling, for the sake of performance, or if simply for the furtive gratification of spreading their monuments around riverworld.

© Pedro Gadanho, from “Escape, They Said“, in Emergency Exit