Category Archives: curating

Bem-Vindos ao Futuro 2.0 (Utopia vs. Distopia)

Em jeito de continuação do post anterior, e em modo de boas-vindas a 2014, tenho-me lembrado com alguma regularidade da entrevista que fiz a Saskia Sassen no âmbito do projecto #unevengrowth.

Na entrevista, a socióloga holandesa sediada na Columbia University revisita uma dicotomia que parece particularmente apropriada para pensar o porvir das cidades globais: a distinção assaz tópica entre uma visão utópica e uma perspectiva distópica do futuro.

S Sassen interviewSaskia Sassen on Utopia vs. Dystopia: ver 7’12”.

Como sugere Sassen, há uma visão utópica que acredita que, perante uma crise grave, todos se unirão e a criatividade emergirá para superar as divisões sociais existentes nas cidades de hoje. Do outro lado, porém, há a possibilidade distópica de que a desigualdade corrente traduza, de facto, “a absoluta desconsideração” de uma minoria privilegiada por “qualquer noção de um projecto colectivo.”

Um dos factoides interessantes com que deparei na minha chegada aos Estados Unidos foi justamente que o adjectivo “distópico,” antes reservado a novelas de ficção científica relativamente obscuras, é agora banal e corrente – tanto no discurso académico, como na prosa diária de jornais respeitáveis.

A dialéctica emergente da utopia vs. distopia – que também se pode traduzir na oposição optimismo/pessimismo – veio-me de novo à memória ao ler “Sillicon Chasm,” um artigo perturbador sobre as ilusões da igualdade de oportunidades – essa noção que antigamente informava o sonho americano.

Enquanto, por aqui, uma demência conservadora estarrecedora continua a tentar convencer toda a gente dos benefícios da economia trickle-down – a ideia delirante de que se houver uns quantos bilionários a sua riqueza  vai pingar magicamente para todos à sua volta – o texto do Weekly Standard mostra com números e estudos que, mesmo no último reduto da cultura empresarial libertária, a desigualdade só continua a aumentar.

Basicamente, a mensagem é agora: “Habituem-se!!”*

Enterrada a quimera de uma classe média minimamente afluente, autores como o economista Tyler Cowen dizem-nos que não há como a resignação para nos ajudar a atravessar a grande estagnação que aí vem – a qual o professor universitário compara sem grandes problemas a uma nova Idade Média na qual… the Average is Over.

Soa distante? Soa a distopia? A única diferença é que agora os servos andam de metro, e em vez de religião têm televisão e lojas de 99 cêntimos. Onde a esperança antes se encontrava num acto de ƒé, hoje encontra-se num auto de consumo que se arrisca tornar fátuo.

De facto, nenhum economista explicou ainda como é que o consumo continuará a alimentar a economia quando o novo proletariado já não tiver margens para qualquer tipo de consumo conspícuo. O Japão aguentou-se durante a deflação? Talvez. Uns tempos. Mas atente-se no nível de vida que já se atingira por aí…

Como os políticos bombardeiam todos os dias, em Portugal o nível de vida vai ter que se resignar e adaptar à (baixa) produtividade local. Mas não se desespere. Ganhe-se conforto na ideia de que vai ser assim em todo o lado – mesmo nos lugares de alta produtividade.

Como se aponta no artigo referido, “85% da população, isto é, 267 milhões dos 315 milhões da América, terão sorte em encontrar empregos de nível MacDonalds ou em ‘amigalhar’ ganhos marginais freelance a realizar biscates a 25$ cada para os seus superiores via TaskRabbit.”

Com o aprisionamento de todos os aspectos da cultura ocidental pela lógica corporativa que assegura o sucesso dos 15% do topo – já que o dinheiro (mais que a mecanização) tomou o comando – recordei-me também que a leitura ideal para 2014 continua a ser The Year of the Flood de Margaret Atwood.

Mas, mesmo se não tivermos mais nada para fazer, não é preciso ir tão longe como ler um livro – que horror! – para perceber que as várias incarnações da perspectiva distópica estão a invadir a nossa cultura popular em várias frentes.

thething1958Image hacked from The Celluloid Highway

A indústria da cultura sempre teve o dom de popular o nosso subconsciente com os temas do dia – quer se trate dos aliens em vez dos comunistas dos anos 50, ou zombies em vez dos pobres de agora. E o momento corrente não é excepção.

De Hunger Games e Elysium até In Time – só para referir alguns blockbusters de Holllyood que já nem se dão ao trabalho de criar metáforas – abundam como nunca as antecipações de mundos que, sem qualquer catástrofe pelo meio, se encontram perfeitamente divididos em duas classes sociais antagónicas.

O problema da perspectiva distópica é que já não se pode perguntar: de que lado quero estar? Desaparecida a classe média em que muitos cresceram, e mesmo com o aparente advento da meritocracia – que, é bom notar, também tende para a exclusão –, a possibilidade da escolha está a desaparecer.

Como Saskia Sassen e muitos outros nos dizem, num mundo que, como Nova Iorque, é cada vez mais “first come, first served”, a velha ideia de “mobilidade social ascendente” também anda cada vez mais pelas ruas da amargura.

E, assim, por entre os pensamentos pessimistas que as distopias nos provocam em jeito de cautionary tale – pensamentos que podem ou não envolver o fim de civilizações desenvolvidas no pico do seu auge – resta saber onde encontrar algum optimismo.

Será que encontraremos soluções na aparente capacidade da tecnologia para ir resolvendo todos os problemas que se lhe deparam até à debandada final, tipo filme de crianças versão Wall-E?

Wall-E1-800x960Wall-E hacked from WallPapersUs (Pedrog Re-Edit)

Acreditemos que sim. De facto, sem esse optimismo, projectos como Uneven Growth, ou a ideia de que arquitectos ou designers ou outros podem endereçar estas questões, careceriam de qualquer tipo de sentido.

Para regressar às noticias que muito selectivamente leio de Portugal, onde não vejo soluções locais para os problemas económicos da grande estagnação é no recurso ao Conselho da Diáspora (de que, em jeito de disclaimer, faço parte), a “fixar arquitectos” (dos quais já descolei há tempos), ou, enfim, a acreditar no conto de fadas de que o “crescimento vem aí.”

De facto, dada a globalização vigente, em última instância não determinamos o nosso próprio crescimento –  simplesmente procuramos adaptar-nos ao que vai acontecendo à nossa volta. E a dita Diáspora também não vai ajudar porque, globalizada ou escorraçada, não faz mais que também ela tentar sobreviver.

Quanto a “fixar os arquitectos,” e sem desprimor pelo meu apreciado colega e recém-empossado Presidente da Ordem dos Arquitectos, não vejo mesmo como é que João Santa-Rita vai operar esse milagre.

Diversificação? Só se for no estrangeiro, como poderei pessoalmente afiançar. Investimento e empenho estatal na reabilitação das cidades com obrigatoriedade de emprego de arquitectos? Seria lógico e apetecível, mas, mesmo com vontade política, apenas se ainda houvesse dinheiro para isso…

Como diz o outro, o economista, mais vale que nos dediquemos a saborear a resignação de alugar uns quartinhos reabilitados no Airbnb.

Enquanto o turismo global dos 85% tiver pernas para andar, claro. Porque os 15%, ou os 5%, ou os 1%, obviamente dispensam essas coisas rascas.

Futuro Desigual, Destino Equivalente

Enquanto Uneven Growth, Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities parece lentamente tornar-se realidade – pelo menos do ponto de vista mediático – lembrei-me de publicar aqui a versão original e completa do “white paper” onde germinaram muitas das ideias por detrás da exposição que agora se anuncia para o MoMA, em Novembro de 2014.

mumbai-experience4

Merece-me comemorar aqui o facto de a tradução portuguesa deste ensaio, que em 2011 viu a luz do dia numa publicação académica da Universidade de Gent com o curioso título de Tickle your Catastrophe, estar para breve.

Pelo menos é o que me diz um desses corajosos editores que, no meio da pantanosa crise portuguesa, ainda insiste em fazer alguma coisa.

Esta publicação junta-se assim a algumas outras, como os catálogos da conferência Once Upon a Place ou da exposição Performance Architecture, que nos últimos tempos aparecem muito a custo, a culminar os últimos projectos que levei a cabo em Portugal.

Lembrando-me desses projectos, ocorre-me quão incrível é que, em Portugal, ainda sobre gente* como a Susana – a figura tenaz por detrás da conferência sobre arquitectura e ficção, que, a propósito, tem agora a sua segunda edição já noutras paragens, infelizmente em versão um pouco mais boring.

Ainda há portugueses que, a partir do seu lugar, resistem a essa mistura de ódio entranhado e inveja encapotada pelos que querem fazer alguma coisa, que infelizmente ainda singra na sociedade portuguesa – mesmo quando a austeridade deveria sugerir maior solidariedade.

No momento em que, por outro lado, a solidariedade de gala começa, por incipiente e bacoca que seja, a substituir o Estado na manutenção do que tínhamos adquirido por básico, torna-se mais ou menos claro que estamos a bater no fundo. (Na Europa e no mundo, os outros também se estão a afundar, apenas ainda não o reconheceram.)

Talvez devêssemos começar a mostrar mais do nosso típico respeitinho por aqueles que ainda se dão ao trabalho de querer fazer – em vez de, também eles, sejam empreendedores, políticos ou agentes culturais, se dedicarem à tarefa bem mais fácil de ir para a praia

Diria com algum grau de certeza que, se há gente que ajuda a manter qualquer coisa à tona, essa é precisamente feita dos que gostam de “fazer” malgré tout.

Para dar algum alento aos que persistem, devo dizer que, como todos os projectos com alguma ambição, também Uneven Growth teve uma gestação longa e difícil – o que, de resto, continua a ser verdade mesmo após o lançamento público bem sucedido da exposição e do primeiro workshop do projecto no MoMA PS1 há duas semanas atrás.

Cohstra@MoMAPS1MoMAPS1, do modo que agora encontramos as nossas imagens… via Twiter.

Por vezes, ocorre-me que a razão essencial porque o destino me trouxe a uma instituição como o MoMA tem precisamente a ver com a necessidade inata, ou a profunda carolice, de querer levar este projecto a bom porto. (Embora, obviamente, não devesse falar antes de tempo.)

Aqui e ali e acolá e outra vez aqui, ainda sob a designação de Emergent Megalopolis, podem ainda ler-se os restos arqueológicos de um conceito nascido numa visita a Saigão há mais de dez anos atrás – num tempo da minha vida em que ainda era possível decidir, de um momento para o outro, que ia viajar durante um mês no Sudoeste Asiático.

Em Saigão, sob o efeito da percepção aguda que as viagens proporcionam, tive uma experiência decisiva e transformadora: atravessar a rua numa realidade urbana que me era inteiramente nova.

Saigon-ViaWithoutBaggageAs ruas de Saigão, a.k.a. Ho Chi Min City, via Without Baggage.

Quando se atravessa a rua em Saigão, o acto tem que ser negociado de uma forma diferente do habitual. Numa cidade sem semáforos e com milhões de scooters (como agora vim a reencontrar em Taipei) a primeira coisa que nos ensinam é que, para atravessar os antigos boulevards carregados de um fluxo de trânsito incessante, também os transeuntes não podem parar.

Quando se atravessa a rua em Saigão, temos que nos munir de coragem e avançar sempre ao mesmo passo por entre a corrente compacta de tráfego. E temos que olhar nos olhos todos aqueles que avançam para nós, para perceber se vão passar à nossa frente, ou atrás de nós.

Foi nesse momento da negociação do olhar com milhares de jovens asiáticos que nasceu a inspiração de que, mais cedo do que mais tarde, teríamos que imaginar novos modos de responder ao crescimento do urbano no século XXI.

Tal como, no inicio do séc. XX, Georg Simmel alertou para a emergência de uma nova consciência metropolitana, agora devemos preparar-nos para o estado de emergência da urbanização completa de um planeta em que os recursos, ao contrário da população, não estão propriamente a crescer de dia para dia.

E por isso vale a pena sublinhar que, depois de querer ter sido programa de televisão e documentário experimental multi-episódios, e para além do desejo de mapear de novas formas de prática arquitectónica, ou a vontade de perceber como substituir estratégias de planeamento obsoletas, este projecto é agora, apenas e só, uma investigação sobre como arquitectos e outros actores urbanos podem vir a lidar com a desigualdade e o empobrecimento progressivo de uma sociedade cada vez mais intrinsecamente global.

The Performative Turn

In the world of art, as in literary studies or the social sciences, one has got used to successive turns* by which tendencies metamorphose into one another.

Over the last decades there were the linguistic turn, the cultural turn, and, of course, also the performative turn, by the likes of which the influence of performance over other artistic media was somehow extended and confirmed.

Now, apparently also architecture has its performative turn. The prevalence of diagram or program in recent design approaches to all things architectural, like once of the principle of autonomy or the spirit of place, now gives place to every possible aspect of the performative in architecture.

Beyond the activation of program’s abstractions, and behind such a turn lies, as it would be expected, one relevant paradigm shift. And here we may speak of a return of the user – not to say simply the return of the repressed – to the troubled horizon of current architectural concerns.

After the delusions of grandeur of the recent architectural self, the ever-cyclic return to the needs of the end-user of architecture now takes place by integrating use narratives into conceptual strategies of design, but also by introducing expressions of these concerns into the very shaping of built forms.

Didier Fiuza Faustino, Opus Incertum, 2008, shown at the 11th Venice Biennial.

Thus one discovers the very imprints of bodies blooming in recent projects – reconnecting architecture with traditions of performance art –, just as one recognizes the performatic aspects of participation and self-building as instrumental in reconnecting architecture’s profession of faith with local communities and broader urban audiences.

These and similar reflections are bound to kick off the discussion on the performative in architecture that will take place this Saturday at 3pm, at the newly open, Exyzt designed Curator’s Lab, within the Art & Architecture programme of the ongoing Guimarães European Capital of Culture.

The panel is also a crucial moment of the multi-stage event and urban intervention competition Performance Architecture, which I’m curating as a last remnant of my previous free-lance livelihood in Portugal.

While key-note speaker Isabel Carlos will present her views on Performance Art and its potencial re-enactings in the contemporary urban field,  jury members Didier Fiuza Faustino, Raumlabor, A77 and Office for Subversive Architecture will show their own takes and ideas on performative architecture and the city.

The talk promises insights into some potential futures and options of a wide-spreading mode of architectural practice – while also giving way to the announcement of the Performance Architecture competition winners, who will get to build their own proposals in the public space of Guimarães.

Useless Architecture?

The name of this talk evokes the title of a recent conference given by Peter Eisenman. In Wither Architecture? the gentle and mature starchitect situated his recent practice within a double condition of lateness: a late work in the career of his author, and also an inevitable expression of the often called late capitalism. A charming weakness emerged from the almost anxious, if self-ironic, attempt to inscribe his work in the flow of architectural history. Eisenman’s obsessive use of fictional, historical or topographical grids to intellectualize and justify the form of his buildings came about as a means to achieve disciplinary legitimation. However, this was also a Piranesian prison that kept the creator from the pure creative act. Uttering a kind of last will, the architect aspired to one of the most useless and unreachable aspects of architecture: everlasting recognition. So as to produce relevant architecture, do we really need the various legitimations of visibility? Is architectural culture utterly useless or is it’s thinking strictly necessary to reiterate again and again the ultimate, unobvious usefulness of buildings?

This is the concept I’ve presented to ExperimentaDesign when invited to host one of their 2011 OpenTalks. With talk hosts such as curators Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Zoe Ryan, this promises to be one of the biennial’s Opening Week highlights, taking place as from today at 11am  in another amazingly empty heritage building in Lisbon’s historical core, until recently the home to the Boa Hora Law-Court.

.. At Trial in Boa-Hora Court, 1980. Via Memoriando.

So, this is the weird setting in which tomorrow at 11am invited ladies Alexandra Lange, architecture critic at the Design Observer, Folke Koebberling, from Koebberling & Kaltwasser, and Gretchen Mokry, from Architecture for Humanity will take architecture culture to martial enquiry…

The issue here is not really if buildings and shelter are useful, which they obviously are, but more if we may dismiss architecture thinking and its (dis)contents as distant and useless – as so many seem to assume too quickly.

Other Little Magazines #21 – From Blog to Print

The launch of the Portuguese edition of The Printed Blog inspired me to review the growing fad of blogs that want to become magazines. This being said, the pile of new magazines awaiting a reference in my desk was also about to crumble as spectacularly as the tower of Babel and I had to trim it down in anyway I could.

It is not that the new franchise of the apparently sucessful The Printed Blog deserves too much consideration. Being launched in the silly season,* this seems to have convinced its editors to look for ultra-lite, fast-consuming, totally unconsequential “literature” found in the Portuguese internet.

Perhaps they hoped that this would reflect a general local attitude of postponing the need for serious thinking on the current state-of-affairs of this small Atlantic backyard. Or on anything else, for that matter. Like the t-shirt I saw the other day, this edition tells me “I smile because I have no idea of what’s going on.”

As such, the only memorable fragment of writing I found in this entire, shallow publication was a curious, self-aware quote by my Facebook friend Marta Lança – who incidentally I’ve never met in real life – who rightly hints that in the blogosphere “only a few follow Deleuze’s advice: to resist the social forces which compel us to talk when we have nothing to say.”


Unfortunately, this compilation of original pieces by supposedly “important” Portuguese blogguers – who to appear in print apparently need the moral support from some television figures and a vaguely erotic wrapping – tends to confirm a rather depressing truth.

Indeed, if it’s penible enough to sometimes have certain thoughts perpetuated in personal weblogs, it’s downright thick to go through the trouble of selecting, editing and assembling those into a glossy, resource-wasting paper product…

At least, however, the new publication has induced me to look at better examples of blogs that resist embracing the potential forgetfulness of an internet which is becoming the giant graveyard of our fleeting beliefs and opinions.

These are the blogs that, tending to be specialized rather than general, and normally being based on the sharing of relevant information and commentary, obviously felt that there was enough substance in them to justify the move into the realm of the presumed eternity of print.

As suggested by Chris Pearson we are indeed at the forefront of a petit paradigm shift. Firstly there was the time in which the well-known, Goliath magazines went on to grab a good chunk of the internet’s growing share of attention. Now it’s time for those who kickstarted and consolidated their audience in the web to try and convince it that they should pay for the correspondent physical versions.

Within this scenario, some people are simultaneously more and less ambitious and they go directly from their ultra-popular blogs into the book format. In the field of architecture, we have our very own Jeoff Manaugh as a good example.  Books are hopefully more timeless than mags and they require considerably less effort if one has already abundant material for a one shot enterprise.

Magazines, on the other hand, being to lasting literature what tweets are to blogs, are more akin to some blog’s idiosyncrasies. Magazines too, at least the niche ones, normally rely on presenting new trends, new authors, new products as part of their essential presence in the middlebrow mediasphere.

Following on the pioneering spirit of Its’ Nice That – with its faithful reproduction of the blog’s shorthand logic of one image and a few words onto the printed page, out since April 2009 and now at its 6th issue – let me then introduce you to two recent examples of this revealing trend.

M|I|S|C is published from Toronto since the Spring of 2011 and it’s true to another important characteristic of blogs: it is totally and exclusively written, published, edited and directed by Idris Mootee. Idris also provide us with most pictures courtesy of his Leica and travels. Way to go, Idris!

Being a little too obsessively focused on branding, i.e. marketing, the collection of posts from one year of Idris’ Innovation Playground has the peculiar quality of being more didactical than usual – which, together with its portfolio presentations, explains why adverts come mostly from design institutions.

The mag’s first edition is indeed almost entirely dedicated to issues connected with its motto title Movement|Innovation|Structure|Complexity, thus extensively coaching us through jargon concepts like “design thinking,” “wild card scenarios,” “creativity,” “crowdsourcing,” or “corporate imagination.”

This is like as if magazines are being induced to become ever more specific by the very specialization of blogs. Which also suggests that our education manuals may about to go through severe changes so as to become sexier and cooler – so as to actually again have some lonely soul reading them.

Circus, on the other hand, first (and lastly) presented itself as another bookazine compiling “the best of the web”(as The Printed Blog also claims), so becoming another result of “the ultimate clash between online and print.”

Loyal to the high level specialization of blogs, Circus’ premiére issue was totally dedicated to fashion, asserting right at its first pages that the internet has definitely altered the very perception and functioning of such creative fields.

As such, Circus goes beyond your usual fashion magazine and it too is a pedagogical journey through unexpected fetishes of the fashion blogscape, basically relating fashion to everything, including architecture.

In this densely packed bundle you may go from the life of models and the perils of the profession’s journalists, to the more obscure aspects of the “woolie scene,” the “fashion disabled,” “fleckologie” and other such personal slot preferences.

While most effectively illustrating the notion of “bloggers gone wild”, as others “blogger’s magazines” will certainly do in the near future, Circus is finally and ultimately self-reflexive on the very nature of the different media it bridges. Be it when blogging, fashion, or blogs turning to mags are echoed, reflexivity arises as the stronger trait of this new territory of communication’s precursors.

In this sense, these publications also subtly disclose that people are starting to acknowledge a renewed phenomenon. In a world riddled with information overload we more than ever seem to long for those figures or media that will digest, reference and point us to relevant content.

And this is ultimately why, despite the cultural or publishing financial crisis, the editorial, curatorial and consultant professions are on the rise and give place to entirely new forms of stardom. As Bruce Sterling recently put it, it’s all about “the trained pig and the rare truffle.”

Flooded by “intelligent noise” – a notion urban strategist Arun Jain suggested at the recent “Another Urban Future” think tank  – many people increasingly cherish those who can somehow reassure them that they are investing their precious time in the piece of information or opinion that best suits their needs.

And yet, even with a little help from my guru – and as philosopher Modjtaba Sadria reminded us in the same discussion of future cities  – there is still a crucial difference between information and knowledge. You have to first know what to do with the former, so that the latter may eventually become an integral part of what you are or want to be.

The Rise of Performance Architecture

In the last decade, ephemeral architecture practices of numerous architects and artists collectives have been developing as a critical answer to the results of growing mobility in the recent neo-liberal context, using various performative tactics for “activation” of the local potentialities for social change. The most interesting ephemeral architecture projects are fast-statement critical practices, collective actions towards the creation of temporary places for encounters in an ever-changing urban environment.
 But, because these actions have to be strongly connected to longer-term local actions, they must assume a transitory nature that calls for a social transformation, for a next step. This is very performative. And this is where the performative action becomes a radical social gesture that goes far beyond the production of an aesthetic object.

In TodaysArt Festival Brussels 

Sometimes one gets the funny idea that a certain trend is gathering memento. One thinks about it and presents the notion to a couple of friends. Given the opportunity, one writes an article about it. And then one organizes it as a proposal for a potential exhibition that will allow for further research.

With the notion of Performance Architecture most of these steps took place around 2006. My first article on it came out in a student archizine in 2007. The “exhibition” was first suggested to Mirko Zardini at the CCA, just before the 2008 finantial crash put an halt to all the institution’s external projects. And then it was again proposed to Laboral, and the Lisbon Architecture Triennale, and the Barbican. However, it seemed to be too soon* to all of them.

Finally, a few weeks ago I’ve signed the contract that signals the idea found its first partners at the Guimarães 2012 European Capital of Culture. As such an international competition is to be launched in October for five ephemeral interventions in the Portuguese “cradle city.” Look forward to it.

At the same time, events coincidentally started to pop-up across Europe suggesting that the unexpected relationship between Performance Art and Architecture is now something to watch for.

In fact, while Madrid-based Ariadna Cantis curated an event along similar lines in 2009, it seems that it is only this year that the notion is being more amply recognized and debated – when some of its noteworthy protagonists have reached already more than a decade of consistent urban interventions .

After the unexpected, yet historical and festive gathering of some relevant protagonists of this tendency at the disPlace conference, as organized by Dédalo magazine in Porto, new conference events around the theme will now take place in Den Hague and Brussels, at the TodaysArt Festival, and later this year again in Madrid, at the IV Encuentro Internacional El Arte Es Acción.

It might take a few years for certain tendencies to become clear. But when they do, they do. Or they will. Specially when they are coming from the streets. And this is not a bonfire of vanities. It is a matter of both emergency and urgency.

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.

Interiors

 

There was a year in my life in which I would wake up every day at 11.37am. As if possessed by an internal alarm clock, I would always be pulled out of my sleep at precisely 11.37am. There was a reason for it. Every morning, there was this luxurious radio show that would broadcast a full music LP. Unlike many of today’s play-lists, the long-play was taken in as a coherent whole, an articulate soundscape. The radio show was called Interiors. After a few words of introduction, day after day, one was allowed to enter another unexpected, personal inner landscape.

The Interiores exhibition is coming to an end this coming Saturday – with the corresponding limited edition book set for December.  Today I’m also doing  a one-day installation, The Golden Temple, part of the ongoing EMPTY CUBE project that, in this instance, runs parallel to the Lisbon Architecture Triennale. So, it’s a good moment for a sort of mid-term assessment.

As the wanted ambiguities of one’s own work become the subject of scrutiny, and as the focus shifts from talking about others to talking about oneself, there is a thin line that is forever broken. So let’s take that thread up.

In the scope of curatorial or critical activity – which Ethel Baraona Pohl just readdressed when referring to my recent Abitare article – you are expected to maintain a certain distance from your subject. My position, however, is that today one can be so entangled in different modes of activity, that this distance becomes truly impossible. And this is potentially not that bad.

The growing relevance of the social networks – which simply make transparent the rules that were already in place in any competitive cultural game – only adds to the impossibility. Against the progression of technical specialization, cultural personas can no longer be contained in the straightjacket of a single position.

If I have always claimed the right to contradiction, and if I have more recently reclaimed the return of operative criticism – revisiting Banham’s immersive openness as opposed to Tafuri’s historical dead ends – I must now re-embrace the strange, ridiculous notion of the one-man band. As I’ve done in my conference last week at the BIArch, in Barcelona.

Being a one-man band is hard. Doing too many different things is considered a personal offense to many people. But this notion can be useful, especially if one thinks that digital and communication technologies, rather than merely supporting a formal language, modify the way we operate. They provoke alterations both at the physiological and professional level.

Think of Mathew Herbert. Being a one-man band today simply means that you can instantly outsource all your needs and, without the burden of a large band or office, you may assume control of many different creative processes happening at the same time. Collaborations, cheap telecommunications, digital capacity are the tools that allow for this creative multitasking.

And then, wonderful things like this may happen.

This is why I think that, today, embracing apparently contradictory activities may be enriching. And this may be enriching as precisely the opposite of being superficial – like in “not going deep enough into a specific matter,” as contesters of interdisciplinarity would immediately and joyfully claim.

If different activities indeed constantly feed on each other – as has been the case of artists that pursue diverse formal or methodological strategies – the complexity of the oeuvre comes out of the fuzzy superimposition of the different tasks being performed, and not at all from the value of a single work.

Allowing yourself, on top of this, to also publicize your own self-enquiries may be deemed somewhat dubious, if not simply egocentric. But, isn’t it the advantage of the new wiki mindscape that any line of enquiry should be pursued so as to contribute to general knowledge?

As Interiores is coming to its end, and even if it its contents will live on as a special publication, this is the right moment to face up to the potential divide that may come up between what I make and what I write.

Do as I say, not as I do. This maxim, as it usually happens, is not the product of popular knowledge, but the remnant of a refined intellectual critique on hypocrisy. One that can be traced back from the New Testament right into John Selden’s “Table-Talk” back in 1689.

As I’ve been recently dubbed a moralist, and as I myself like to quote a once old friend as not wanting to preach to the converted, I guess I should go back to the core of this dictum and reflect upon a few things.

And I should do it for one simple reason: while I constantly preach for diversity and contamination – and even occasionally for an aesthetical shift towards the “ugly” – my architecture work sometimes feels too slick and polished.

It’s almost as if I wouldn’t know how to do otherwise. However, the conceptual operations that lay behind the creation of these spatial interventions – objects with which I invade existing places – are certainly becoming more hybrid and trying to avoid the repetition of basic formalist traps.

If they represent some form of minimalism – when I’ve frequently raged against minimalist chic – it’s only because they eventually intend go back to the crux of minimalism as this was once described by Hal Foster. And then again, they willfully blend with other cultural strategies, such as pop or fiction.

These interventions want to create disturbance, rather than just accommodating need. And the fact that collaborations are also involved in the presentation of these projects means that further contamination is to be added to their intrinsic invention, originating new critical layers.

João Paulo Feliciano, Around the House (Daft Punk is in my House), 2002-10.

Doing interior architecture has become more and more of a political project, and one that goes along critical curatorial practices and writing itself. In this sense, what I do does echo what I say, but within a distorted aesthetic arena that is an integral part of a practice research into both ethics and aesthetics.

I recycle existing spaces, I revive them through new narratives, just as I claim that architects should be the first to tell western society to stop building anew in yet untaken territory. And I believe those acts of recycling can again be an arena in which architects again assert an artistic and political stance.

In the middle of an arresting institutional crisis, one must find ways to still exercise one’s acquired knowledge. As such, as Brazilian singer and poet Chico Buarque once sung in the beautiful and subversive “A Good Advice”, one provocation comes to mind: do as I say, do as I do, act twice before you think.

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…

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.

On The Road

After it opened in Porto to outrageous acclaim, the Habitar Portugal exhibition finally hits the international road. This is going to be short but sweet.

Following the London Festival of Architecture – in which I will be talking at RIBA’s Speakers Crescent this coming Sunday – the show will go to Macau where it will open on the 7th of July.

In China’s booming Las Vegas HP 06/08 will be hosted by the Albergue SCM, where I will also talking on Saturday 10th at 5pm. If you happen to be around on your way to the Expo 2010 Shangai

Guess what I’m doing… #05

“What has made the Odyssey project different is to draw attention to the experimental, the undefined, the under-analysed. (…) The stories being produced – based on particular buildings or featuring architects – might   set one’s imagination going more effectively than other publications.”

As the Shenzhen & Hong Kong Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism left me quite satisfied by making “architecture fiction” central to one of their special projects, someone should inform the Biennale curator and audience that there is already a bookazine out there dedicated to “experimental” architectural fictions…

And that’s not the only arena where “architectural fiction” is coming up. Very soon there will be news of the 1st International Conference on Architecture and Fiction, which I have the pleasure to co-organize on occasion of the next Lisbon Architecture Triennale, at Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, in October 2010. vdbsdzmfdmsnvmfn

With keynote speakers writers Alberto Manguel and Gonçalo M. Tavares, artist With keynote speakers writers Alberto Manguel and Gonçalo M. Tavares, artist Ângela Ferreira and architect Colin Fournier from Archigram already confirmed, the Call for Papers inviting contributions on this hot theme will soon be online…