In the face of the current quietness on Strange Harvest, here is round up of some links / excerpts of stuff I’ve been doing elsewhere.
A few links:
This to piece on So-Il’s new Kukje Gallery in Seoul for Domus
A love letter to tarmac and the infrastructual botox of London’s pre-Olympic roadwork frenzy in Building Design
A review of an Electronic Cigarette in Icon describing the strange fictionalised enactment of the sensation of smoking.
And … tonight (21/6) is the London launch of the Strelka Press down at the Architecture Foundation. Interesting to see how their ‘digital first’ publishing experiment will pan out. Though only available on Amazon, you don’t actually need a real Kindle to read it. Any Kindle app on a phone / computer / ipad or whatever will do. Anyway, here is an extract of my piece Make It Real: Architecture As Enactment
, a longform essay starring Jay-Z, Woody Allen and a guy named Randy:
‘The danger is that it’s just talk; then again, the danger is that it’s not. I believe you can speak things into existence.’ Jay-Z, Decoded, 2010
‘The Great Roe’, Woody Allen tells us, ‘is a mythological beast with the head of a lion and the body of a lion, though not the same lion.’ In the Great Roe, the fictional and the real combine into a seamless composite. Though radically spliced, the line between myth and biology is invisible – there’s no way to tell where one begins and the other ends, which part is myth and which is real. Do its front paws walk on real ground and its rear on mythic landscapes? Or are both front and hindquarters real, with its mythological status located in the splice? Other mythological creatures – the half-human, half-animal satyrs, fauns, centaurs and the like – distort reality into crypto-biological arrangements of pure fiction. The Great Roe, though, embodies a strange and absurd condition where the opposite conditions of fiction and reality are contained within the same physical entity. One does not undo the other. Instead, its idea (its mythic fiction) and its form (a real lion) coincide exactly.
In constructing this comedic absurdity, Allen has accidently provided us with a fitting description of the way architecture occupies the world. Because architecture, like the Great Roe, is simultaneously mythical and real. Mythical, in the sense that it is the invention of the society that creates it – the ‘will of an epoch made into space’, as Mies put it. Real, in the sense that it is the landscape that we inhabit. The perfect registration between these two states provides architecture with its own supernatural power: its prosaic appearance cloaks its mythic, imaginative origins entirely. To begin to understand architecture’s Great Roe-ish state we must first think of how architecture mythologises and fictionalises itself, and then examine how it transmutes these fictions into reality.
Like a mythical beast, architecture emerges from the psycho-cultural landscape of its social, political and economic circumstances. Its body may be an exquisite corpse of (biologically impossible) architectural limbs, torsos, heads and tails, yet it is animated, active and alive like Frankenstein’s monster. At any given moment it projects its historical situation – the great teeming mass of narratives that prefigured its existence – into the contemporary world. And in doing so it fundamentally rewrites that history, splicing and sewing the narratives together to make a radical new proposition for the future.
The representation of history is, of course, highly politicised. As Churchill tells us, history is written by the victors. He suggests that history is at least part fiction, and that its writing is a spoil of war. In its own way, architecture is also a spoil of war, arising out of ideological, aesthetic, economic as well as military conflicts. But in contrast to written history, architecture’s victorious narrative manifests itself as reality. It not only represents and illustrates this fictional history but physically embodies it, playing it out through real substance, space and programme.
This radical re-enactment of history is a fundamental mode of architectures development. We might begin a historical survey of architectures re-enactments with the Egyptian column. The primitive tree and reed columns transformed into architecture when they became stone columns carved to look like a tree trunk or a bundle of reeds. Right here, in a foundational architectural moment, we see re-enactment as the primary architectural idea. The primitive tree-column returns at the moment it is technologically superseded. The original gesture of the tree-column is radically altered through its re-enactment in stone, producing a ritualised symbol that re-stages its origins just as it escapes their gravity.
In Greek architecture too we can read architecture’s compulsion to re-enact. Not only is the Egyptian column re-staged in the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian orders, but re-enactment generates the entire language of classical architecture through the re-staging of primitive timber Greek temples. As with the Egyptian column, stone replaces timber, but here the entire temple structure is transubstantiated. And in this transformation, architecture represents its own origin just as it becomes something else. We see this in details such as triglyphs, the vertically channelled blocks in a Doric frieze that are understood as stone representations of the original timber end-beams – even though these beams are unnecessary in stone construction. Under them are stone guttae that re-enact the wooden pegs that would have been needed to stabilise a timber post-and-beam structure but here are vestigially rhetorical. In these examples one construction technology is re-enacted in another creating paradoxes where the image of one intersects with the other’s substance. These transmaterial technological glitches are moments where the status of the re-enactment is made visible – like seeing a Civil War re-enactor on a mobile phone. They act like the splurges of a Warhol silkscreen or the howl of feedback, where the medium itself distorts the subject, where the act of reproduction becomes an active part of re-performance.