Monthly Archives: February 2011

Architecture in Public – A Striptease

This week signals the launch of my “first” book! And the occasion is celebrated with two promising debate panels: today 10pm at Passos Manuel cinema-bar, in Porto; and Saturday 6pm, at the Fábrica Braço da Prata bookshop in Lisbon.

Although by now I’ve produced quite a good number of exhibition catalogues, and even a kind of an experimental monograph, this is actually the first full textbook I bring out – thanks to the commitment and generosity of André Tavares at young but already referential Dafne publishing house.

So, there you are: 334 pages of inquiry into 15 years of key Portuguese daily newspaper Público, so as to reveal how non-specialized mediatization has impacted on the perceptions and directions of contemporary architecture – while all around us starchitecture came to its historical momentum.

The contents of “Arquitectura em Público” reintroduce about a third of my Phd research in full new form. While going into the consequences and benefits of the logic of mass-media for today’s architecture culture, the study provides for a critique of the Portuguese architectural field as it ascended, succeeded and was eventually scrutinized in the public sphere over the last two decades.

You may read here an article in english that embodied three excerts of the original study, while here you may read the book’s Portuguese intro.

The debates organized on this occasion, on the other hand, are expected to be a real treat on their own merit. For one, they get together some of the crucial protagonists of this particular media story. This is the case of Nuno Portas, my Phd advisor, the well-known urbanist and politician who was also a critic, an editor and a media expert himself, or Paulo Varela Gomes, architectural historian who led a new wave of architectural criticism between the 80s and 90s.

In Porto, Paulo Varela Gomes will be discussing with Jorge Figueira, a contributing critic to Público, and Pedro Machado Costa, who, along with his practice with a.s* atelier de santos, has recently contributed to the debate on the waning of architectural criticism in his blog Quando as Catedrais são Brancas.

In Lisbon, Nuno Portas will be joined by Pedro Barreto, another contributing critic for the Portuguese newspaper, and Isabel Salema, the journalist who for many years took the leading role of bringing architecture to full editorial presence in this specific newspaper.

Jetlag Bliss – A Travelogue

A stranger in a strange place, you land on a snow-covered city and this suddenly feels as refreshing as being slapped without warning. Like sleep deprivation, you remember you need these abrupt changes to take you out of a lukewarm, pleasing state of hibernation. You feel privileged. You are part of an apparently disappearing sect: travelers of rare bliss, exchangers of precisely located, yet homeless knowledges – those yesteryear voyagers who have been slowly, but surely, substituted by passive tourists and predatory traders.

Anri Sala, Long Sorrow, 2005. Via Mousse Magazine.

Like if entering a proper nuit blanche, as soon as you arrive to the core of this city you find yourself visiting a contemporary art museum at 1.00 am – this hour still being your unquestionable biological time. And this museum is full of people, and you enjoyably rediscover the powerful work of Anri Sala, or come across artists like Young & Giroux. Mostly, you take in pieces that you’ve never seen before, and yet feel pleasantly close to home. A satisfying cultural acclimation, as it would be.

A few hours later, you will remember being in Tokyo on a reverse timetable. You will remember assaulting the streets for food at around 4.00 am, a harmless vampire looking out for the nearest 24/7. You will recall feeling sleepy at 7.00 pm and abandoning yourself to the same chronological cycle, over and over again. As it were, in this unexpected enclave of French language in America you find yourself reading Barthes between 4.00 and 8.00 am. You register the light coming in. Then you write. Just another way of getting lost – and found – in the delights of translation.

© Pedro Gadanho, “5.00 am (Hotel room with a view, #12)”, 2011

This one time you refuse to change the hour in you mobile phone. You stubbornly stick with your time zone. You will experience four days of a slightly dislocated timetable. As such, your panel conversation takes place at 11.00 pm, and by 1.30 am you are still discussing if and why architectural writing is undergoing a fictional turn. (A member of the audience suggests that maybe we are no longer interested in the truth. You counter that we may solely be bored or, even worse, giving in to the perverse logic that entertainment must take the lead in even pedagogical and disciplinary matters.) Dinner finishes at 5.00 am.

Two days after, you are still waking up at 4.00 am, local time. It is Saturday and four hours until breakfast. You make the usual morning skype call to your family. Then you head for Stereo, like a 12 year-old who skips Sunday school to join the after hours crowd. It turns out that Montreal has an interesting electronic scene and is twinned to your own city by a legendary sound system. And as they used to say, M.A.N.D.Y and Troy Pierce are in the house.

It’s a long time since you’ve been clubbing on your own. In this dance floor sunglasses after dark are obviously fashionable. A guy wears a T-shirt that says: “Egypt woke me up.” Did it really? Fortunately, at this stage social interaction is no longer required. As ever in the past, you are here exclusively for the acoustic engineering. As the sound involves you, your mind fills with words you will eventually write down. You reflect that bad techno is like any other form of porn, too lastingly engaged in some basic arrangement. Then again, the most layered electronica of post-Reich crop is the be-bop of our era.

Music is probably the clearest way to understand the fundamental play of novelty and obsolescence in our mental life. Novelty is an addiction. Even if it would be repetition that, as Barthes put it, “engendrerait elle-même la jouissance.” As architects like to believe in durability, they mostly reject novelty as a motor of their own doings. Nonetheless, architecture too is subject to rules of cultural consumption. And those dictate that we want our brain cells constantly rearranged by new arrangements of old and new fragments.

Three hours listening to music that you had never heard before and you are ready for the last, long day you will spend in town. The hypnotic beats have made you strangely apt to appreciate Buckminster Fuller’s Biosphere and Moshe Safdie’s still surprising Habitat 67 – even if you are walking from one to the other alone under a severe snow blizzard. The trance-like quality of those “rythmes obsessionels” have opened your mind to the Mile End’s graphic novel stores and the weird and wonderful ephemera shops of Boulevard St. Laurent – even if you are long past your regular dinnertime.

© Pedro Gadanho, “Ruins of the Future (Habitat 67)”, 2011

The morning you leave town you are woken up by the alarm clock at 5.30 am. Local time is catching up with your body. It is forcing you to conform. You timely escape into the airport. By 10.00 am you are in New York. One of those places, if not the place, which crisply illuminates how precious it is to breathe the air of the city. A few hours are enough.

Just before you definitely head home, five hours is what it takes to once again verify how a city can remain itself and yet retain an ever-unbelievable degree of new stimuli. Indeed, what Georg Simmel has once dubbed the mental life of the metropolis here translates in the peculiar feeling that the spur of the new it too can be enduringly inscribed into the flesh of stones.

Journeys

Even if the cold temperatures sound staggering to someone who is leaving ever mild Lisbon, I’m quite thrilled to fly off to Montreal tomorrow so as to participate on a panel on Experimental Writing, this Thursday at 6pm, at the Canadian Centre for Architecture.

The panel itself is part of CCA’s multi-faceted program that runs parallel to the current Journeys publication and exhibition – to which Infinite Index I’ve also contributed with a fictional short story, one that had been originally published in an artist’s book in Portugal and in Macedonia’s DOMA magazine.

While Journeys also introduces one of the first attempts to use the short-story format to convey the curatorial contents of an exhibition into print, it is great that this publication now provides for an exchange of ideas with Albert Ferré, from Barcelona’s publishing house Actar, and Kazys Varnelis and Naomi Stead, who had both recently been in Lisbon for the 1st International Conference on Architecture and Fiction, last October.

And while around here we are slowly gathering memento to kick off the publication process for that memorable conference, it comes to mind that such a gathering actually triggered a fantastic array of personal reflections, some of which I now obviously want to expand on for this particular conversation.

Namely, while introducing the editorial and curatorial project of Beyond, Short Stories on the Post-Contemporary, I want to dwell on how entering the realm of fiction, means not only to use “fictional tools” – to use Truman Capote‘s appropriate expression – but also to enter an interdisciplinary relationship between two fields with their own rules and autonomies.

And while this conflation can lead to potentially interesting clashes and problems for both fields, it also sets a somewhat different reading on how literary notions – and, for instance, Roland Barthesplaisir du text – may reshape the writing of architecture beyond traditional forms of criticism and academic theory.

Perhaps indeed it is about time to go back to semiotics, only no longer stressed by its momentaneous postmodern overtones.

Other Little Magazines #16 – Back to the Classics

 

As soon as I’ve grabbed the latest issue of DAMnº – where my micro-narratives on Luanda have just come out – I felt like going back to my cherished magazine collection and grab DAMnº’s first issue from seven years ago, along with another two classy and classic, memorable, yet defunct mags.

DAMn first came out in November 2004 and already in its inaugural issue it revealed a penchant to ally the production of informal culture to the latest design novelty, a feature which is still its trademark – now perhaps more in tune with current times than ever before.

The opening issue of the Belgian magazine conflated no less than three alternative covers: one on the illegal beach constructions in the south of Lisbon, one on Rem Koolhaas’ Casa da Música cast against its pseudo-rural surroundings, and another one on Belgian design no longer being a bore…

Curiously, features in both the first and latest issue of DAMnº confirm a strong, global pulse that comes right from the auspicious beginnings of this cross-cultural magazine.  While, for instance, DAMnº 0 went to Khinshasa via Venice Biennale, its 27th edition goes to Casablanca, Luanda via Lisbon Architecture Triennale, and Africa in general via NY’s MAD museum.

While issue one goes to Lille 2004 European Cultural Capital, the other visits Turku and Tallin to assess the current status of this yearly European event. And while seven years ago the interview went to James Irvine, in early 2011 it goes to the DeLucchi brothers, thus continuing its task to give voice to the most important contemporary product designers today.

Combining design, art, architecture and popular culture at its broadest, DAMnº seems today unrivalled in the European periodical scene, prompting writing that escapes the unbearable lightness of lifestyle mags and yet is truly and widely informative of the current status of alternative culture production.

Ultimately, its appealing approach derives from the fact that, as stated in its opening editorial, 12 of the 15 good reasons to start the magazine were… people. And this also maybe true of both other cult magazines I bring here today.

Amelia’s Magazine was published between 2004 and 2009, before it turned onto a website that totally lacks the print version’s sensuous appeal. While it lasted – for 10 issues – this was probably one of the most absurdly delightful magazines around the UK covering pop music, fashion, fun, illustration, photo-stories… and other everyday stuff.

Here, the personal touch undoubtedly came from the fact that, along with its name, the magazine was almost single-handedly made by its initiator Amelia Gregory. Together with the collectible artist giveaways – like Pete Doherty’s single in issue #01! – the personal touch was certainly what made this mag gullible and beautiful.

Another magazine that had the magic stroke of a strong personality behind it, was, of course, NEST, A Magazine of Interiors, the crucial camp journal that in its opening cover paid tribute to 80’s TV idol Farrah Fawcett through the reproduction of a crazy teenager’s dream bedroom.

NEST’s premier issue kicked off in 1997 with the ambitious question of  “What is human?”, swiftly responding that “however illusive the answer, part of it is always found in our houses.” Thus started Joseph Holtzman’s celebration of “self-invention at home,” until the end of the lavish magazine in 2004.

Unlike the over-styled, glacial approach to interiors seen in most interiors magazines – originating at their best the hilarious sort of micro-fictions that Unhappy Hipsters offers – NEST excelled in stories and visuals that added yet another subjective filter to a choice of incredibly unusual domestic landscapes.

In true eclectic manner, its first issue could thus both pay tribute to Joep van Lieshout mobile homes, Bob Knox’s 50′s decoration inspired paintings, Gilbert & George’s domestic settings or Keith Haring’s toilette interventions, all lavishly portrayed and graphically echoed throughout the publication.

Ever verging on the explorations of kitsch and the furtive admiration of dandy eccentricity, NEST had the quality to shake up conventions of what is it that makes us modern. Like if inheriting the spirit of Oscar Wilde, it challenged the status quo with irony and elegance. And that was in itself a unique quality.