Brexit As National Death Drive

Sometimes its only when you pull something apart that you can really see how it works. So, thanks for that Brexiteers.

There is a macabre fascination to see the country falling apart. Perhaps its even a collective national version of Freud’s death drive. For Freud, deep in the human psyche was a vestige of our origin state of pre-organism, a chaotic collection of material yet to become coherent life. This unconscious memory manifests itself, Freud speculated, as a “death instinct, the task of which is to lead organic life back into the inanimate state”.

He suggests that this is an opposite force to Eros, the life force that drives us not only to survive but that “civilisation is a process in the service of Eros, whose purpose is to combine single human individuals, and after that families, then races, peoples and nations, into one great unity, the unity of mankind.”

He goes on to argue that these apparently opposite instincts are consistently negotiated through life, and that they intersect to create a particular form of masochistic pleasure. That, at a national level, is where we are.

Nobody, I think, actively wanted to destroy things. Like the 2011 riots, Brexit isn’t really ‘about’ something in the traditional sense, in the sense that computes with logical political process, activism, media narratives. Its a subconscious physiological urge, one best explained through dreams, rages, manias, despairs and so on. It’s masochistic wanton destruction, driven by a desire to turn all of civilisation back into its pre-organic state, the state from which it originally came. Just as Croydon set itself of fire in 2011, Ebbw Vale did the same to its future by rejecting the very same EU that had been ploughing in millions of euros in regeneration investment – last Thursday. Both are totally illogical acts from an objective point of view. Yet both full of meaning in a physiological way.

From the vicious campaign itself, to the result of the vote, to the following collapses of parliamentary parties, stock exchanges, credit ratings, social behaviour and more, all the usual manifestations of civility are in free fall. And as we keep F5-ing, we shouldn’t kid ourselves that we’re suddenly experts in global finance, complex treaties, parliamentary procedures or whatever. All of us metropolitan elites are – somewhere deep down – thrilled at the spectacle of collapse, the pleasure of seeing the country fall apart.

This pleasure is derived from seeing everything returned to its inorganic state, to see the nation and its institutions in pieces, non-functioning, incapable, drained of life force. All that talk of ‘control’ (super ego) giving way to utter chaos (id).

On one side, the desire to do exactly the wrong thing was a throwing off of a repressive Freudian super-ego (of political and economic arguments – which might explain the rejection of ‘expert’ here cast as the Freudian father). On the other, with everything lying around us, we have the perverse pleasure of seeing the end – a final end of Empire, end of economic security (such as its been), end of a particular vision of Britain. Perhaps thats why there is no plan, no idea of what to do or what Brexit actually means. In seeing our own ‘death’, can we also see our origin? And in seeing this chaotic collection of material yet to become coherent life can we also imagine the life that we, Britain, could possibly become?

Two Visions Of Britain

This is a trailer for an essay in the just launched Real Review. Its an essay about Britain in the 1980′s, about competing ideas of history, about re-enactment as a political device, about war and plasterwork. Its good. And so is the Real Review.

Here, we see two trips down the River Thames: The Sex Pistols in 1977 and Prince Charles in 1988. Between these two boat rides, a new kind of Britain emerged, a vision of Britain whose waters we are still deeply immersed in.

30 Years of the EastEnders Title Sequence

EastEnders Title Sequence, 1985

This week is the 30th birthday of EastEnders, the BBC soap set in East London. Its title sequence has since the start been an ariel shot of the east end. And over the last 30 years, this area of London has been subject to rapid change from docklands via the Dome to the Olympics.

Over time, of course, the titles have changed and so, after 30 years, they act as a pop culture record of these changes – both the physical form and the character of the east end.

Of course its also a record of the changes in aerial and satellite imaging. The original sequence was produced from around 800 photographs taken from an aircraft flying over the east end of London at about 1000ft over several days, developed and pasted together like a mosaic.

EastEnders Title Sequence, 1986

EastEnders Title Sequence, 1991

EastEnders Title Sequence, 1993

EastEnders Title Sequence, 1996

EastEnders Title Sequence, 1998

EastEnders Title Sequence, 2000

EastEnders Title Sequence, 2001

EastEnderss Title Sequence, 2006

EastEnders Title Sequence, 2009

EastEnders Title Sequence, 2010

EastEnders Title Sequence, 2012

Drawing As Project – Post Digital Representation In Architecture

Nicholas Muraglia / Proposal for Alzheimer Housing, Vauxhall / YSOA / 2014

Think of this as a draft manifesto for architectural representation in the post digital age. Or if not a manifesto, at least an idea about how we can (and why we should) rethink the act and purpose of drawing now that our relationship with digital production has matured.

Its an idea about contemporary architectural drawing, about how we might make drawings about architecture – drawings that might even *be* architecture.

The digital drawing tools we now have at our disposal have changed the relationship we now have to images – both as we consume them and as we make them. But at the same time these tools can allow us to engage with the long disciplinary history of architectural representation.

It’s an idea that combines a series of issues just as it combines a series of techniques and, often a series of sources. In other words, it is an idea that while it produces a single synthetic thing, emerges out of multiple relationships.

It’s a project sited at the intersection between what have become anachronistic modes of representation with experiments with the possibilities of contemporary drawing tools.

Matthew Busscher / Ideal Community, Chicago / UIC School of Architecture / 2014

Here, then, are partial notes towards a theory of post digital architectural representation:

Kara Biczykowski / Hoogvliet Heerlijkheid / YSOA / 2014

First, digital tools have to date been taken up within architectural culture in a blinkered way. They have have explored the formal possibilities of manipulating shape. Parametricism is about technological possibilities of digital tools. Yet in wider culture its the manipulation of information that is the most striking cultural effect of digital tools. From sampling to Instagram, digital tools allow us to process, alter, and create. They allow us to intervene in information and reshape it for other purposes. In other words, this is collage culture. But collage is now seamless, and not being able to see the join makes collage work in a very different way. In short, its Photoshop rather than Grasshopper that is the real site of productive digital speculation.

Paul Mosley / New Harmony / UIC School of Architecture / 2014

Second, these tools allow us to have a different relationship to the drawing. A drawing we make can be derived from multiple sources and forms of representation in a way that challenges the idea of individual originality. That’s to say, drawing can be an act of curation, editing and assemblage as much as it is of hand eye coordination and original mark making. If we think of drawing in this way, we can think of it as an act of polemic assemblage as much as an image. Or rather image as polemical assemblage.

Michael Miller / Sint Lucas / YSOA / 2014

Third, lets try and understand the deep potential of the mashup. The throwaway easiness of the word belies a much more engaged and precise process conceptually and technically. But at the same time it is part of – comes out of – the slippery nature of images in the digital age. Meanings and associations between images are constantly in flux. Their proximity, resolution, place and media constantly shifting. Images flow through networks like liquid, and what was once a fixed point begins to leak or erupt, become fugitive and restless, recombinant and promiscuous.

Samra Pecanin / Proposal for Communal Housing / UIC School of Architecture / 2014

Fourth: The the CGI is the dominant mode of contemporary architectural communication. It presents an apparently ‘real’ image of the world – photorealistic and perspectival – and is a dangerously plausible fiction. They assume the status of a photograph of a built world. We know however that photography is far from a transparent window onto the world, it frames and constructs its own image. If we think of the CGI as also the logical conclusion of the perspectival project, we should also remember that perspective itself is not really not really the way the world looks but an artificial construction. In opposition to these forms of image making we might deploy the vast processing power that sits on our desktops to other ends. And one of those ends might well be exploring drawings intrinsic artificiality. Drawings, in other words reveal, that declare themselves as partial and biased.

Jesus Corral / Koreshan Unity settlement / UIC School of Architecture / 2014

Fifth. In opposition to the CGI which is tied to its fiction of presenting reality, we could reassert the drawing as an architectural act – a means of making arguments and propositions, of staking all kinds of claim that go far beyond presenting a plausible view. Drawings that are conceived not as windows onto the world but ways of making the world.

Summer Islam / Wall House / AA / 2010

(Side Note: Can architecture exist without drawing? In other words, can we even think of architecture without section, plan or other architectural mode of conception? And if so does the ubiquity of the render threaten architectures disciplinary core?)

Win Assakul / Thai Walking City / AA / 2010

And lastly (at least for now). These forms of drawing allow us to approach the act of drawing not as an illustration of an architecture which exists somewhere else. Not as a diagram of an idea either. But as the site where an architectural idea can be staged.

Michael Michael / Sint Lucas / YSOA / 2014

And if, like me, you think that architecture even at the level of a building is *always* representation. That its representational qualities are not different from its ‘real’ qualities as a building but are always simultaneous. That a building is an image of a building, a description of a building even as it is a building – then drawing is fundamentally important. Architectural representation and its reality happen at the same time and this starts with the drawing.

Paul Mosley / Plaza View / UIC School of Architecture / 2014

In passing too, the drawing acts as a pedagogical device. Which is partly why its been central to the studios I’ve been teaching. The act of pulling apart and reassembling a drawing is a way to learn and understand how drawings work. Its a kind of experiential rather than intellectual analysis, engaged rather than observed.

Some words on the nature of the images too. They are both intense and detached. Hot and cold at the same time. They tend to resist immediate reading. They are seductive and resistant, drawing us in but pushing us away simultaneously. They are at once familiar and strange, as through they come from a world similar to our own but not the same. They are nostalgic and progressive in the same gesture. They are picturesque and conceptual. And as they do all these opposite things they are both fast and slow – immediately engaging and total while refusing to give themselves up easily.

These projects began with studios at the AA and later developed through studios at UIC and Yale – so thanks to the support of Brett Steel, Bob Stern and Bob Somol for providing the space to explore these ideas. And thanks too to all the teaching partners who’ve been involved: Tomas Klassnik, Jennifer Leung, Sean Griffiths and Jimenez Lai. And of course, most of all to the students for their incredible hard work.

Phillip Nakamura / Wormseye view of Community Centre / YSOA / 2014

Redrow Psycho

The American Psycho / Redrow London mashup you’ve all been waiting for.

And here is a link to the original film – a quite incredible ad for new luxury apartments that displays all of the psychotic qualities the London housing market suffers from.

The Clockwork Jerusalem Roadshow: Milton Keynes, Folkestone Triennial, Architectural Association

A bit of info on three dates coming up for talks on and around A Clockwork Jerusalem.

First up on Thursday 9th October at 7pm at the Milton Keynes Art Gallery I’ll be with co-curator Wouter Vanstiphout talking with Kieran Long.Details here

Then on Sunday 12th at 12pm we’ll all be doing the same again as part of the Folkestone Triennial. Details etc …

And finally, on Thursday 16th Oct at 6pm a talk and the UK launch of the Clockwork Jerusalem book at the AA.

Obscure Design Typologies: Hotel Art

The strange phenomenon of hotel abstract art illustrated here is key to Will Wiles’ new book The Way Inn. Without giving anything away plot-wise, the book makes us look closely at the strange interior worlds of chain hotels, their arrangements, protocols, furniture and the art that is hung on their walls.

What are these things that are approximations of art filling space adding nondescript character to characterless environments, that are symbols referencing nothing at at all … Where do they come from? Are there, as Will asks, gigantic production facilities producing acre after acre of generic abstraction? Or do they, as the story of the Way Inn suggests, hold the key to much darker secrets?

We could also ask is there an entire shadow art history of hotel art? Stories of the struggle and eventual breakthrough of radical new approaches to meaningless decoration?

Well, if this sounds interesting, next week at AA Nightschool we’re delighted to welcome Will Wiles back for a second edition of his book club. This follows his sessions earlier this year titled ‘Malign Interiors’. In the best traditions of horror movie franchises the sequel is called ‘Malign Interiors 2: Bigger on the Inside’. (The scary proposition that scale and proportion begin to behave in supernatural and perverse ways being a familiar trope in the genre of horror scenarios)

You can book on the Nightschool website for the three sessions which start on Tuesday 2nd Sept where we’ll be discussing William Beckford’s Vathek. Next up is J.G. Ballard’s Report on an Unidentified Space Station. The finale will be Will’s new novel The Way Inn.

For more info you can see Will’s piece for the RIBA Journal here and this piece I wrote for Dezeen for the original series.

The Exploding Edenic Inevitable

The following is the sketch brief for my forthcoming studio at UIC SoA that kicks off next week. The project is an extension of the research conducted as part of A Clockwork Jerusalem for the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, extending the same ideas and trajectories into the utopian experiments of New World settlements and communities …

Extract of Map Of The New World Samuel de Champlain, 1612

The European emigres who settled what they termed the New World bought with them ideas and dreams. They imagined America as a new Eden, a place within which they might construct new worlds, New Jerusalem’s whose form, organisation and lifestyle could be a direct expression of a deeply felt ethos.

Shaker Spirit Drawing “The Holy City” 1843

Architecture, planning and design were the medium through which these theocratic, millennialist, socialist, theosophist, behaviourist, and techno-rustic communities would take shape, the physical form of the dreams of new kinds of world, a golden thread that leads from early religious settlements to Warhol’s Factory.

Garden City Diagram Ebenezer Howard, 1900

In Europe many of the same sentiments of moral, religious and social reform went on to form the basis for post war architecture and planning.

Drop City animation still
Michael Krueger, 2010

In America, these extreme communities remained (for the most part) outsider forms of planning. They often fell apart, imploding sometimes only months after their founding.

Map of Salt Lake City 1870

(But not always. Sometimes their idealism became so deeply ingrained that it seemed entirely ordinary)

Joy Division, Hulme, Manchester Kevin Cummins, 1979

Of course, the European trajectory also (often) fell apart, bequeathing us a landscape of huge projects that are currently in phases of renovation, renewal, demolition, transference from public to private and so on.

The Origins of Architecture Joseph Gandy, 1838

What both the European and American traditions show is architectures fundamental social and idealistic drive. In other words, architecture always needs to write its foundation myth. (And that this is destined to fail)

Map of Canterbury Shaker Village Henry Clay Blinn, 1848

The studio will first research historical examples of utopian settlements.

Victims John Hejduk, 1986

It will compare and contrast these outsider-architectures with canonical forms of architecture, and will project forward the possibilities of idealist communities into the near future.

Apple HQ Norman Foster & Partners, 2013

What, the studio asks, are our own eras forms of idealism? Are the tech campus’ of silicon valley – the sci-fi orchards of Fosters Apple HQ and Amazon bio-spheres for example- the inheritors of this tradition? Are the fractured and intense communities of lifestyle (say the phenomenon of the paleo-lifestyle, the strange resurrection of a myth of caveman times as an ultra-contemporary way of life) possible starting points? What are todays (and tomorrows) cults and dreams? What might baby boomer rest homes look like?

Heritage Tomato

What about that generation of hipsters for whom authentic, artisanal life is the dream?

New Harmony (View of a Community) F. Bate 1838

In an era of market led development, can we both learn lessons about demographic, choice, difference while also forming critiques of its narrow limitations? Can we be both ironic and optimistic simultaneously? In the desert of idealism that now characterises the American (and most other) cities, can we reinvent forms of architectural dream within the fabric of the city? Or can we condense atomised culture and bring together combinations of interests to form new kinds of community?

The Ramones

The studio will explore design scenarios such as: What would Shaker furniture look like if it was the expression of punk rock rather than religion (after Dan Graham’s film Rock My Religion). Conversely, what would a Shaker Stratocaster look like?

Shaker Gift Drawing

This approach – of remaking, appropriation, hybridising references from worlds alien to one another – will be core to the studios design approach. We will learn how to appropriate outsider forms of drawing – such as Shaker ‘gift paintings’, etchings, psychedelic art – as architectural representation.

Plan For The City Of Zion Joseph Smith, 1830

We will bring this entire carnival of ideas back in to the fold, unearthing the utopian and idealistic history of American settlement and repurposing it for a 21st century urban future.

Dumb and Dumber: In Praise of Follies

A piece I wrote for the Gwangju Folly project, curated by Nikolaus Hirsch, Philipp Misselwitz and Eui Young Chun featuring Ai Weiwei, Do Ho Suh, Eyal Weizman, Raqs Media Collective, David Adjaye, Rem Koolhaas and more. The catalogue is available here

Off-season, the Scheveningen boardwalk is a very lonely place. All of its seaside resort jollity is blasted by North Sea winds leaving desolate prospects. Even the blow-up gorilla sitting astride the roof of a fun pub seems to hum, “Come Armageddon, come,” and the giant neon parrot at the end of the pier looks like it would rather be blinking in a neon jungle far, far away.

From the miasma of blur-grey sea mist, a startling figure pulls into focus. Bright and so full of verve, it seems to bound towards us, despite its rigid figure. “Hi!” it says without speaking, “I’m a cone full of chips.” Face bursting with excitement, perky legs sprout from its carton body, chips poking up for hair. One arm is raised in greeting while the other reaches up to the top of its head – no doubt feeling for a chip. Its eyes bulge in anticipation of the taste of fried potato. In fact, so much pleasure emanates from this figure that it seems deliriously innocent of its own imminent self-cannibalism. Its mouth hung open, its tongue swells, lolls out, its teeth are all arrayed in preparation to chomp down on its own body. Ecstatic about its own deliciousness, totally absorbed in its self-ingestion.

The demented fellow seems a poor encouragement for fried food. Its body without organs instead seems to carry another message.

It smiles at us with a knowing smile. “Don’t we all eat ourselves?” it seems to say. “Don’t you, like me, swallow yourself up in self-absorbed pleasure?” Standing as a glowing embodiment of consumption, it is even a symbol of consumption devouring itself.

And while it says these things, it offers a hole in its hollow body as a receptacle for our trash. Just like Brett Anderson, it offers us some kind of redemptive consolation in its (and by extension, our own) lowliness: “We’re tra-a-ash, you and me.”

We encounter these kinds of fiberglass follies in streets, parks, and other touristic locations, the kinds of places wrapped up in absent-minded consumerism. They might be giant sculpted ice creams the size of an adolescent, whipped tops dripping with sauce, their cones sculpted into an exaggerated waffled texture. Or neon pizza slices, each neon mushroom a swiggle of calligraphy. But they aren’t quite signs. They don’t explicitly encourage us to buy, they don’t offer us deals. They remain wordless objects in the landscape. Stupid objects in the stupidest parts of our modern landscape. Not so much advertisements but desire made GRP real, popped as much out of our greedy minds as from the moulds that form them. These are objects of the shallow imagination, idiotic follies of an animal desire for fat, sugar, and flavorings. But they are follies, nonetheless. And as follies they spring from a grand tradition.

Illustration from Erasmus' In Praise of Folly by Hans Holbein

According to Erasmus of Rotterdam, Folly was born to the young and intoxicated god Plutus and “the loveliest of all the nymphs and the gayest” Youth. Folly was nursed by Drunkenness and Ignorance. Her followers include Self-love, Pleasure, Flattery, and Sound Sleep. We might not know much about Renaissance culture or the Catholic Church in the 15th century that Erasmus was apparently addressing, but those character traits sound very familiar, the very same things we wring our own hands about. Erasmus’s text, In Praise of Folly (1511), might be a piece of 500-year-old esoterica but it might help us understand the contemporary significance of a self-devouring bag of chips. Erasmus mobilizes Folly as a form of sarcasm, as a voice able to say things that we can’t say in our own voice. Like the court jester, Folly performs an exceptional role. Its idiocy grants it license to speak the kinds of truths others can’t. Our friendly bag of chips is Folly herself. It talks in Folly’s voice directly to our own self-love, our own empty, trash-filled hearts, and it does so with Folly’s goofy grin and goggley eyes of idiocy.

Adof Loos, Mausoleum for Max Dvorak, (1921)

According to Adolf Loos, “Only a very small part of architecture belongs to art: the tomb and the monument. Everything else that fulfills a function is to be excluded from the domain of art.” Follies too are architecture eviscerated of practical function. Perhaps this makes them art as well. All three forms of construction share a single characteristic: their primary purpose is to embody, transmit, and represent an idea, to petrify narrative into stone or fiberglass. Aren’t tombs just follies minus the fun? And monuments are surely just joyless follies of state. That also means that follies are far more than simple entertainment. They may be playful, but their playfulness is as serious as the grave.

We can trace the architectural folly’s role as idea-made-real to its origins in the 16th and 17th century. Follies operated as decorative objects in the aristocratic landscape that acted as tangible symbols for ideas and ideals. Often taking the antiquated form of Egyptian structures, Greek temples, ruined gothic abbeys, and so on, they summoned up cultural references to make them stony flesh. By summoning up idealized cultural images, they made the imaginary world of their builders real. Follies are equal parts thing and idea, bound together in a way that is impossible to untangle.

Temple of Ancient Virtue, Stowe

Nowhere is this compound of ideology and folly more fulfilled than Stowe, the family seat of the Temple-Granvilles. Richard Temple, 1st Viscount Cobham, was both a soldier and a politician who acted as a mentor to William Pitt. Disillusioned with active politics he retired and took to redesigning Stowe’s gardens. Rather than a retreat from ideology though, the gardens became a vehicle for his political concerns. The very ground was ploughed and reshaped by his political beliefs. Designed with Capability Brown and John Vanbrugh, Stowe was choreographed as a landscaped manifesto, as satire and as a legible political proposition. Structures such as the Temple of Ancient Virtue embodied those virtues Viscount Cobham saw as lacking in his political opponents, while the Temple of Friendship was dedicated to his group of opposition Whigs. The Temple of British Worthies set out an agenda of good and honorable qualities through its selection of poets, philosophers, scientists, monarchs, statesmen, and soldiers. We can read Stowe as a 400-acre ideologically narrative landscape.

Of course, we don’t build landscapes like Stowe anymore. But we do build follies, even if we call them something else. Even if they are simply giant GRP ice creams. And when we do, consciously or not, we also cite the cultural heritage of the folly. In its ridiculous stupidity it operates like Erasmus’s Folly, as the voice of a deranged self-indulgent truth. In its uselessness, it gains Adolf Loos’s amplified essentiality. In its figural representation, it gains Stowe’s narrative ability.

Follies then, whether we like it or not, are serious, sarcastic, and ideological manifestations. The more stupid they are, the more serious they become. The more facile, the clearer their ideology. Follies are ourselves reflected back at us in a magnifying mirror. They are our desires and dreams, our logic and reason made friendly-grotesque, hanging out on street corners ready to wink at us knowingly and smile with that gurning expression of self-recognition.

Lenin’s Urn

On Tavistock Place there’s a stretch of Victorian terraced housing that is now (mostly) a string of hotels and B&B’s. You might wonder if any of those budget travellers, while trundling their suitcases up from Euston Station look up to see the blue plaque on no. 36. It reads “Vladimir Ilyich Lenin 1870-1921, Founder of the USSR, Lived here in 1908”. Lenin stayed here at the beginning of his second period of exile from Russia. Tavistock Place a convenient base for his research he at the British Museum while writing his seminal text ‘Materialism and Empirio-criticism’ (published 1909)

This part of Tavistock Place is a typical London terrace. Each house has a basement area to the street front. Around these are cast iron railings painted black gloss. Painted many times it seems. Each layer building up on the last, each lick of paint shrouding the metal form in another layer.

Over time – and who knows quite how much time – the decorative details of the the railings have been gradually blurred. What we see now are these strange abstractions of varying degrees, each urn displaying its history of bumps and repair, of coat after coat until they become distinct shapes developing their own character. These are objects created over time, pieces of urban fabric that, like tree rings, tell their own story of their presence in the city.

In their vagueness, in their sense of swathed form we might feel some vague-shaped ghost of Lenin’s presence, somewhere down amongst their base coat. Talk about dialectical materialism, which, as Lenin explained in the very book he was writing during his stay at Tavistock Place

“ … insists on the approximate relative character of every scientific theory of the structure of matter and its properties; it insists on the absence of absolute boundaries in nature, on the transformation of moving matter from one state into another, that from our point of view [may be] apparently irreconcilable with it, and so forth.”

[As a side note, wouldn't these make fabulous objects themselves? Imagine scaled up representations of them, these wonky, sloughed forms of something vaguely recognisable, gloss black like an oil slick. Anyone fancy commissioning them?]