Monthly Archives: June 2011

Other Little Magazines #20 – Ego Trips

As this weblog has been gently qualified as self-serving – which it totally is, but then aren’t they all by the very definition of the medium? – I finally got the nerve to dedicate this section to those little magazines whose première issues featured contributions by this abnegated servant of his very small audience.

I had already referred to Chicote – which brought to quickly consuming glory my first, but apparently not last opinion editorial – and this is finally the occasion to complete the triumvirate of publications that incorporated your humble me, myself and I* in their very first apparitions.

If it wasn’t for my own embarrassment, the first of these mags was long due a more complete reference. DOMA came out already one year ago in Macedonia, edited by Antoino Petrov and Sofija Grandakovska.

While introducing us to a plethora of Eastern European writers and architects, DOMA includes an impressive list of international contributors that ranges from Ben Nicholson or Marina Abramovic, to Michael Meredith, Alison Currie and Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss.

Its contents provide us with an unusual debate on the “(im)material meanings” of doma/home as a “meta-fantastical question.” Thus, its many appealing stories and essays “unfold the confluence of agglomerated meanings and objects that influence the cultural geography of our cities, and hence the production and creation of new terms of DOMA.”

My own contribution – a fictional scenario that was eventually republished online through the CCA’s Infinite Index – dwells precisely on how the aspiration to a European identity, with its territorial equivalence to a fortressed domicile, could be subject to dramatic shifts in the course of coming climate changes.

The other magazine I want to mention here is called Lazlo. It came out a couple of months ago in Berlin and it is edited, art directed and designed by none other than… Lazlo Moulton himself.

As it self-presents itself on Facebook, Lazlo is “a half-yearly independent magazine drawing inspiration and content from (and aiming to reach) the academic chair and the club dance floor, the artist’s atelier and the scientist’s laboratory, the catwalk and the sidewalk.”

This is the kind of other little magazine I enjoy digging out for my readership: transversal, witty, eclectic, personal, ironic, elegant, generous, political, self-conscious, playful, avant-garde, literary, modest, critical. A magazine on everything, which may well feed you through the all of Summer.

Curiously, its issue nº 0 is also “On Dwelling” – as once reflected by Heidegger, but not only. Avoiding excessive intellectualization of the theme, it just welcomes its reader into a self-defining journey through which one can possibly “go home again.” Thus emerges a subjective take on culture as a potential comfort zone for rebuilding the self in an age of fragmented, shattered dreams.

My contribution here is one of a few interviews I’ve given recently to different international media – another was to French magazine D’Architecture, and yet another one appeared on the 2nd online issue of Zurich/ETH-based Architectural Papers. For Lazlo, the conversation was exclusively dedicated to Beyond, Short Stories on the Post-Contemporary.

Dwelling on Beyond is surely convenient, if indeed the series is to survive the current adverse economical condition and the end of print as we know it. While the first issues of Beyond are out and about since 2009 – and seem to have become stuck at the cult status of the “super-small-niche” – perhaps I haven’t been self-serving enough so as to constantly bombard you with news on it.

The truth is that, even if a curator or editor is firstly researching and conveying the production of others, when it comes to commercial matters it is quite hard and uncomfortable for some of us to also assume the role of the marketer.

Nonetheless, other people seem to be gradually picking up on this particular little magazine, with it being included in recent reviews in ICON #94 and Abitare #513. Hopefully, the word of mouth will slowly get across, at least to those who may be potentially interested in it.

The fact is that, although we are speaking of “the rise and rise of independent magazines” one should not forget that these are mostly the result of luxurious ego trips of a handful of people that still believe that generating and sharing content is a fulfilling mission. Unfortunately, and particularly in these tough times, there will always be limits to such unabashed generosity and passion.

Read All About It!

Yesterday, between classes and getting on my weekly commuting fate back to Lisbon I happily squeezed in a book launch at Porto’s FBAUP arts school………… In fact, I was quite looking forward to (Dis)Locations: Exile, Topology, Relocation as, just after my recent contribution to Abitarethis publication brings out my latest article on curating architecture as an operative practice.

Edited by artist and researcher Gabriela Vaz-Pinheiro, (Dis)Locations has the unusual and praiseworthy attribute of conflating student’s research work with newly produced, specially commissioned theoretical reflections on the very subject of their study.

In the spirit of an exploratory, transdisciplinary object, you may thus find here essays on the mutating codes of landscaping (Laura Castro), a possible topology of media (Miguel Leal), the shifting status of public art (Jeremy Hunt & Jonathan Vickery), and even a graphic novel on non-gravity architecture as a reenacted, roving Noah’s Ark (Jimenez Lai).

In the midst of this profusion, my extravagantly titled piece, “Ex-, Post-, Re-, Dis-Locus: Curatorial Thinking and the Dislocation of Architectural Discourse,”  dwells on how the practice of curating, as influenced by its developments within the contemporary art world, goes against the grain of architecture’s aspiration to permanence – and thus may offer a paradoxical resistance to the latent petrification of its connected critical discourse.

The essential argument here is that, given its “wandering nature” and its “permanent dislocation of attention” on the make, curating favors an outlook on architecture that, contrary to criticism’s traditional tendency to freeze the social and aesthetic values of architecture, rather questions such values incessantly.

As an activity that is perversely close to trend watching and cool hunting – but is also prone to reframe and orchestrate the unending “re-making of the perceptive apparatus that art pursues and provokes” – curating thus offers the dislocation of the “critical gaze as one of the tools through which architecture continuously overcomes itself.”

If you want to read more about the arguments that sustain such aggravating propositions, as well as all the other wonderful stuff included here, you will have to look for another valuable book that, for the exception of two obscure bookshops in Porto, will most likely be impossible to find anywhere in the world… and also plainly hard to order online. (Unless you go here!)

It is not necessarily the case that academic publications are trying to avoid commodification and look like as if they are rarefied. As distribution succumbs to the endless reproduction of the already known, this just seems to be the destiny of many paper publications nowadays.

As it happened with vinyl records, interesting books are turning into profligate limited editions for fierce collectors only.

Other Little Magazines #19 Views from Academia…

Murphy was a bilingual journal of “architectural history and theory,” one of the few that ever came out in Portugal. It was published from 2006 to 2008 at the University of Coimbra Press, the project of architectural historian Paulo Varela Gomes – whose critical writings around the 90s were quite referential for me.

Denoting a chronic local yearning for external recognition, the name of the publication stems from the architectural traveler who, around the end of the 18th century, first reported on Portuguese architecture to its European counterparts.

Murphy’s first editorial aimed high at contradicting a local ad hoc academic situation, which, when it comes to theory, is portrayed here with straightforward accuracy as a kind of anything goes, while the essayistic nature of most writing in the field would only disguise its lack of scientific rigor.

Welcoming its desire to overcome “the obstacles that have caused academic work in Portugal to fall behind” – while I doubted its subservient willingness to emulate the most traditional Anglo-Saxon journals – I immediately asked myself if two fifty-something page essays on regional medieval matters were the best way to start catering for a new readership and create global impact…

This would be the case, if such essays presented overwhelming new methodologies or radical ways of thinking that would profoundly affect the way we understand our building and urban matters today. Unfortunately, these were writings that preached rather exclusively, conventionally and conveniently to the ultra-niche and the already converted.

In Murphy’s opening edition even the more contemporary “approaches” seemed to suggest a middlebrow view of academic production. They might sporadically experiment with a sexier language, or even provide the occasional insight for the analysis of the present, but they also basically procrastinated on how to maintain things as they are.

At the risk of flogging a dead horse I would say that, ultimately, most of Murphy’s first contributions risked being integral to the feeble, but dominant arena in which to be “scientific” is to quote correctly and put together the right references in a permanent, protracted historiographical reconstruction – rather than displaying the capability to introduce the subtlest of paradigm shifts in current knowledge or practice.

Le Journal Spéciale’Z, which I’ve discovered because of my recent visits to ESA, is altogether keener to dwell on those other territories of intellectual exploration where connaissance is faster erected with the intense, unpretentious delight of simultaneous recollection and discovery.

Here – and in the parallel blog –  you may truly discern new interesting voices beyond the usual suspects of contemporary architectural theory – although you might also find an interview with the ever-intense Antoine Picon amidst the well-assorted bunch that rédacteur en chef Sony Devabhaktuni puts together.

Hence, in the inaugural issue of the Spéciale’Z you are bound to hit upon several gems of unexpected reflective sway – either if you want to know more about urban “audio topographies” (Shannon Werle) or you are otherwise interested in how neuroaesthetics is soon bound to enhance your perceptions of public space (Ruzica Bozovic-Stamenovic).

What else would you want of a little scholarly magazine? :-)

Contrary to an obedient reverence of all things past – which may inform, but sometimes also immobilizes the historically-prone practitioner – Le Journal Spéciale’Z is more inclined to joyfully accept that “every generation” declares “the language of the precedent generation to be useless.”

As such, the authors of this particularly liminar suggestion – Johannes Binotto and Andri Gerber – also recall in their excellent Narration/Non-Ville/Description that, “to understand the world, we have first to understand our understanding.”(A great line from German ethnologist Hans-Jürgen Heinrichs.)

At the risk of seeming too obvious (or paradoxical), one would state that the re-foundation of any theory – or historical research – has to operatively gaze at the present moment, rather than only stare at the recognized recognitions of past souls, as bright as they may still shine in the firmament of the undead.

And while we are perfectly able to acknowledge that our understanding is constantly built upon the shoulders of others, we are also allowed – and advised – to use that tiny extra height to look further into new, previously invisible landscapes of possibility. Expectedly, on a clear day you may then see forever.

With the newly acquired insights stemming from both present and past we can certainly again and again defrost the realities that lie apparently petrified behind us. But we should even more preferably not loose sight of the bizarre, unlikely obstacles that lay copiously ahead.

Architects for Cultural Consumption

It sometimes happens that when one becomes a cultural producer, one absurdly stops consuming culture. Or else, one consumes only a very specialized section of culture, and mostly in mediated form: a free flow of specific information or, if one is keen enough, a knowledgeable accumulation of data and synapses that are only destined to provide more fodder for further expert fabrications.

So, yesterday, like if enjoying again the last summer of youth, I felt privileged that I could engage in a relatively uninterested expenditure of two out-of-the-ordinary cultural feats.

One was the yet unreleased A False Solution, by playwright Oren Safdie – which I read in one breadth. The other was Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Lifewhich left me quite breathless. They are both cautionary tales on life and how to live it,* and they both came at the right time.

Hacked image from The Tree of Life, via MovieCarpet.

Curiously, however, both recur to architects’ characters to trigger intriguing ponderings on the significance of life – or how we want to express this significance in some sort of unavoidable, looping self-reflexivity. And that made me read them for the sake of their potential and intrinsic meaning for the field of architecture… (And there they went, my brief mental holidays.)

More directly in Safdie’s new play, more hauntingly in Mallick’s fifth feature film in 38 years, both works may remind us of how Ayn Rand once made use of the god-like traits of the professional figure of the architect to depict liberal individualism in 20th century America. But any resemblances terminate there.

The mature camp builder in King Vidor’s Fountainhead, via Petit Sophiste.

Recently, Christopher Nolan’s Inception had offered us the last glimpse of a subconscious hope in the virtual rebirth of the master builder under the guise of a promising young woman architect more than ready to pimp up your wildest dreams. This had been the last evidence of the simultaneous, paradoxical relevance and insignificance of the architect in today’s societé du spectacle.

Another Boring Postcard, #19, hacked image via Daily Bilboard.

The portraits of architects I’ve seen yesterday, however, are of (father/son) figures that are facing existential crisis – while at the same time they mirror some external tragedies that, in one moment or the other, seem to be bending Western culture under the weight of ever guilty guises on how to build one’s own yard.

Thus Safdie’s new Oedipal character signals the somehow resonant uncertainties of a withering starchitect faced with memorializing a collective mal d’être. Mallick just barely evokes the doubts of a seemingly corporate architect utterly lost in-between “nature” and “grace.” Freud would surely take delight in either.

The odd issue here is that where once architects aptly represented progress, they now seem to provide suitable metaphors for some kind of critical, painful regression. Considering this uncomfortable arrangement – but also, at this particular moment in time, the architect’s visibility in both popular culture and the collective unconscious– maybe it’s about time architects start marketing themselves in a whole new fashion.