Monthly Archives: December 2010

Stairway to Heaven

As the wonderful and frightening year of 2010 is coming to an end, I can’t resist posting a project of very recent crop that has certainly made me smile. This is a prized – i.e. legitimated – composition that speaks of a utopian drive that recently is again permeating architecture culture.

The Stairscraper, by Nabito Architects. Via Arch Daily, Designboom, Arch-Times, Green Building Elements, Plataforma ArquitecturaModern Technology, etc…

As in some locations the building industry recedes, the decreasing output of new, relevant built architecture is compensated by the production of imagery and narratives that speak again of the power of imagination within the discipline.

In very pragmatic and acritical (or shall I say post-critical?) times, imagination in architecture seems to be put aside as something superfluous and vain. But whenever architecture feels itself abandoned by the economic system, the creativity of imagination is again cherished as a possible emergency exit.

As Stanford Kwinter eventually noted in his editorial for Abitare 506, or as Rory Hyde somehow reflected last summer, it is already clear to some of us that architecture is facing a new divide in between its acceptance as essentially a production of culture or, on the other side, its ineffable progression into the corporate making of added value so as to sustain our paradoxical levels of consumption.

In the so-called age of the experience economy, imagination is, of course, used and abused on both sides of the fence. But if used as a speculative tool, imagination always carries a critical edge that is more in tone with culture’s ability to make us a more reflexive society.

Given this motto, and after just having gone through last year’s must read for the architect sect – the witty and much-appreciated graphic novel Asterios Polyp, by David Mazzuccheli – I can’t also help but putting things into an ironic, all-seeing perspective, courtesy of Portuguese artist Miguel Soares.

This intriguing 3D animation is, in fact, one of the “visual artifacts” I’m using to trigger a number of micro-fictions that will come together as my contribution to LOG’s upcoming issue on the absurd, guest-edited by Michael Meredith of Mos.

Here’s to a warm welcome into the future’s inevitable absurd dualisms.

Another Xmas Gift

 

Just as it happened last year, I’m rewarding my small but faithful sect of readers with a little revamp of my blog – a new section - and, of course, a couple of texts.

The first of these articles was actually commissioned for issue 38 of the MIT’s Thresholds journal, but I have no clue if it is really going to be published or not. (I guess that’s the way some editors manage their responsabilities out there.)

As I’m about to revisit the issue of architecture and science fiction for the local FNAC magazine – one publication that, at least, has a wide readership in the gullible world of popular culture – I reread my very personal story and thought it fit as a piece of festive shrapnel. Read it here, perhaps while listening to this.

Archigram, A Walking City. Via io9

The stimulus was there, the text as well, so here goes another piece of text onto that growing world of unpaid content that, as some critics are now shyly discovering, – and as I would boldly state – will ultimately drive exclusive, academic writing onto the useless niche where it belongs.

Back in 2005, parallel to this notion, I have also produced some reflections – and something of a demonstration – on the subject of how the decrease of professional criticism would ultimately kill architecture as we know it. Naturally, Portugal was a retro-avant-garde in that respect.

However, the article was published in a small, local academic magazine and thus it was read by practically nobody – which is one of the (general) problems of the design and architectural critique these days. As Alexandra Lange just unfolded it for us in the Design Observer, after her other article on the subject in the recently revived Architecture d’Aujourd’Hui.

As such, I also take the opportunity to republish that old text in my Portuguese language archives. As for the English-speaking world, it can always read the somewhat less darker version of a similar content in Lange’s “boring” blog.

And don’t forget to have a nice Christmas.***

Other little magazines #14 – Cultural Medleys

 

What do we talk about when we talk about contemporary culture? Especially if considering culture as represented in the dazzling quick medium of magazines, where do we locate our definition of cultural production today?

While musing languidly about these useless questions – and not really wanting to embrace an academic rant on them – I picked up three magazines of recent crop to try and understand if anything had really changed in this realm during the schizophrenic, freakonomic year of 2010.

And the first sign that something had changed was that, while I was going through the typical new London magazine about “fashion, design, music, film, art, culture, travel and lifestyle” – this one dubbed The Hub –, I suddenly noticed that the publication was strangely dense.

One article after the other suggested a real thick volume of content, which is awkward for a magazine that seemed to fit in that long tradition of slight and slick superficiality that comes all the way from Dazed and Confused onto Wallpaper and all their other simulacra.

And what was the explanation for this apparent outburst of well-designed substance? There was simply no advertising. No intermission. No visual branding intervals. Nada. I run for the next magazine in my desk – the Italian Pizza – to check if this was a trend, and again… niente.

In Pizza’s case, in fact, there was instead an even run of “fake campaigns art works” by Peppe Tortora, that somewhat perversely cared to remind us that we are indeed sweetly addicted to those oases of brand emptiness in-between every two other pieces of information overload.

If, as I will do in a moment, I was already talking about Brooklyn and Toronto based Assembly, and this being a more alternative assemblage of powerful cultural stuff, such absence of the commercial would be just normal. But when looking at these other magazines this was plainly unexpected.

This mysterious absence of publicity is ever more weird when Pizza, for example, looks at culture from the monocular point of view of fashion.

When, despite you being based in Milan, you don’t have the fashion industry behind you and yet you insist in promoting the cultural actors that somehow revolve around such world – the photographers, the writers, the designers, the artists etc. –, then you may only be deemed extremely generous.

Or perhaps Pizza is driven by that other noble purpose of boosting a certain cultural identity through a hip medium. Indeed, Italianess comes up as a subject in each single interview in this rivista. Would this be a show of anxiety because of the position that Italy now occupies in the new European geo-economic domino?

As its name proudly forwards, Pizza is all about the wonderful mix that Italians invented and exported to the world, only now metamorphed from fast-food onto a big, beautiful cultural mishmash. With its optimistic view on the return of a wonderful, glamorous Ur reality The Hub plays the same game, but for the London scene and its proud local goodies.

As such, both mags are late representatives of an already nostalgic view of European culture as a grand assemblage of pleasurable activities that once had an energetic economy booming behind them. With ads gone as a symptom of a new lifestyle, and with consumers consistently fleeing onto a paradise of free internet content, let’s see how this culture will fare without the money behind it.

As for Assembly, this journal is an amazing example of a rather different cultural ambition. Here, content is indeed independent from the finantial context. It talks to us of a production of culture that will always happen, independently of big economic groups or whatever fashionable trends are booming or sinking.

Assembly‘s thematic diversity is truly cosmopolitan, reminding us that it is not only theory or current thinking, but also contemporary urban life itself that is eminently interdisciplinary and wide-ranging in its deeper interests. Texts range from appealing short fictions to mind-boggling medical or musical essays. And its interviews range from shrewd to unabashedly important.

As such, the first issue of Assembly smartly blends together visual essays on suburban Toronto and insightful reflections on the South African informal city. Or the confessions of a stalker, and the political report of an Iranian émigré, intersected by Mathew Craven’s vintage American imagery inspired collages.

This is a global journal for a cultural niche, but this niche is the one that, across the world, will probably remain faithful to intelligent content, now matter how everything else is receding into the delightful savagery of ultra-liberal economics.

Flying

From the insides of an easyJet plane, I’m glad to announce that this week I’m launching the first monograph on the interior architectures I’ve produced along the past 10 years – featuring collaborations with artists and photographers that have somehow portrayed those projects in very different ways, be it in a short feature film, a video art piece, photography, or even a sculptural work.

The book will be first revealed in London, where I’m participating at the Gopher Hole inaugural exhibition – a very promising show opening this Thursday at 7pm – and will then have its first official launch in Lisbon at Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art this Saturday, also at 7pm.

Everybody’s invited to come and hear curator João Silvério introduce the contents of Interiores 01/010, a numbered printrun of only 200 books…

Some of the featured art works were part of the exhibition I curated – to some contestation and offense – at the gallery early in November. The book, however, also includes previously unpublished work by photographer Rita Burmester on Passos Manuel Cinema-Bar, filmmaker Gonçalo Luz on the Alameda Apartament, and artist Carlos Lobo on the Ana Salazar Fashion Store in Porto.

As the crisis is hitting hard, and the European social model is fast coming to an end, I can only say that the only way is forward. Do stuff. Create new things. You don’t have to have big budgets, just imagination and will power. (A lot of will power when it comes down to philistine petty nations such as Portugal.)

If in certain geographies citizen participation is clearly insufficient and our governments are slowly but surely committing economical suicide, the production of (alternative) culture(s) still seems like a reasonable way to generate a critical stance – and, eventually, even a cultural export.

As the financial support of culture is abruptly cut down across Europe – like if culture was superfluous and unnecessary, like if it wasn’t what gave Europe an identity and a certain competitive edge – insisting in the production of culture now represents a protest against stale social stagnancy and the ongoing bureaucratic devastation of a whole generation’s potential.

Guess What I’m Doing # 08

Shadow City #023 © Pedro Gadanho

You are a production engineer. Dislocated in this vivid hallucination of a city, you have to go back home every three months or you think you’ll go crazy. Your workplace is new and yet it doesn’t smell new. Your company pays a huge rent and yet everything looks cheap. It’s like the food, pricey yet pitiable. From the 25th floor, at least, the city looks vaguely exciting. It’s worse when you have to come out of the shiny black glass building. If you’re in the company car, with your shiny black bulletproof glass and your heart-stopping air conditioning, it is alright. People just look like an army of fumigated ghosts that sometimes come too close for comfort. If you leave on your own, however, it feels bleaker. As soon as you step off the last Chinese marble step, your boots land in a malaria-infected puddle. You make your way to the store through the puddles, the dusty dirt, the rubbish, and the people. You think they look amazingly cheerful and busy. Sometimes you also feel an invisible cold stare down your spine. But you hold on. This is the future. And it’s just another two years to go.

This is one piece of a 5-part cautionary tale I’ve just delivered for the Belgian magazine DAMn. And DAMn being one of the best contemporary culture magazines around Europe, I’m quite excited about contributing to it.

Part of the excitement comes, however, from the opportunity to stand back and dive into a fictional appropriation of lived experience. So, look for the rest of that story… soon in a magazine stand near you.

Strangely enough it is difficult for me to start writing out of the blue. However, once there is a challenge, any challenge, also the pleasure arises to devise stories in which previous incidents melt together with the narrative imagination and critical commentaries on our urban reality.

Indeed, writing comes out as an activity that is increasingly central to my personal modus operandi. Curating frequently converges into the importance of written pieces that remain past the fleeting event. Writing is also a core tool to present and develop ideas. However, personally, the act of writing is in itself a moment of blissful, private achievement.

For all the autonomy that any cultural creation seeks at some given moment – architecture included – writing has been for me the only moment in which ideas are produced in a sort of magnified independence from any externally imposed circumstances. And that freedom is insuperably tasty.