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 Life – which 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.
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.