Posts Tagged ‘architects monographs’
In about 1997 Ken Goldberg sent me a black and white photograph of FLW his 1:1,000,000 scale model of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater House that had been compiled from individual silicon atoms. It’s about half the size of a playing card and was slipped into a glassine envelope.
In the 1930’s Frank Lloyd Wright’s concrete house, cantilevered above a waterfall represented an engagement with nature. In 1996 we were at the dawn of an era where the computer would increasingly become our interface with the natural world. Computer chips are cantilevered from silicon.
I was just beginning to make books in 1996. I was inspired by modern architecture. My books have a ‘floating’ spine that’s an homage to Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House. The covers are kraft board shellacked to resemble polished concrete. But they’re also inspired by the construction methods Mies van der Rohe used: how he worked with new materials, reinforced concrete and steel, and had a vision for the components of a building being made elsewhere and assembled onsite.
My books use new environmentally responsible synthetic papers that are remarkably sensual, they feel like an alien form of cashmere. They’re assembled from stapled sections printed at copy shops on machines that provide near offset print quality. The components for the bindings are pre-cut in bulk and rapidly assembled using industrial strength double-sided adhesive tape.
Art and Architecture Books as Cathedrals
I’m impressed by but don’t relate to traditional art books. I saw an exhibition of rare sacred books at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles in the late 1990’s: ancient lectern bibles with the text decorated by hand by monks, all the way up to contemporary books of photography on rich paper, exquisitely bound in linen, with ribbon bookmarks and slipcases. The art books seemed to me to have the gravitas of cathedrals, magnificent, imposing, heavy. They represented for me the way the cathedral was the site for the religious experience.
I’d gradually grown away from the Catholicism of my mother’s family towards Eastern religions. When I think of a cathedral it’s a concrete structure by either Tadao Ando or Toyo Ito made of concrete, almost devoid of decoration except for a simple cross.
The main decorative feature is a skylight that concentrated a beam of sunlight that seemed like the tractor beam of warmth suggested by renaissance paintings of Jesus Christ with a glowing heart. The religious experience wasn’t just in the chapel it was everywhere there was light. I increasingly came to believe that most of the books I was working with would exist mostly as light, in electronic form and only be decanted into the physical world as they are needed.
A company called Concrete Works tweeted a comment by Tadao Ando a couple of months ago: “Concrete is the marble of our era.”
A few days ago Ballardian tweeted a quote by J G Ballard: “Concrete is a beautiful material. Handled intelligently it’s much more 20th century than wood or brick.”
Books As Treasure or Treasure Maps?
“I marvelled at her comic-book collection, stacks of them earned from a childhood spent in bed, every issue of Superman, Little Lulu, Classic, Comics and House of Mystery. In her old cigar box were all the talismanic charms of 1953: a roulette wheel, a typewriter, an ice skater, the red Mobil winged horse, the Eiffel Tower, a ballet slipper, and charms in the shape of all forty-eight states,” writes Patti Smith in her memoir Just Kids, of her friendship with an ill child when she was eight.
Later in life art and literature would become her talismans. “We spent a night looking at our art books. My collection included de Kooning, Dubuffet, Diego Rivera, a Pollock monograph, and a small pile of Art International magazines. Robert had large coffee table books he had acquired from Brentano’s on Tantric art, Michelangelo, Surrealism, and erotic art. We added used catalogs on John Graham, Gorky, Cornell, and Kitaj that we acquired for less than a dollar.”
My box of charms is my iPhone. I have a paperweight model of the Eiffel Tower but it’s in a box of things, still in storage I haven’t unpacked since returning to Australia from Los Angeles, and I don’t miss it. The artworks I like to meditate upon are contained in iPhone apps: Walter de Maria’s Earth room in a guide to tranquil places in New York, and a new app called Mars Odyssey Themis, which posts a photo a day taken by the Mars Rovers Spirit and Opportunity.
The photos of Mars are extraordinarily evocative and linked to a website that provides a context for them: latitude, longitude, orbit number, when the images were captured, their size. I can link through to see them placed on a map. I can tweet the photos. But I don’t consider these apps as treasures. I won’t put them away in a box somewhere and in fifty years find them and be transported back in time.
My two year old iPhone is starting to malfunction. I’ll need to replace it soon. The apps are backed up and I can put them onto a new phone but eventually they’ll become antiquated or incompatible and the shell of a dead iPhone evoke a room in Soho filled with dirt or wind drifts on the surface of Mars. What remains though is the essence of the experience for me. The art works are conceptual, they’re treasure maps not treasure.
The iPad and the Walkman and the Sunset of Mature Technologies
In 2008 Bill Viola gave a public lecture at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. He showed an excerpt from a new work, Ocean Without A Shore, that showed people walking towards and through a curtain of water. It represented the intersection between life and death. It began in grainy black and white, shot with a 1970’s surveillance camera. The colour footage was shot with a state-of-the art super high definition camera. The curtain of water, whose settings took two days to calibrate, had been used by Sports Illustrated while shooting its swimsuit issue.
He said he now felt that he had a full palette of tools. That technology had advanced so far so quickly and become so ubiquitous that it no longer had to be the focus of his work, that people would be able to concentrate on the experience the works provoked. He talked about being in a church in Italy and the simple beauty of a Renaissance painting of the Virgin Mary moving him to tears.
Things start to get interesting when technologies become fully mature and are about to be bypassed for a new format or a new class of device that alters and significantly heightens the experience of the artform. At the end of analogue era the extraordinary musicians of the punk rock generation had access to cheap vinyl recording and pressing facilities as the recording industry was focusing on the introduction of the CD, and their independent singles changed the nature of popular music. And the Walkman, an ordinary cassette playback device, shrunk to fit into a pocket and fitted with high fidelity small lightweight headphones changed the way we experienced music, privately, while in motion.
The iPhone is the natural successor of the Walkman, making it possible to experience every artform through a pocket sized device, and adding communications and mapping capabilities. Maybe the iPad is an end of cycle device that heightens the experiences the iPhone offered. For electronic books it holds the promise for a renaissance of great typography and graphic design.
The 21st Century Urban Pastoral Experience
Maybe the transformative devices of the twenty first century will be more like those of the nineteenth than the twentieth: things that transform urban life. Maybe our century’s version of electric lights in everyone’s homes and traffic lights on the streets and rapid public transport and the development of vast irrigation systems to bring water to cities will be a denuding of the glory of the machine. Maybe urban farming systems for every family and individual solar power generators will be the hippest devices and cities will become vast garden spaces where cars have disappeared and bicycles move through disciplined herds of grazing animals.
Engineering May Precede Science
If we consider the debate about whether or not games are art from the angle of the experience they provide, they join up with the pioneering telerobotic projects of Dr Robert Ballard and Ken Goldberg. On the internet gamers join up to become immersed in distant worlds that may be mapped upon our own, and explore them.
“We’re going to follow a rain drop in the rain forests of Belize,” Dr Ballard said of his Jason Project that connects schoolchildren with scientists on a mission of exploration that uses robots remotely operated over the internet. “We’re going to start with a raindrop in space and follow it down through the canopy and find people in the canopy live working, drop to the floor, see the creatures of the floor. Follow the river systems, go into the limestone formations, into the subterranean, into caves, come back out and go into the Barrier Reef and walk them through it all live with the scientists working at each place along the way. We’ll go from live to virtual reality back to reality. Virtual reality is really wonderful for showing you where you are and getting you around. It can’t beat reality once you arrive but its wonderful in virtual reality not to have your body and just fly through space. You don’t have to look out of a window. You’re a bird and you can go very fast and you can go anywhere. You can start in space, looking down at the earth and fly down and enter the rain forest and then be there live and then move from there through some other system and then constantly moving between the two. Electronic travel is what it is.”
In the hydrothermal vents of the Galapagos Rift Dr Robert Ballard’s robots observed the earth’s crust moving and agitating in a way that confirmed a previously controversial theory of the movement and continents. And the discovery of tubeworms that live without any access to light or oxygen provided a new view on the evolution of life on earth.
Dr Ballard invents and refines tools for each of his missions. The engineering often precedes the science. “When the mission to the Moon was being systematically designed in the 1960’s, there was considerable uncertainty and debate about the nature of the Moon’s surface,” wrote Henry Petroski in The Essential Engineer. “This naturally presented problems to the engineers responsible for designing a landing module that would set down on an unknown base. The bottoms of the legs of the lunar lander, which would be manually guided down onto the exotic surface, were fitted with what looked somewhat like, outside-down hubcaps, thus providing a broad convex surface over whick to spread the weight of the vehicle, just in case that was what was necessary. The true nature of the surface was determined only after the landing, and among the most valuable things the astronauts brought back from their historic voyage were Moon rocks, from which geologists back on Earth could learn a great deal about the Moon’s ‘geology’. (Even the word for the science of the Earth had to be drafted into service for the study of nature of this neighbouring but foreign body.) The Moon landing is a wonderful example of engineering not only preceding science but making it possible.”
Artists and Architects Electronic Monographs
Enough time has elapsed since the introduction of the internet for us to have a perspective on how it’s altered the way the we live our lives. There is a generation of artists whose works were created to be experienced on the internet who should be celebrated with a mid-career retrospective exhibition and a monograph of their body of work.
Many of their works may still be active or archived online, so with an electronic publication the works themselves can be experienced rather than as representations. And many architects have long been using sophisticated 3D modelling techniques and animations to create models of their concepts.
The most valuable aspects of monographs though are the essays by critics and scholars who put complex works into context. Footnotes and bibliographies can be made dynamic by linking to the works they cite. But links have made us more sophisticated readers. We’re used to relating and connecting ideas and works. Writing can become much simpler and elegant because we’ll link through rather than needing each work to exhaustively explain something.
A Monograph For Ken Goldberg, Engineer and Artist
Over the last fifteen years Ken Goldberg has engineered devices, written algorithms and devised interfaces designed to be used in manufacturing or in gathering scientific research. His works are designed for groups of people working collaboratively, connected to the equipment and each other over the internet. To test his concepts and project how they might be used he created telerobotic art projects on the internet.
The art projects Ken has created anticipated the social dimension of the internet: privacy and surveillance, how we tend nature, observe creatures in remote wilderness locations, how we consider and organise information we receive, and how we decide whether or not to trust what we find. Ken even invented a wholly new artform when a classically trained ballerina improvised a dance to real-time seismic readings from the Hayward fault running beneath San Francisco that had been transformed into sound.