Lee Friedlander, The Little Screens, 1962.
This is how my mind works.
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Lee Friedlander, The Little Screens, 1962.
"In a series of images of a proposed South London housing development by John Smart Architects, Majer first constructs the base buildings in 3ds Max and inks them with physically accurate material maps and lighting effects drawn from a range of libraries. There are libraries of trees, and people, too, with which to populate the surroundings and the street. But the rendered model is then moved into Photoshop, and the texture of the final image is taken from classic English landscape painting: the colour palette and the clouds in the sky are based on the paintings of George Stubbs; a cyclist stands astride his bicycle much as the romantic painter’s horsemen do. Another image, produced for a proposed settlement in Scotland by Níall McLaughlin Architects, flattens out the perspective to produce an effect akin to naive painting, evoking innocence and a simplicity of living.”
What a woman says to her ardent lover should be written in wind and running water. -Catullus
When I read the syllabus for Kazys Varnelis’ new course at Columbia, “Extreme Cities: Building Megalopolis,” I was pleasently surprised to find he’d be featuring more than just the greatest hits of Modernism.
"For our survey, we will take repeated forays into the nearby areas of BOSWASH [‘…an unending conurbation of cities, satellites, and suburbs stretching from Boston to Washington D.C…’], visiting the Empire State Plaza in Albany (one of America’s largest megastructures and an attempt to create a link to BOSWASH that is generally considered to have failed), Union Carbide Headquarters in Danbury, and take repeated forays into New York City. Our goal is to investigate architectural interventions that reflect specific qualities of the city, engage in the region, and anticipate a future…"
The facts about Albany as a city are fairly standard. Produce from the supermarket above costs about 35% more than at its sister store in the suburb of Colonie, where I used to live in a sprawling apartment complex comprised of low, Y-shaped buildings, resembling either nice hospitals or bad hotels. The buses don’t run often enough, or run to places riders actually need to go. The Boys and Girls Club, seen solid at left, is always running out of money.
Empire State Plaza is the home of New York’s state government and, especially through the lens of street-view, it looks fake, false somehow. The facts about the Empire State Plaza megastructure are anything but standard. It contains two arenas and an ice rink. Below it is an underground labyrinth of mall called the Concourse. A highway onramp rises up through its center. It meets an adjoining residential neighborhood to the north with a twenty foot high marble wall. This is the view from the end of Morris St. in Park South. You can’t help but feel the thing for miles around. It’s jarring, real as can be.
Such monumental pieces of architecture appear like overgrown architectural models and almost never withstand interaction with the world itself. Too sharp and tight and brittle, impositions of the virtual into the real. Such mega-modernist interventions function as renderings because they’re sleek and photographable. As public spaces, though, they fall apart, because they exist in isolation even after they’re built. Whether because of simple aesthetic isolation or active hostility, the “engagement” and “anticipation” of architecture risk becoming commands, rather than responses.
I don’t mean to moralize. It’s not as if Albany was some urbanist utopia before Nelson Rockefeller decided he could see the future. The neighborhood displaced by the plaza was called The Pastures and was, to be charitable, perpetually run down. Not some ideal of public space, it was close and low and probably would have ended up like comprable neighborhoods to the north, boarded up as the suburbs expanded. Still, 7000 people and 350 businesses were displaced, leaving proper-downton Albany nearly abandoned, as it remains.
Context is important and organically grown cities are necessarily responsive to context, they’re built over time and their parts are small enough to be destroyed and rebuilt time after time without major disruption. “Disruption,” though,was precisely the point of huge Modernist installations. Just like our modern “disruptive innovation,” Modernism had the feeling of technological inevitability, the better mousetrap. Disruption, then, meant consolidation, smoothing and cleaning. Faced with the appearance of disorder, something like Empire State Plaza sought to simplify and brighten, which it did. Unfortunately, it aerateda dense, mixed-use neighborhood, replacing it with a structure people often have trouble simplyentering or leaving.
"Smart" is another buzzword utilized in these situations, advocated as the superior alternative to "planned" here in public space. We hear about, say, desire paths and they seem so elegant. Indeed, they are, but solutions don’t necessarily translate between contexts. Foot-paths are different from highways in kind. Open ground dosen’t make a public space. Offices don’t make a government. Smart systems are distributed systems and distributed systems fail in the same way as great Modernist architecture, by being fundamentally virtual, conceptual. Based on network hierarchies, they’re useful models, but bear no resemblance to the ways people actually live. Virtual things exist without context, ceteris paribus, therefore are incapable of coping with the unanticipated.
In Albany, the unanticipated was that the world would get smaller, faster, broadly connected, leaving the great monolithic office structures to be both wastefully huge and hopelessly cramped for modern administration. Unanticipated was the economic effect of pedestrians, the simultaneous, absolute supremacy of the car and its inadequacy to prop up urban businesses.
Anticipated, that Modernism was a movement. Unanticipated, that Modernism didn’t nearly track the world.
This cover of Danzig’s “Mother” by Wye Oak brought me back to sixth grade, in my basement bedroom with the little boom box turned all the way up. Thumbs up.
All the best cover songs are translations.
(…and Wye Oak is the best.)
Song of the Mortar and Pestle
The desire to approach obliteration
preexists each metaphysic justifying it. Watch him
fucked want to get fucked hard. Christianity
allowed the flagellants
light, for even Jesus found release from the flesh requires
mortification of the flesh. From the ends of
the earth the song is, Grind me into dust.
How those now dead used the word love bewildered
and disgusted the boy who resolved he
would not reassure the world he felt
love until he understood love
Resolve that too soon crumbled when he found
within his chest
something intolerable for which the word
because no other word was right
must be love
must be love
Love craved and despised and necessary
the Great American Songbook said explained our fate
my bereft grandmother bereft
father bereft mother their wild regret
How those now dead used love to explain
The oyster was an animal worthy of New Orleans, as mysterious and private and beautiful as the city itself. If one could accept that oysters build their houses out of their lives, one could imagine the same of New Orleans, whose houses were similarly and resolutely shuttered against an outside world that could never be trusted to show proper sensitivity toward the oozing delicacies within. -Tom Robbins
The plague was abroad.
Londoners knew not where it had come from, only that it was upon Holland. “It was brought, some said from Italy, others from the Levant, among some goods which were brought home by their Turkey fleet; others said it was brought from Candia; others from Cyprus,” Daniel Defoe wrote in the opening of his historical novel, A Journal of the Plague Year.
On the very first page of his book, Defoe signals that information ecology will be a key subtext (emphasis added).
We had no such thing as printed newspapers in those days to spread rumours and reports of things, and to improve them by the invention of men, as I have lived to see practised since. But such things as these were gathered from the letters of merchants and others who corresponded abroad, and from them was handed about by word of mouth only; so that things did not spread instantly over the whole nation, as they do now.
I was thinking the other day about how there aren’t songs anymore with found-audio samples from interviews, like “Little Fluffy Clouds.” It was such a thing in the 90s, and now it’s not. What happened? If anything, it’s become easier to find these sorts of things. And I think that’s precisely the problem. Before, these snippets were rare, passed around on cassettes or bought as secondhand records at flea markets. But now, almost any interesting moment from media in the past lives on YouTube, and everyone has access to them. If you put them in a song, the listener hears someone playing a YouTube clip, not the sounds themselves. In the 90s, though, they would be hearing the obscurity, the rarity, the unexpectedness. The clip functioned as a signal of something ephemeral and therefore magic captured and preserved by an audio connoisseur. Now, however, it’s just another banal aspect of everyday life. You might as well put the audio from “David After Dentist” on your electro track. And you can do that, of course - but it will mean something very different now than it did then.
What if we could receive real-time feedback on our social interactions? Would unbiased third party monitors be better suited to interpret situations and make decisions for the parties involved? How might augmenting our experience help us become more aware in our relationships, shift us out of normal patterns, and open us to unexpected possibilities? I am developing a system like this for myself using Amazon Mechanical Turk. During a series of dates with new people I meet on the internet, I will stream the interaction to the web using an iPhone app. Turk workers will be paid to watch the stream, interpret what is happening, and offer feedback as to what I should do or say next. This feedback will be communicated to me via text message.
Photographers Nate Larson and Marni Shindelman use Twitter as a location scout for their haunting, beautiful images. The two artists scan the social network for tweets with location information embedded but no picture, head to those locations to shoot, then caption each photograph with the tweet’s original text. If the photographs weren’t so good, the concept might come off as gimmicky. But in the hands of Larson and Shindelman, it is anything but–their images, always free of people, capture the loneliness and dread that underscores much of our online communication.
…It was a challenge to choose between these photos.
Jacob Heinrich Elbfas, Sun Dog Painting (Vädersolstavlan), depicting Stockholm in 1535
Helmut Newton’s Fujica G617, Museum of Photography Berlin