The Chimera

A confusion of forms at high speed.

Monday, October 11, 2004

"Alberto Giacometti and the Surrealists"

Mark Harden's Artchive: "Alberto Giacometti and the Surrealists"

Since I was thinking about Giacometti in that last post, I remembered this essay, "No More Play" by Rosalind Krauss, which I read in college. The essay is from her book, "The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths", which is linked to at the beginning of this essay. The entire essay is not here unfortunately, but it's a fantastic read if you are interested in this sort of thing. Rosalind Krauss's essays were a fixture in many architecture professor's studios at the University of Kentucky during the 90s. This essay generally deals with the processes of creation: the additive and subtractive, the relationship between the primal and the refined in art. Even this short excerpt has enough thought provoking concepts to keep you musing for hours.

As a future father, the sections referring to the art of children are particularly intersting this time around. Anyway, I thought I'd share a rediscovered gem with anybody reading the previous post and wanting to know more about the concept I was alluding to.

EDGE. The SuitCase House

EDGE. The SuitCase House

This is not exactly the 1945 dream of portable housing that the original suitcase house was. But, it brings a lot of the language of kinetic architecture to the table. Designed by Gary Chang of EDGE Design Institute, this simple box conceals an array of clever modifications that transform it to meet the task at hand. This site has some better pictures some of which were shown in this month's Residential Architect Magazine ("Masters of the Art"). Several of the hidden transformations possible are shown here. Essentially the rooms are under the floors. Panels in the floors tilt up to become partitions revealing the hidden essences of sunken rooms.

Gary Chang has written about the project in his own words outlining the philosophy behind the design. The house is part of the Commune By The Great Wall Hotel project which Gary Chang talks about in his writing above. This is a built project not a fantasy, and as such you can actually go there and spend a few nights...

Mr. Chang's design makes some great leaps into the philosophy of kinetic architecture. He assumes a great level of flexibility is required by the inhabitants. He has looked at the problem and asked himself, in a building in which everything moves, what must stay the same? The answer to that question has been plaguing fanciful architects for centuries... it is as obvious as gravity. No matter how soaring or intricate or whimsical a building becomes one thing will always brings it down to earth. What is it, you ask? It's the floor. In every section of every building whether it's by Frank Ghery or Antonio Gaudi, there is that ubiquitous horizontal line cutting through it at about every ten feet. Ceilings can soar, and walls can curve or lean... but a floor is the reminder of our humanity. It is the architectural element that ties your physical body to the earth while your mind explores.

So, it is no random act that places Gary Chang's constant below your feet. The floor is architecture's hinge... the still point in our design vocabulary. It is useless to fight it, so make it the focal point and it disappears. In the Suitcase house the floor disolves through use. One descends into it to perform any function. Thus an undeniable barrier becomes the entire project. The architecture inhabits its own limits. The meditation room is an interesting acknowledgement of that fact as you descend to the very bottom of the floor and stand on what? A glass floor. You've reached the bottom of the house, and the floor has been disolved as much as possible until it becomes simply a horizontal line... transparent... but still there.

It's an interesting embodiment of Heidegger's view of man... caught between the earth and heaven. The main floor level of the house is the demi-space inhabitted by the occupants. It is ideal space... an empty stage... a sort of Samuel Beckett performance waiting to happen. To do anything in this space you must dip into that floor plane... open it up into the ideal space. The sculpter Alberto was often frustrated by his inability to grasp what he refered to as the true nature of his subjects. The surfaces were always in motion, changing... to grasp the nature of his subjects he said he had to make a little hole in nature and pass through it to reach the true essence of his subjects. Giacometti and Beckett collaborated on the play Waiting for Godot (Giacometti sculpting the lone tree which adorns the set.) The two were friends and shared a unique view of reality. The Suitcase house contains much of that early modern psychology. The austere space with all the panels closed is a blank stage. A kind of insurmountable living condition which a Samuel Beckett or Alberto Giacometti would be familiar with. How do you begin to inhabit such a space? You follow Giacometti's creative process and make a hole... opening a panel into the floor and passing through it.

It's a great metaphor for modern life. We live in an age when so much is possible, that we tend to live our lives according to the limits we have before us rather than the possibilities open to us. It's an odd sensation to be placed in an environment with no apparent limitations or rules. What can you do with boundless space? Fortunately humans on Earth always have gravity and the ground to fight against... our first technological challenge is the mastery of those forces... within the first year of our lives, we learn to subvert nature and stand on two legs. From that moment on we work against the limits of our existence... But without this force to press against us... what would we do? The suitcase house offers us endless possibilities at first glance. When everything is possible we must first locate what is impossible... or what is immovable and focus our attention there. Make a hole and pass through it. If you fail to transcend the limitations in life, you may find yourself sitting on an empty stage lamenting your life rather than living it.

South Park creators get poison Penn letter

IOL: South Park creators get poison Penn letter

This gets more hilarious by the minute... If I needed another reason to see this movie, Sean Penn has given me one more. Parker and Stone have really hit this nail on the head and the proof is evidenced by the amount of irritation sparked on both sides of the issue. For a topic which is so deathly serious and depressing, the comic humor must be this offensive to get over the emotional walls both sides have erected around their platforms. For me it is a reminder (much needed these days) that there is the world "out there" and then there is the world "right here." The one with your family & friends; the one in which you get up every morning and go to work, the one with laundry and vacuuming to be done. The great political juggernaut seem to be pushing Americans to forget about the lives we have right here, and worry endlessly about the world "out there." That's all well and good... But the world "out there" is simply made up of billions of "right heres."

Depression is a debilitating state of mind... nothing gets done when things are depressed. And now, more than ever, things need to be getting done. So we need to break this spell of gloom and doom that we've had draped over us and get our sense of humor back. I lost mine for years after September 11th. I have a brother in law who is a fire fighter in NYC, family in D.C., the months following the attacks were morbid and the news and politics sucked the life out of me... I've been determined since last year to get my self back together for the sake of my family and my well being... that is to say, I need to have as much focus on the "right here" as I do on the "out there." A movie like this does that by smashing the media/politics induced veil of seriousness that surrounds these issues.

We have to realize that we are Americans... our culture is based on selective amnesia and unflagging optimism. That is how we move forward as a nation. We don't become mired in the past... we look to the future. But the last 20 years have been very retrospective for America... the media has gone to great lengths to produce a European style historical conscience for Americans. It's a poor fit. Yes, the Europeans are generally more serious... but frankly it makes them rather sour and unproductive... When I was young I firmly believed, in my adolescent seriousness, that the Europeans were more mature... they aren't that's a myth. They are just more pretentious. More convinced of their superiority. Americans lack that confidence. We remain curious and brash... irreverent and iconoclastic. Tearing down idols makes room for the novel and exciting. Getting bogged down in social sensitivity and political correctness promotes stagnation and perpetuation of the status quo. Change does not occur... so things can get neither worse nor better.

So with regard to Team America, it's high time we had some serious idol smashing... And some serious idol smashing without a particular political agenda. Fahrenheit 911, even if it was meant to be satire... Was a politically sided satire. It had a goal in mind. Team America's only goal seems to be the crushing of the inflated seriousness that surrounds world issues right now. Both sides of the debates need to have their egos popped. The media is going to spin this all over the place, but in the end it's the media which is in the cross hairs for handing Parker & Stone such a ripe setting for this farce. Hollywood and Washington can cry all they want, but of all the people in the world, those two towns are as out of touch with the "right here" as any can be.

BTW: The critics are painting this movie as something only juveniles will enjoy, implying of course that if you are a "mature adult", you should be more serious and not go see it... LOL. The "mature adults" need to see it more than anyone!