Friday, December 26, 2008

Folded Factory Town

Folded Factory Town
Clay Ketter, 2006

The poor: a threatening and indispensable enemy. From the dangerous classes to the danger of the multitude.

The corsi e ricorsi of history are strange. It is renowned that throughout the history of capitalism the definition of ‘dangerous classes’ has been very flexible. In the era of manufacture the poor were the dangerous: the multitude of penniless and vagabonds agricultural workers and landless peasants forced to move towards cities and factories. In the era of large industry, the workers became the ‘dangerous class’: assembled en masse in the factory, they exercised a pressure that affected all social relations; the dangerous class had to be pushed on the path of poverty, unemployment, and the industrial reserve army. Today the poor is the enemy once again: in Postfordism, the flexible worker - mobile and precarious, capable of producing cognitive and intellectual surplus - is the enemy, threatened by means of exclusion, as if poverty was not enough. Precarious middle classes, taylorised intellectual labour and an immaterial labour force degraded through industrial instrumentalisation and the alienation of value: this is the fate of the new condition of poverty. However, never has the poor been in the condition of being as productive as he is now. In social production, since labour becomes cooperative, a concrete common realisation - and this common constitutes the core necessary condition for the production of commodities and services - exclusion would seem to be impossible. Despite the myriad of mechanisms of exclusion to which he is subjected, the poor expresses an enormous power of life and production. What is excluded through the legal and economic forms of capital is nevertheless included in the circuits of social and biopolitical production. Thus the poor, the unemployed, the homeless and wage less represent first of all a contradictory situation: they are excluded from a general social condition that conceives of value as built in community. This is the reason for the dangerousness of the poor, the substance of his ‘being foe’ to the actual form of capitalist command.

Despite its current crisis, the ideology of labour keeps producing negative effects. In the era of large manufacture, working class organisation never liked the poor: if the poor were excluded from the productive process, he was also excluded from any meaningful role in political organisation. Like the capitalists, the working class Left also conceived of the poor as dangerous, not only because the poor can appear to be unproductive social parasites (thieves, prostitutes, junkies etc.) but also because they seem politically unstable and basically irrational. In fact, at certain times in history fascists and reactionary populism used the poor as the social base and weapon against the working class, and counting on their disorganisation and resentment for their exclusion. The working class movement often imagined the poor to be part of the enemy, a full member of that industrial reserve army that could attack the wage relation and put workers’ employment in danger. Whilst communists certainly denounced labour aristocracies, the diffidence towards the poor would not cease so long as the ideology of labour hegemonised the minds of socialists.

In Postfordism the poor comes out of the picture into which he had been forced by large manufacture capitalism and the operaismo of that stage of social composition of labour. In many ways, the more the worker is positively inserted in social productive activity, the poorer he is today. The distinction between directly productive labour and unproductive labour has always been dubious, also in Marxian discourse. However, for Marx the poor were neither productive nor unproductive: they lied outside of production, as the savage lies outside of civilisation. But just as the savage fully resides inside globalisation today, so has the poor entirely re-entered social production. His productive capacity is not virtual - as it used to be when the vagabond was pushed from the countryside to new industrial cities. The labour capacity of the poor is now actual because the entire set of social relations is productive. However, the poor is still the enemy or has become again the enemy par excellence because he is necessary to production, rich in productive capacity and included in social production. All of this, just in the name of the need for inclusion, makes him dangerous and inimical. As it is always the case for the enemy of society, the poor must fight against poverty and thus recognise himself as his own enemy. Such was the case of the worker who, struggling against exploitation, had to conceive his own destruction. The suppression of poverty must then represent itself as the suppression of the poor. But the suppression of poverty is also a struggle against those who organise poverty as the basis of their wealth and of capitalist development.

If it is true that the poor is included in the biopolitical texture of social production, the struggle against poverty will be a constituent one. Poverty reveals the subversive content of the universal participation of the labour force to social production. In the era of large industry the struggles of the poor were always resistance struggles - whatever their outcome. In England, Germany, the United States in the 1920's, and again in Europe during the 1970's, the struggles of the poor were struggles for appropriation. Resistance and appropriation are the struggles of the excluded, but today, with the social inclusion of labour, the struggles of the poor merge and become entangled with those of the workers and they are constituent. They only become effective when they manage to halt the mechanisms of exploitation and hierarchisation of the global labour force. Because of this, citizenship income becomes the constituent political key of the struggles of the poor: it merges the political recognition of inclusion and the project of democratic management of globalisation. Thus the poor becomes the real enemy.

Antonio Negri
Source : Published on Global Magazine, Issue 2, May 2003. Translated by Arianna Bove

under construction

A collaborative artistic experiment based on the idea of re- construction

Artists :Iasonas Kontovrakis, Xanthi Kostorizou,Alexandros Laios, Spiros Nakas, Chrysanthi Papaxenou,Georgia Tourmouzi, Panos Famelis, Maro Fasouli, Kostas Christopoulos

Using improvisation as the central process, a group of artists embark on an adventure constructing a building using the remains found in the surrounding area. The final construction, while housing a common idea, simultaneously cohabitates differing artistic worlds and values. The whole process remains open to additional intervention and elaboration once the initial construction has been completed. Thus adding elements, which will determine the form and value of this experiment and symbolic cohabitation.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Losing it all to Win again

"Losing it all to Win again "
51 x 13 x 58 cm
wood, acrylic, wool, cloth

Friday, December 19, 2008


Base:Object brings together five new sculptures which explore the status of the pedestal in contemporary art. Strictly as a tool to present a sculpture, to clarify what is and what is not an art object, and to signify the importance of what is being displayed, the pedestal has been undermined in modern art history since Constantin Brancusi's sculptures in the earliest decades of the 20th century. All of the works in the exhibition subversively complicate the duality of the pedestal/art object relationship and unlike Minimalist sculpture from the 1960s, choose to work with and through the form of the pedestal without completely obliterating it. The pedestal can act as a kind of barrier between art and non-art, simultaneously anointing the displayed and effacing itself. When the pedestal becomes the art object, these hierarchies are crushed into a shimmering sea of infinite difference.

Do you know how diamonds get to us? Three hundred miles underground are heats and pressures that crush carbon into sparkling shapes, driven for months or days or hours along hotel corridors called diamond pipes until they erupt in a pile of taffeta and chocolate some moonlit afternoon, an event no human has ever witnessed.
-Anne Carson

The sculptures in Base:Object figure fragility and precariousness, constriction, binding, and fracturing. Surfaces are rough and raw and scarred. These works are experiments to set meaning in motion. These sculptures deny the autonomy of the art object and yet celebrate the motivations and compulsions to make art. The works in this exhibition and by this generation of artists short circuit the embedded ideologies of presentation and recast traditional signs of importance and value. This subversion is made manifest by working a kind of alchemy on the detritus and cheap materials overlooked in a society of consumption.

Sara Barker
abject posture

All of the works in Base:Object display a marked interest in materiality and the painstaking effort of creating an object both seemingly casual and formally rigorous. Eschewing bronze, porcelain, and carved wood, the works in Base:Object are constructed from the everyday materials of the urban world: concrete, Formica, urethane, nylon yarn, canvas, carpet, sheets of glass, bits of wood, foam, drywall. They are the children of Minimalist boxes, no longer simply reflecting the viewers gaze back into the world at large, but displaying their origins in that world. It's the Minimalist cube or the Rauschenberg combine infected by the desires and conditions of the society that bore them. Barker, Hill, Monahan, O'Brien, and Ruby are all working contemporaneously in a time of uncertainty, war, gross economic inequity, financial collapse, and unprecedented environmental destruction. Heats and pressures erupting form-possibilities of renewal built from the ruins of the present.

Sterling Ruby
Absolute Contempt for Total Serenity / DB Deth

Sara Barker, Patrick Hill
Matthew Monahan, William J. O'Brien
Sterling Ruby

Curated by Cory Nomura
Andrea Rosen Gallery

The Parthenon of Books/Homage to Democracy

Marta Minujin, "The Parthenon of Books/Homage to Democracy, Buenos Aires,"
(December 1983)

Ομόνοια blues

Ή το κοινωνικό πρόσωπο της πολιτισμικής παγκοσμιοποίησης

Η σύγχρονη πόλη ζει μια πολύ ενδιαφέρουσα αντίφαση. Από τη μια είναι χτισμένη με αδρανή υλικά και μεταβάλλεται αργά, στη λογική της μακράς διάρκειας που χαρακτήριζε πάντα τα οικοδομικά κελύφη της αρχιτεκτονικής της. Και από την άλλη είναι ο φυσικός φορέας της κοινωνικής και πολιτισμικής δραστηριότητας που μεταλλάσσεται διαρκώς με έναν φρενήρη ρυθμό κυκλοφορίας ανθρώπων και εμπορευμάτων, πληροφοριών και εικόνων κάθε είδους και μορφής. Είναι δύσκολο να συλλάβει το μυαλό μας την κινητικότητα αυτή, διαρκώς κινούμενο και το ίδιο, μέσα στο φυσικό του σώμα και στο δίκτυο της πληροφορίας, βιώνοντας την καθημερινότητα του χώρου ζωής και εργασίας, του αυτοκινήτου και του μέσου επικοινωνίας. Ολα γύρω είναι ή φαίνεται πως είναι σταθερά και αμετάβλητα. Η τριλογία της οδού Πανεπιστημίου- Βιβλιοθήκη, Πανεπιστήμιο, Ακαδημία- είναι όπως ήταν προτού γεννηθεί οποιοσδήποτε από εμάς, με εξαίρεση την πρόσφατη «επένδυση» ενός κτιρίου με «hondos» πίσω από τη Βιβλιοθήκη, στην οδό Ιπποκράτους, που έχει αλλάξει δραστικά το βάθος πεδίου. Και όχι μόνο δεν αλλάζουν τα κτίρια, αλλά συντηρούνται επίμονα και συστηματικά για να φαίνεται ότι δεν αλλάζουν. Το ίδιο ακριβώς συμβαίνει- παραδόξως- στην πλατεία της Ομόνοιας. Λέω «παραδόξως» γιατί οι περισσότεροι θα υποστήριζαν πως η πλατεία αυτή άλλαξε πολύ τα τελευταία χρόνια. Και όμως, η πλατεία, που ορίζεται από το μέτωπο των περιμετρικών κτιρίων, διατηρεί την τετράγωνη μορφή που είχε πάντα και περιβάλλεται από τα κτίρια που γνώρισα και εγώ σαν παιδί. Και εδώ τα κτίρια έχουν συντηρηθεί, καθαριστεί και αναδειχθεί για να εξασφαλιστεί το αμετάβλητο του αρχιτεκτονικού κελύφους, με εξαίρεση ένα, «ντυμένο» και αυτό με «hondos», στη γωνία της 3ης Σεπτεμβρίου. Αυτά που αλλάζουν περισσότερο από οτιδήποτε άλλο σε μια πόλη είναι τα κάθε είδους κινητά συστατικά της, οι άνθρωποι, τα αυτοκίνητα, τα εμπορεύματα, η εικόνα των εμπορευμάτων (τα «hondos» δηλαδή). Σε αυτά υποτάσσεται η οργάνωση των ροών της κίνησης και των εφήμερων στάσεων, αυτά εκφράζουν το κοινωνικό πρόσωπο και την πολιτισμική παγκοσμιοποίηση στο σύγχρονο αστικό τοπίο.
Η Ομόνοια ήταν και είναι ζωτικός πυκνωτής στη σύγχρονη μεγαλούπολη στην οποία ζούμε. Ο Δρομέας ήρθε και έφυγε, όπως έρχονται και φεύγουν οι δημοτικοί άρχοντες. Το σιντριβάνι του 1960, έργο αρχιτέκτονα και γλύπτη, διαρκώς μεταβαλλόμενο στη ροή της μέρας και της νύχτας, μείξη χρωμάτων και υδάτων, αυτοκινήτων και ανθρώπων, ήταν μια εφήμερη «εγκατάσταση» στη μακρά διάρκεια της πλατείας. Και η σύγχρονη πλατεία είναι το έδαφος μιας πολιτισμικής εντροπίας επειδή προσφέρει την ευκαιρία για λίγο μεγαλύτερη στάση στη διαρκώς μεταβαλλόμενη σύνθεση της κοινωνικής συγκρότησής της. Η αταξία αυτή είναι χαρακτηριστικό πύκνωμα της πολιτισμικής παγκοσμιοποίησης στην οποία αναφέρομαι. Οι διασταυρούμενες ροές φύλων και φυλών, συναλλαγών και ανταλλαγών, αυτοκινήτων, τουριστών και δύο γραμμών μετρό με οκτώ δρόμους που οδηγούν σε όλες τις γειτονιές της Αθήνας είναι το αποκορύφωμα της αστικής πλατείας της μεταβιομηχανικής κοινωνίας. Το πρωί και το απόγευμα, στο φως του ήλιου, στον ηλεκτρισμό του υπογείου, όλη τη νύχτα στις ανταύγειες του γενικού φωτισμού, η πλατεία είναι εξαιρετικά ζωντανή χωρίς να είναι ίδια. Μοιάζει με πλατείες από όλον τον κόσμο, που υλοποιούν το μητροπολιτικό ανάλογο της καρδιάς, Τimes Square και Αlexanderplatz, αλλά είναι ταυτοχρόνως διαμορφωμένη με ισχυρή αστική τυπολογία και είναι γεωγραφικά ορισμένη σε σχέση με το πολιτισμικό αποκορύφωμα της πόλης, την Ακρόπολη, ώστε να επιβάλλεται και ως κλασική πλατεία. Το κοινωνικό πρόσωπο της σύγχρονης μεγαλούπολης είναι μια σύνθεση αντιθέσεων που γνωρίζαμε ήδη από τον περασμένο αιώνα, αλλά τώρα εκρήγνυνται ως πολιτισμική παγκοσμιοποίηση και επιταχύνονται σε πείσμα της αδράνειας του οικοδομικού περιβάλλοντος. Συγκρίνοντας την Ομόνοια του Γιώργου Ιωάννου με τη σημερινή μπορούμε να μετρήσουμε αυτή την αλλαγή και ίσως να ορίσουμε ένα υψηλότερο συντελεστή ρευστοποίησης των διαφόρων κοινωνικών δράσεων, αλλά δεν πρόκειται να εκπλαγούμε. Και όμως, η έκπληξη του ιθαγενούς κοινωνικού συνόλου ήταν απρόσμενα ηχηρή όταν σχεδιάστηκε η «τελευταία» Ομόνοια με το πρόσωπο της πόλης του 21ου αιώνα, ψηφιακή, διεθνής, κοινωνική, ως ιδανικό πλαίσιο της πολιτισμικής παγκοσμιοποίησης.
Η γενικευμένη αντίδραση απαίτησε αναδρομικά το κοινωνικό πρόσωπο της πόλης του 19ου αιώνα, την πλατεία του μεγάλου χωριού, με τραπεζάκια έξω και δεντροστοιχίες, με την ευτυχία γραμμένη σε όλα τα πρόσωπα και βεβαίως με «καθαρότητα» σε όλες τις ταυτότητες και τις ανθρώπινες σχέσεις. Και το ζήτησε πάνω από μια τεχνητή πόλη, στην «ταράτσα» του πολυώροφου επικέντρου της, στο roof-garden, έχοντας ήδη «απωθήσει» τη μη καθαρή σύνθεση των κοινωνικά και πολιτισμικά επίμεικτων δράσεων σε όλη την υπόλοιπη χώρα, στις γειτονιές και τα σπίτια, στα εργοστάσια και τα χωράφια, έχοντας εξορκίσει επιδεικτικά το κοινωνικό πρόσωπο και την πολιτισμική παγκοσμιοποίηση για χάρη μιας πόλης-θεάματος του εξιδανικευμένου εαυτού της. Ποιο μπορεί να είναι λοιπόν το κοινωνικό πρόσωπο της πόλης σε μια εποχή της πολιτισμικής παγκοσμιοποίησης; Τι άλλο από ένα πεδίο συγκερασμού των πολιτισμικών και εθνικών ταυτοτήτων, των κοινωνικών και οικονομικών αποκλίσεων, των φυλετικών, των θρησκευτικών και ηθικών διακρίσεων. Στη Νέα Υόρκη, στο Λονδίνο, στο Παρίσι, στις μεγάλες πόλεις, η διαπολιτισμικότητα αυτή ήταν εγκατεστημένη από τον περασμένο αιώνα και αποτελούσε
ένα δεδομένο που έτρεφε, μέσα από την αντίθεση και τη σύγκρουση, την πολύβουη σύνθεση του αστικού προσώπου τους. Τόσοι και τόσοι από μας έχουν ταξιδέψει και έχουν απολαύσει τις «βρώμικες» πλατείες, έχουν περπατήσει σε ανήσυχους δρόμους των δυτικών μητροπόλεων, χαμένοι στη βαβούρα της πολιτισμικής συνύπαρξης και στο θέαμα των αντιφάσεων. Μαύρα, άσπρα και κίτρινα πρόσωπα, πολύχρωμα ρούχα, ακατανόητες γλώσσες και μουσικές, σε πλατείες και πεζοδρόμια, πραγματικό μωσαϊκό πολιτισμών που συναντιούνται αλλά δεν σμίγουν και όμως πορεύονται μαζί, τη μέρα και τη νύχτα, στη δουλειά και στη ζωή. Το κοινωνικό πρόσωπο της πόλης του 21ου αιώνα θα είναι το πρόσωπο μιας αμοιβαίας αναγνώρισης των διαφορών, μιας πολιτισμικής συνάντησης που «οικοδομείται» ως ανθρώπινη σχέση στο εσωτερικό του αργά μεταβαλλόμενου αρχιτεκτονικού κελύφους κάθε αστικού περιβάλλοντος.

Σε ένα κέλυφος σαν και αυτό, σε μια «Ομόνοια» ολοκληρωμένη όπως σχεδιάστηκε, για τον 21ο και όχι τον 19ο αιώνα, πρέπει να δοκιμαστεί η δυνατότητα να αποκτήσει ο χώρος της συλλογικής μας ύπαρξης το όποιο κοινωνικό πρόσωπο επιθυμούμε. Χωρίς αμφιβολία, η συνάντηση αυτή θα είναι μια σύνθεση πραγματικών αντιθέσεων. Το κοινωνικό πρόσωπο θα είναι οπωσδήποτε ένα πρόσωπο με τα ίχνη των συγκρούσεων που θα έχουν αφήσει ουλές, που θα έχει «φάει» το δέρμα του ο συγκερασμός, όπως «τρώει» το ανθρώπινο πρόσωπο ο καιρός και ο χρόνος. Η πολιτισμική συνάντηση, αυτή η πανάρχαια πρακτική των λαών που κινούνται πέρα από θάλασσες και από στεριές, θα οξύνει τις ανταλλαγές, θα ωριμάσει τις επιρροές, θα γονιμοποιήσει. Στην Ομόνοια λοιπόν- συμβολικό ανάλογο της σύγκλισης που ορίζει το όνομά της- κρίνεται το πρόσωπο που θα αποκτήσει η πολιτισμική παγκοσμιοποίηση. Και αυτό το «πρόσωπο» δεν θα είναι τελικά ένα ζήτημα του χτισμένου αλλά του ανθρώπινου περιβάλλοντος. Θα είναι το δικό μας πρόσωπο.

Παναγιώτης Τουρνικιώτης
Panayotis Tournikiotis

Πηγή:ΒΗΜΑ ΙΔΕΩΝ - Τεύχος 05/12/2008

And Now?

Nicos Charalambidis, "Cport", 2008

Jonathan Callan, "Samson", 2006

Other Artists
Nikos Alexiou, Katerina Apostlolidou, Dimitra Vamiali, Kostis Velonis, Yiorgis Yerolympos, Steve Yianakos, Vagelis Gokas, Jonathan Callan, Sam Herbert, Aikaterini Gegisian, Yiannis Theodoropoulos, Lina Thedorou, Eleni Theofylaktou, Dionisis Kavalilieratos, Lizzie Calligas, Panos Kokinias, Maria Konti, Alexis Kyritsopoulos,Daphne Lianantonaki, Nikos Markou, Irini Miga, Maro Mihalakakos, Vassili Balatsos, Kostas Bassanos, Nikos Navridis, Antonis Ntonef, Zafos Xagoraris, Maria Papadimitriou, Leda Papakonstantinou, Nina Papakonstantinou, Eftihis Patsourakis, Paris Petridis, Hrair Sarkissian, Dimitris Skalkotos, Su Mei Tse, Jan Fabre, Makis Faros, Maria Finn, Nicos Charalampidis, George Xadjimihalis, Katerina Christidi, Petros Chrisostomou, «» (Yiannis Gregoriadis, Lina Theodorou, Yiannis Isidorou).

And Now? - Greek State Museum, Thessaloniki
Curated by Christina Petrinou
December 17 - February 22, 2009

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Non Conformist Chair

Design by Eileen Gray (1925)

Eileen Gray explains the non conformist shape of this model. "We deliberately left out one armrest to give more ease to the body. You can comfortably lean over to one side or turn around when sitting on this chair".

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"You'll Live, But I'll Not..."

You'll live, but I'll not; perhaps,
The final turn is that.
Oh, how strongly grabs us
The secret plot of fate.

They differently shot us:
Each creature has its lot,
Each has its order, robust, --
A wolf is always shot.

In freedom, wolves are grown,
But deal with them is short:
In grass, in ice, in snow, --
A wolf is always shot.

Don't cry, oh, friend my dear,
If, in the hot or cold,
From tracks of wolves, you'll hear
My desperate recall.

Anna Akhmatova
Translated by Yevgeny Bonver

Building's Facade after the Riot in Athens

Better Living Through Chemistry

Mosanto House of the Future, Disneyland, Anaheim (1957).

According to the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the House of the Future "was a design anomaly: though fabricated from materials concocted in an industrial laboratory - the company's motto was "Better Living Through Chemistry" - the house took the shape of a flower from another galaxy, an abstract sculpture with four, lobate wings or blossoms budding from a central stem.
No longer Le Corbusier's "machine for living," the family home was a work of modern art, in which function was subordinate to the dramatized forms of eyes, legs, fingers, lungs, and a pliant skin of sleek white plastic. The all-plastic wings were composed of modular panels in contoured shapes filled with foam insulation.
Each one featured a picture window - a huge eye with the proportions of a TV screen."

Monday, December 8, 2008

Working Class Family

Oscar Bony
"The Working Class Family" (1968)

Ω, Τι Ωραίο Πλιάτσικο!

Uploaded from inlovewithlife

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Tribes of clutter

The Comfort of Things
Daniel Miller, Polity Press

This book sums up how far social anthropology has progressed since Henry Mayhew wrote about the skull shapes of costermongers in the 19th century. Daniel Miller's approach is more in keeping with that of the wild and weird Tom Harrisson and the pioneers of Mass Observation in the 1930s. Having studied cannibalistic tribes in the New Hebrides, Harrisson despatched researchers to Bolton and north London to spy on the British working class at play. They reported on, among other things, the fixation with astrology, the football Pools, and "the cult of the aspidistra". These brief expeditions were undertaken as a tentative consumerism began to lighten the lives of the masses. At the time, George Orwell, having returned from his sojourn in Wigan, suggested that fish and chips, tinned salmon, radio and strong tea might have averted revolution.

Flying ducks and flock wallpaper: possessions mortared with memory

Ultimately, if hope lay with the proles it lay with them as consumers. This, at least, was the contention of Dr Gallup, whose market research techniques attempted to understand the British as consumers, just as Mass Observation attempted to understand them as citizens. In The Comfort of Things, Miller investigates the citizens of contemporary London by way of their consumerism - or at least their material possessions, in an era of unprecedented mass consumption.
Initially Miller - currently a professor of anthropology at University College London - took the conventional approach to his craft, using expeditions to India, Trinidad and the Solomon Islands to investigate contemporary humanity "through the material form". In this new book he challenges the assumption that an attachment to things makes us more materialistic and superficial, consequently ruining the true potential of relationships. It is an assumption that environmental fundamentalists and certain psychologists line up behind when blaming the "affluence" of the masses for every earthbound evil. It is these and those of a similar mindset that you hope Miller might be addressing when arguing that such clichés and assumptions are seldom put to the test. "Possessions often remain profound," he says, "and usually the closer our relationships are with objects, the closer our relationships are with people."
But this is only part of the wider question he addresses in The Comfort of Things. It's a question that goes to the root of social science: what rituals and customs do human beings create to bring each other together? He argues that contemporary Londoners do not live their lives according to the cosmology of a religion or a belief in society. In fact, he echoes Margaret Thatcher in suggesting that there may no longer be such a thing as society, simply individuals in relationships with other people and objects. The latter is the impetus for this book, and a year and a half of research spent interviewing the inhabitants of a street in south-east London.
The "Stuart Street" of The Comfort of Things is an arbitrary choice, but its very ordinariness makes it interchangeable with other neighbourhoods in the capital. Diversity rather than homogeneity is what interests Miller, and this is what distinguishes the endeavour from the Britain that Mass Observation investigated. Only 23 per cent of the inhabitants of Stuart Street are London-born, and many of the 30 individuals allocated a "portrait" in this book hold allegiances to foreign localities. The modern London is fragmented, and the loss of identity has become its defining characteristic. In Miller's findings collectivism and community do not have an effective role to play in Stuart Street or elsewhere in the metropolis. "If ever we lived in a post-society, whose primary focus is on diversity rather than shared or systematically ordered culture, the London street is that post-society."
As such, for Miller, the study of material culture is the clue to understanding modern values. However, it is the characters less defined by the objects that surround them which prove to be the biggest finds in this book. There is Malcolm, a man whose email address is more of a "home" than his accommodation on Stuart Street, where his desire to embrace a digital existence has him jettisoning ornaments and accoutrements for a virtual life on the laptop. And the opening chapter of the book, "Empty", is the story of George, a 76-year-old who is more the stuff of fiction - the missing link between Melville's Bartleby and Miss Haversham. "It was after meeting George that we found ourselves in tears," writes Miller. "Because in every other instance there was a sense that at least that person had once lived. This was a man more or less waiting for his time on earth to be over, but who had never seen his life actually begin."
George is someone whose existence has been entirely dependent on the say-so of others, ranging from his parents to the state. Even the business of obtaining objects and decorating his flat requires decisions that are too big for him to deal with. His environment is beyond that self-conscious minimalism, that ethical thrift or that anti-consumerism which becomes its own lifestyle choice. His is a home where nothing survives as a clue to the history, or even the existence of its sole inhabitant: no mementoes, ornaments, photographs.
George is therefore the character who rattles part of Miller's thesis: "People sediment possessions, lay them down as foundations, material walls mortared with memory, strong supports that come into their own when times are difficult and the people who laid them down face experiences of loss."
Each portrait in The Comfort of Things is a chapter that reads like a short story. Miller has a tenderness and an affection for these characters, and his descriptions sometimes soar like passages in a novel, although there are moments when the author's projections tend to hint more at his own limitations than those of his subject. One such is the suggestion that George's lack of identity and passion for royalty make him ideal fodder for fascism.
Between the alienated and dysfunctional figures unearthed by Miller's research are those who find a joy and a passion in the things that help them nest and settle in a fragmented city. There is the cockney Londoner of old here, too, the breed whose bones lie beneath the city's paving stones; those forgotten by the new model "Londoner" who has rebranded the capital by way of a beloved multiculturalism that is as mythical as the "Middle England" he or she loathes. Working-class Marjorie accumulates things that, according to Miller, "never lose their rapport with the present". She is constantly changing the gallery of framed photographs that shroud her living room and watching old videos in an abode stacked with images of her family, as well as those of celebrities from the Beatles to television newsreaders.
Marjorie, perhaps more than any of the other characters in The Comfort of Things, best epitomises the theory that Miller is left with when his work in Stuart Street is done: in modern London, households and individuals alike have themselves to create the values that once defined us as a society. This is the departure that, here in the 21st century, has made social anthropology embark on a rethink. In losing the opportunity to study something known as society, it has been forced to focus solely on the individual and the home.
To the contemporary anthropologist such as Daniel Miller, "This street is New Guinea and every household in this book is a tribe."

text by Michael Collins

Για τη Μεσσαλίνα, ακολασία κι άρνηση

Σε κάθε σιωπηλή πτυχή των ημερών μου
ελλόχευε ένα ποίημα,
όχι απ’ αυτά που γράφουν στο χαρτί,
αλλά από κείνα που ‘ναι διάχυτα στον άνεμο
ή που κυλούν με το αίμα μας στις φλέβες
και που ‘ναι αυτό καθεαυτό το αίμα πιθανόν
μεθυσμένο από το χρώμα, το ρυθμό και την ιδέα
μιας ακολασίας μουσικής

Η κάθε νύχτα, μου μιλούσε με ένα ποίημα
που ‘σπρωχνε και φούσκωνε τα τζάμια
σαν ιστία πλοίου επειγόμενου να φύγει
κι η καμάρα μου τότε ναυαγούσε σε κυκλώνες
πυρετού και φαντασίας εξημμένης
απ’ το χρώμα το ρυθμό της ιδέα
μιας ακολασίας μουσικής.

Στα μπρούτζινα κορμιά των μονομάχων
στα διψασμένα μάτια των φρουρών
ελλόχευε παντού, με τόση λυσσαλέα επιμονή
αυτό το διψασμένο κι αδηφάγο ποίημα
ώστε μ’ άναψε και μ’ έκαψε και μ’ έκανε
ολόκληρη κι εμένα ένα ποίημα, που αναπτύχθηκε
και τέλειωσε στο χρώμα, το ρυθμό και την ιδέα
μιας ακολασίας μουσικής.

Σταύρος Βαβούρης
από τη συλλογή Τρία ποιήματα, 1954


Monday, December 1, 2008


New leader in the lively art of electronics | Motorola, 1961

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Obligation to Self-Design

Design, as we know it today, is a twentieth-century phenomenon. Admittedly, concern for the appearance of things is not new. All cultures have been concerned with making clothes, everyday objects, interiors of various spaces, whether sacred spaces, spaces of power, or private spaces, "beautiful and impressive."
The history of the applied arts is indeed long. Yet modern design emerged precisely from the revolt against the tradition of the applied arts. Even more so than the transition from traditional art to modernist art, the transition from the traditional applied arts to modern design marked a break with tradition, a radical paradigm shift. This paradigm shift is, however, usually overlooked. The function of design has often enough been described using the old metaphysical opposition between appearance and essence. Design, in this view, is responsible only for the appearance of things, and thus it seems predestined to conceal the essence of things, to deceive the viewer's understanding of the true nature of reality. Thus design has been repeatedly interpreted as an epiphany of the omnipresent market, of exchange value, of fetishism of the commodity, of the society of the spectacle—as the creation of a seductive surface behind which things themselves not only become invisible, but disappear entirely.
Modern design, as it emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century, internalized this critique aimed at the traditional applied arts and set itself the task of revealing the hidden essence of things rather than designing their surfaces. Avant-garde design sought to eliminate and purify all that had accumulated on the surface of things through the practice of the applied arts over centuries in order to expose the true, undesigned nature of things. Modern design thus did not see its task as creating the surface, but rather as eliminating it—as negative design, antidesign. Genuine modern design is reductionist; it does not add, it subtracts. It is no longer about simply designing individual things to be offered to the gaze of viewers and consumers in order to seduce them. Rather, design seeks to shape the gaze of viewers in such a way that they become capable of discovering things themselves. A central feature of the paradigm shift from traditional applied arts to modern design was just this extension of the will to design from the world of things to that of human beings themselves—understood as one thing among many. The rise of modern design is profoundly linked to the project of redesigning the old man into the New Man. This project, which emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century and is often dismissed today as utopian, has never really been abandoned de facto. In a modified, commercialized form, this project continues to have an effect, and its initial utopian potential has been updated repeatedly. The design of things that present themselves to the gaze of the viewing subject is critical to an understanding of design. The ultimate form of design is, however, the design of the subject. The problems of design are only adequately addressed if the subject is asked how it wants to manifest itself, what form it wants to give itself, and how it wants to present itself to the gaze of the Other.
This question was first raised with appropriate acuity in the early twentieth century—after Nietzsche diagnosed God's death. As long as God was alive, the design of the soul was more important to people than the design of the body. The human body, along with its environment, was understood from the perspective of faith as an outer shell that conceals the soul. God was thought to be the only viewer of the soul. To him the soul was supposed to look beautiful—that is, simple, transparent, well constructed, proportional, and not disfigured by any vices or marked by any worldly passion. It is often overlooked that in the Christian tradition ethics has always been subordinated to aesthetics—that is, to the design of the soul. Ethical rules, like the rules of spiritual asceticism—of spiritual exercises, spiritual training—serve above all the objective of designing the soul in such a way that it would be acceptable in God's eyes, so that He would allow it into paradise. The design of one's own soul under God's gaze is a persistent theme of theological treatises, and its rules can be visualized with the help of medieval depictions of the soul before the Last Judgment. The design of the soul that was practiced for God's eyes was clearly distinct from the worldly applied arts: whereas the applied arts sought richness of materials, complex ornamentation, and outward radiance, the design of the soul focused on the essential, the plain, the natural, the reduced, and even the ascetic. The revolution in design that took place at the start of the twentieth century can best be characterized as the application of the rules for the design of the soul to the design of worldly objects.
The death of God signified the disappearance of the viewer of the soul, for whom its design was practiced for centuries. Thus the site of the design of the soul shifted. The soul became the sum of the relationships into which the human body in the world entered. Previously, the body was the prison of the soul; now the soul became the clothing of the body, its social, political, and aesthetic appearance. Suddenly the only possible manifestation of the soul became the look of the clothes in which human beings appear, the everyday things with which they surround themselves, the spaces they inhabit. With the death of God, design became the medium of the soul, the revelation of the hidden interior. Thus design took on an ethical dimension it had not had previously. In design, ethics became aesthetics; it became form. From where religion once came, design has emerged. The modern subject now has a new obligation: the obligation to self-design, an aesthetic presentation as ethical subject. Modern design is ethics become form. The ethically motivated polemic against design, launched repeatedly over the course of the twentieth century and formulated in ethical and political concepts, can only be understood on the basis of this new definition of design; such a polemic would be entirely incongruous if directed at the traditional applied arts. Adolf Loos' famous essay "Ornament and Crime" is an early example of this turn.
From the outset, Loos postulated in his essay a unity between the aesthetic and the ethical. Loos condemned every decoration, every ornament, as a sign of depravity, of vices. Loos judged a person's appearance, to the extent it represents a consciously designed exterior, to be an immediate expression of his or her ethical stance. For example, he believed he had demonstrated that only criminals, primitives, heathens, or degenerates ornament themselves by tattooing their skin. Ornament was thus an expression either of amorality or of crime: "The Papuan covers his skin with tattoos, his boat, his oars, in short everything he can lay his hands on. He is no criminal. The modern person who tattoos himself is either a criminal or a degenerate."1 Particularly striking in this quotation is the fact that Loos makes no distinction between tattooing one's own skin and decorating a boat or an oar. Just as the modern human being is expected to present him or herself to the gaze of the Other as an honest, plain, unornamented, "undesigned" object, so should all the other things with which this person nust deal be presented as honest, plain, unornamented, undesigned things. Only then do they demonstrate that the soul of the person using them is pure, virtuous, and unspoiled. According to Loos, the function of design is not to pack, decorate, and ornament things differently each time, that is, to constantly design a supplementary outside so that an inside, the true nature of things, remains hidden. Rather, the real function of the modern design is to prevent people from wanting to design things at all. Thus Loos describes his attempts to convince a shoemaker from whom he had ordered shoes not to ornament them.2 For Loos, it was enough that the shoemaker use the best materials and work them with care. The quality of the material and the honesty and precision of the work, and not their external appearance, determine the quality of the shoes. The criminal thing about ornamenting shoes is that this ornament does not reveal the shoemaker's honesty, that is, the ethical dimension of the shoes. The ethically dissatisfactory aspect of ornament is concealed and the ethically impeccable is made unrecognizable. For Loos, true design is the struggle against design—against the criminal will to conceal the ethical essence of things behind their aesthetic surface. Yet paradoxically, only the creation of another, revelatory layer of ornament—that is, of design—guarantees the unity of the ethical and the aesthetic that Loos sought.
The messianic, apocalyptic features of the struggle against applied art that Loos was engaged in are unmistakable. For example, Loos wrote: "Do not weep. Do you not see the greatness of our age resides in our very inability to create new ornament? We have gone beyond ornament, we have achieved plain, undecorated simplicity. Behold, the time is at hand, fulfillment awaits us. Soon the streets of the cities will shine like white walls! Like Zion, the Holy City, Heaven's capital. Then fulfillment will be ours."3 The struggle against the applied arts is the final struggle before the arrival of God's Kingdom on Earth. Loos wanted to bring heaven down to earth; he wanted to see things as they are, without ornament. Thus Loos wanted to appropriate the divine gaze. But not only that, he wanted to make everyone else capable of seeing the things as they are revealed in God's gaze. Modern design wants the apocalypse now, the apocalypse that unveils things, strips them of their ornament, and causes them to be seen as they truly are. Without this claim that design manifests the truth of things, it would be impossible to understand many of the discussions between designers, artists, and art theorists over the course of the twentieth century. Such artists and designers as Donald Judd or architects such as Herzog & de Meuron, to name only a few, do not argue aesthetically when they want to justify their artistic practices but rather ethically, and in doing so they appeal to the truth of things as such. The modern designer does not wait for the apocalypse to remove the external shell of things and show them to people as they are. The designer wants here and now the apocalyptic vision that makes everyone New Men. The body takes on the form of the soul. The soul becomes the body. All things become heavenly. Heaven becomes earthly, material. Modernism becomes absolute.
Loos' essay is, famously, not an isolated phenomenon. Rather, it reflects the mood of the entire artistic avant-garde of the twentieth century, which sought a synthesis of art and life. This synthesis was supposed to be achieved by removing the artistic both from art and from life. Both were supposed to reach the zero point of the artistic in order to achieve a unity. The artistic was understood to be the "human, all too human" that obstructed the gaze of the true form of things. Hence the traditional painting was seen as the thing that obscured the gaze of the true material composition as a combination of paints on canvas. And shoes made in the traditional way were understood to be the thing that obscured the gaze of the essence, function, and true composition of the shoe. The gaze of the New Man had to be freed of all such obstructions by the force of (anti)design.
Whereas Loos still formulated his argument in rather bourgeois terms and wanted to reveal the value of certain materials, craftsmanship, and individual honesty, the will to absolute design reached its climax in Russian Constructivism, with its "proletarian" ideal of the collective soul, which is manifested in industrially organized work. For the Russian Constructivists, the path to virtuous, genuinely proletarian objects also passed through the elimination of everything that was merely artistic. The Russian Constructivists called for the objects of everyday communist life to show themselves as what they are: as functional things whose forms serve only to make their ethics visible. Ethics as understood here was given an additional political dimension, since the collective soul had to be organized politically in order to act properly in accordance with ethical terms. The collective soul was manifested in the political organization that embraced both people and things. The function of "proletarian" design—at the time, admittedly, people spoke rather of "proletarian art"—must therefore be to make this total political organization visible. The experience of the October Revolution of 1917 was crucial for the Russian Constructivists. They understood the revolution to be a radical act of purifying society of every form of ornament: the finest example of modern design, which eliminates all traditional social customs, rituals, conventions, and forms of representation in order for the essence of the political organization to emerge. Thus the Russian Constructivists called for the abolition of all autonomous art. Art should rather be placed entirely at the service of the design of utilitarian objects. In essence, it was a call to completely subsume art to design.
At the same time, the project of Russian Constructivism was a total project: it wanted to design life as a whole. Only for that reason—and only at that price—was Russian Constructivism prepared to exchange autonomous art for utilitarian art: just as the traditional artist designed the whole of the artwork, so the Constructivist artist wanted to design the whole of society. In a certain sense, the artists had no choice at the time other than to announce such a total claim. The market, including the art market, was eliminated by the Communists. Artists were no longer faced with private parties and their private interests and aesthetic preferences, but with the state as a whole. Necessarily, it was all or nothing for artists. This situation is clearly reflected in the manifestos of Russian Constructivism. For example, in his programmatic text entitled "Constructivism," Alexei Gan wrote: "Not to reflect, not to represent and not to interpret reality, but to really build and express the systematic tasks of the new class, the proletariat... Especially now, when the proletarian revolution has been victorious, and its destructive, creative movement is progressing along the iron rails into culture, which is organized according to a grand plan of social production, everyone—the master of color and line, the builder of space-volume forms and the organizer of mass productions—must all become constructors in the general work of the arming and moving of the many-millioned human masses."4 For Gan, the goal of Constructivist design was not to impose a new form on everyday life under socialism but rather to remain loyal to radical, revolutionary reduction and to avoid making new ornaments for new things. Hence Nikolai Tarabukin asserted in his then-famous essay "From the Easel to the Machine" that the Constructivist artist could not play a formative role in the process of actual social production. His role was rather that of a propagandist who defends and praises the beauty of industrial production and opens the public's eyes to this beauty.5 The artist, as described by Tarabukin, is someone who looks at the entirety of socialist production as a ready-made—a kind of socialist Duchamp who exhibits socialist industry as a whole as something good and beautiful.
The modern designer, whether bourgeois or proletarian, calls for the other, divine vision: for the metanoia that enables people to see the true form of things. In the Platonic and Christian traditions, undergoing a metanoia means making the transition from a worldly perspective to an otherworldly perspective, from a perspective of the mortal body to a perspective of the immortal soul. Since the death of God, of course, we can no longer believe that there is something like the soul that is distinguished from the body in the sense that it is made independent of the body and can be separated from it. However, that does not by any means suggest that a metanoia is no longer possible. Modern design is the attempt to bring about such a metanoia—an effort to see one's own body and one's own surroundings as purified of everything arbitrary, tasteful, and earthly. In a sense, it could be said that modernism substituted the design of the corpse for the design of the soul.
The corpselike quality of modern design was recognized by Loos even before he wrote "Ornament and Crime." In his text "The Poor Little Rich Man," Loos tells of the imagined fate of a rich Viennese man who decided to have his entire house designed by an artist. This man totally subjected his everyday life to the dictates of the designer (Loos speaks, admittedly, of the architect), for as soon as his thoroughly designed house is finished, the man can no longer change anything in it without the designer's permission. Everything that this man has bought or done must fit into the overall design of the house, not just literally but also aesthetically. In a world of total design, the man himself has become a designed thing, a kind of museum object, a mummy, a publicly exhibited corpse. Loos concludes his description of the fate of the poor rich man as follows: "He was shut out of future life and its strivings, its developments, and its desires. He felt: Now is the time to learn to walk about with one's own corpse. Indeed! He is finished! He is complete!"6 In his essay "Design and Crime," whose title was inspired by Loos', Hal Foster interpreted this passage as an implicit call for "running room," for breaking out of the prison of total design.7 It is obvious, however, that Loos' text should not be understood as a protest against the total dominance of design. Loos protests against design as ornament in the name of another, "true" design, in the name of an antidesign that frees the consumer from dependence on the taste of the professional designer. As the aforementioned example of the shoes demonstrates, under the regime of avant-garde antidesign, consumers take responsibility for their own appearance and for the design of their daily lives. Consumers do so by asserting their own, modern taste, which tolerates no ornament and hence no additional artistic or craft labor. By taking ethical and aesthetic responsibility for the image they offer the outside world, however, consumers become prisoners of total design to a much larger degree than ever before, inasmuch as they can no longer delegate their aesthetic decisions to others. Modern consumers present the world the image of their own personality—purified of all outside influence and ornamentation. But this purification of their own image is potentially just as infinite a process as the purification of the soul before God. In the white city, in the heavenly Zion, as Loos imagines it, design is truly total for the first time. Nothing can be changed there either: nothing colorful, no ornament can be smuggled in. The difference is simply that in the white city of the future, everyone is the author of his own corpse—everyone becomes an artist-designer who has ethical, political, and aesthetic responsibility for his or her environment.
One can claim, of course, that the original pathos of avant-garde antidesign has long since faded, that avant-garde design has become a certain designer style among other possible styles. That is why people continue to assert that our entire society today—the society of commercial design, of the spectacle—is presented as a game with simulacra behind which there is only a void. That is indeed how this society presents itself, but only if one takes a purely contemplative position, sitting in the lodge and watching the spectacle of society. But this position overlooks the fact that design today has become total—and hence it no longer admits of a contemplative position from the perspective of an outsider. The turn that Loos announced in his day has proven to be irreversible: every citizen of the contemporary world still has to take ethical, aesthetic, and political responsibility for his or her self-design. In a society in which design has taken over the function of religion, self-design becomes a creed. By designing one's self and one's environment in a certain way, one declares one's faith in certain values, attitudes, programs, and ideologies. In accordance with this creed, one is judged by society, and this judgment can certainly be negative and even threaten the life and well-being of the person concerned.
Hence modern design belongs not so much in an economic context as in an aesthetic and political one. Modern design has transformed the whole of social space into an exhibition space for an absent divine visitor, in which individuals appear both as artists and as self-produced works of art. In the gaze of the modern viewer, however, the aesthetic composition of artworks inevitably betrays the political convictions of their authors—and it is primarily on that basis that they are judged. The debate over headscarves demonstrates the political force of design. In order to understand that this is primarily a debate about design, it suffices to imagine that Prada or Gucci has begun to design headscarves. In such a case, deciding between the headscarf as a symbol of Islamic convictions and the headscarf as a commercial brand becomes an extremely difficult aesthetic and political task. Design cannot therefore be analyzed exclusively within the context of the economy of commodities. One could just as soon speak of suicide design—for example, in the case of suicide attacks, which are well known to be staged according to strict aesthetic rules. One can speak about the design of power but also about the design of resistance or the design of alternative political movements. In these instances design is practiced as a production of differences—differences that often take on a political semantics at the same time. We often hear laments that politics today is concerned only with a superficial image—and that so-called content loses its relevance in the process. This is thought to be the fundamental malaise of politics today. More and more, there are calls to turn away from political design and image making and return to content. Such laments ignore the fact that under the regime of modern design, it is precisely the visual positioning of politicians in the field of the mass media that makes the crucial statement concerning their politics—or even constitutes their politics. Content, by contrast, is completely irrelevant, because it changes constantly. Hence the general public is by no means wrong to judge its politicians according to their appearance—that is, according to their basic aesthetic and political creed, and not according to arbitrarily changing programs and content that they support.
Thus modern design evades Kant's famous distinction between disinterested aesthetic contemplation and the use of things guided by interests. For a long time after Kant, disinterested contemplation was considered superior to a practical attitude: a higher, if not the highest, manifestation of the human spirit. But already by the end of the nineteenth century, a reevaluation of values had taken place: the vita contemplativa was thoroughly discredited, and the vita activa was elevated to the true task of humankind. Hence today design is accused of seducing people into weakening their activity, vitality, and energy—of making them passive consumers who lack will, who are manipulated by omnipresent advertising and thus become victims of capital. The apparent cure for this lulling into sleep by the society of the spectacle is a shocklike encounter with the "real" that is supposed to rescue people from their contemplative passivity and move them to action, which is the only thing that promises an experience of truth as living intensity. The debate now is only over the question whether such an encounter with the real is still possible or whether the real has definitively disappeared behind its designed surface.
Now, however, we can no longer speak of disinterested contemplation when it is a matter of self-manifestation, self-design, and self-positioning in the aesthetic field, since the subject of such self-contemplation clearly has a vital interest in the image he or she offers to the outside world. Once people had an interest in how their souls appeared to God; today they have an interest in how their bodies appear to their political surroundings. This interest certainly points to the real. The real, however, emerges here not as a shocklike interruption of the designed surface but as a question of the technique and practice of self-design—a question no one in the regime of modern design can escape anymore. In his day, Beuys said that everyone had the right to see him- or herself as an artist. What was then understood as a right has now become an obligation. In the meantime we have been condemned to being the designers of our selves.

Boris Groys

Translated from the German by Steven Lindberg

What does new and interesting mean?

Akrithakis, Le Roi, 1966

“What does new and interesting mean?” presents major works by leading contemporary Greek artists together with works by younger ones.
Works by Nelly’s (1953), Caniaris (1969, 1970), Kessanlis, (1957, 1971, 1986), Kounellis, (1965), Samaras (1971, 1982), Steve Gianakos, (1981, 2007), Akrithakis (1966, 1982) are juxtaposed with works by Nikos Markou, Savas Christodoulides, Kostis Velonis, Georgia Sagri, Christos Charissis, Yannis Theodoropoulos, Nikos Papadimitriou, Stephanos Tsivopoulos.

Every new generation of artists creates its own language within the social and cultural context of its era through dialogue with the national and international, semantic and notional endowment which is diffused through schools, important exhibitions, books, magazines and discussions.

Therefore, we can recognize elective affinities between the artists in terms of language, methodological approach or poetics in their works.
Assemblages by Christodoulides and Velonis dialogue openly with works by Caniaris with regards to their content and interpretations. A similar conversation occurs with Sagri’s drawings and the works created by Kassanlis while in Rome or the self-referential world of Samaras and Theodoropoulos, again with the series of meta-structures by Kessanlis with the last works by Papadimitriou and so on.

AD gallery, Athens
until 24th of January 2009

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Man Cloaked in Malice

Abraham Bosse, The Man Cloaked in Malice, etching (ca. 1630).

Friday, November 21, 2008


John Stezaker
Mask LXV, 2007
Collage, 25.5x20cm

Approach gallery, London

Lutefisk Sushi Bento boxes

Vers de nouveaux rivages

Gustav Klutsis
Le sportif doit être un tireur d’élite, 1928
Carte postale des Spartakiades de Moscou
dans le cadre de l'exposition « Vers de nouveaux rivages. L’avant-garde russe dans la collection Costakis ».

Fondation Dina Vierny-Musée Maillol, Paris
Curator: Maria Tsantsanoglou, Yves Kobry

I Shall Preserve my Only Love

I Shall Preserve my Only Love
162 x 96 x 112
wood, acrylic, spray

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Valie Export
Action Pants: Genital Panic, 1969, Munich

Love is Essential

Love is essential.
Sex, mere accident.
Can be equal
Or different.
A man's not an animal:
Is a flesh intelligent,
Although sometimes ill.

Fernando Pessoa
translated from Fernando Pessoa by J.Griffin.

Kulturfabrik Kofmehl

Kulturfabrik Kofmehl
Architects: ssm Architekten ag
Location: Solothurn, Switzerland

Shadows of the Stone

Ulrich Rückriem, Shadows of the stone
National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens
Curated by: Tina Pandi
30/09/2008 -30/11/2008

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Thank you god

Malevich, Running Man, 1932-34

Letter from the Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.
I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transactin is 100% safe. This is a matter of great urgency. We need blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance.
My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully Minister of Treasury Paulson

Friday, November 7, 2008

Poster for Tourism

Poster for Greek Tourism by Freddie Carabott, 1963

The Plant that is Bored and wants to see More of the World Around

Actually, the sculpture goes for a walk...

Carsten Holler, 1994


Detail, 2008, Villa à Garche, by J. M. Legrande et J. Rabinel, 50’ France,

Detail,2008,House at Weissenhof by Le Corbusier at Stuttgart, Germany, 1927

Maria Papadimitriou : Corbu
Zina Athanassiadou gallery, Salonica

Female Animal Trainer and Leopard

Vallecita's leopards, 1906

The Unboring Boring and the New Dream of Stone

The Unboring Boring and the New Dream of Stone, or, if literature does politics as literature, what kind of gender politics does the current literature of the boring enact?

Christine Wertheim

[T]here's a certain kind of unboring boredom that's fascinating, engrossing, transcendent, and downright sexy. And then there's the other kind of boring: let's call it boring boring. Boring boring is a client meeting; boring boring is having to endure someone's self-indulgent poetry reading; boring boring is watching a toddler for an afternoon; boring boring is the seder at Aunt Fanny's. Boring boring is being somewhere we don't want to be; boring boring is doing something we don't want to do. [...] By the 60s and 70s in art circles this type of boredom-boring boring-was often the norm. [...] It's no wonder people bailed out of boredom in the late 70s and early 80s to go into punk rock or expressionistic painting. [...] And then, a few decades later, things changed again: excitement became dull and boring started to look good again. So here we are, ready to be bored once more. But this time, boredom has changed. We've embraced unboring boring, modified boredom, boredom with all the boring parts cut out of it. Reality TV, for example, is a new kind of boredom. [... But o]ur taste for the unboring boring won't last forever. I assume that someday soon it'll go back to boring boring once again, though for reasons and conditions I can't predict at this time (Goldsmith, 68-69).

The philosopher and literary geneologist Jacques Rancière argues that there is a specific link between "politics as a definite way of doing and literature as a definite practice of writing," (2004b,10). In fact, literature qua literature "does politics" all by itself, for its ways of organizing what can be seen and what can be said are the aesthetic foundations on which politics is necessarily erected. The aim of Ranciere's project is less to change our ideas about literature per se, than to shift our understanding of its relationship to politics, which, he argues after Foucault, constantly changes to produce different aesthetico-political "regimes." This project has profound implications for feminist studies of culture, for if every political regime includes gender issues, by Ranciere's reasoning so must every aesthetic. Though Ranciere himself only comments briefly on the gendered aspect of aesthetics-when he links the birth of modern literature to nineteenth century (male) writers' critique of women's reading habits, e.g., Flaubert's Madame Bovary and Balzac's The Country Parson (2004b)-his colleague in letters Christine Buci-Glucksmann focuses explicitly on this problem.

In the introduction to "L'Utopie féminin,"1 the second part of her Baroque Reason, Buci-Glucksmann argues that the current aesthetic paradigm, in which Art is characterized by the always new that is always the same, is specifically linked to a symbolic redistribution that transforms women into the principle figures through which masculine anxiety deciphers its own 'castration'. This paper draws on the work of both Ranciere and Buci-Glucksmann, to argue that as a contemporary heir to Flaubert's Bouvard et Pécuchet, Kenneth's Goldsmith's "unboring boring" is supported by the same symbolic order. The point here is not to criticize Goldsmith's work, but simply to argue that, just as we cannot have a classical form of art in a democratic era, so also we don't yet have one free of gender anxiety, however neutral it may appear on the page.

Partitions of the Sensible: The Chorus, the Theatre and the Page

For Ranciere the aesthetic core of politics "should not be understood as the perverse commandeering of politics by a will to art" (2004a, 13). It is a delimitation of the senses that determines both what can be seen as art, and what will be accepted as politics. Ranciere calls these delimitations "partitions of the sensible" to highlight the fact that they are neither solely physical nor solely conceptual, but apply to the boundaries where Sense meets the senses in the phenomenon of human intercourse. Partitions of the sensible are forms of communication and relation whose main function is to determine the constitution of a community, or the shape of a polis. Ranciere's theory is thus essentially an extension of Kant's idea of a priori forms to the realm of cultural experience, with a genealogical or Foucaldian twist, for if the partition of the sensible is the foundation on which the form of a community rests, this partition is neither universal nor ahistorical, but changeable. Ranciere identifies three main partitions linked to three aesthetico-political regimes: the ethical, the representative or poetic, and the aesthetic, each of which is based on the dominance of one of Plato's three main modes of making/doing2.

For Plato, 'art' as such did not exist. There were simply different ways of making and doing, each of which had different political implications due to the inherent differences in the way they relate bodies to space. Identifying three main forms of making/doing, which Ranciere dubs the "chorus," the "theatre," and the "page," Plato both defines, and ranks, the different ways artistic forms help constitute different kinds of community or polis. For Plato, the ideal community can only be constituted when the choral form of making/doing, defined as the "choreographic form of the community that sings and dances its own proper unity" (2004a, 14), with its own proper voice and its own proper body, is taken as the model of society. The catch in Plato's paradigm is that it demands such clarity in the partition of identities and places that each body may have one and only one position, apparently always. A carpenter makes furniture and a midwife births babies. Being otherwise engaged, neither of these laborers is in the position to devote themself to the business of governance. The political analogue of the choral community in Plato's schema is thus a body of persons devoted exclusively to the problems of the state, that is to say, a separate political class. Ranciere names the social and aesthetic order built on this paradigm the ethical regime, and shows that, in the Platonic schema, it is strictly opposed to the reign of democracy.

The next best, or second worst, artistic mode on which a community may be based in this scheme is known as the "theatrical," even when it is practiced in the mediums of paint and ink. When this mode dominates we have what Ranciere calls the representative or poetic regime. In the Platonic view, the problem with theatre is that it causes a form of identity-confusion; theatre splits people (both actors and spectators) by introducing a glamorous fantasy with which they can identify, thereby overriding their real experience, of being in a particular social space communing with other particular living bodies. Even more than the poison of the simulacra, in the Platonic ideology of essences the duplicity engendered by theatre is what most endangers the soul. Though theatre has clearly existed throughout the ages, it became the paradigm of the arts in the Renaissance, when theatrical methods of representation were transferred to the page, the canvas and the wall.

The represenative regime is based on the dual principle of mimesis/poesis, which is not, Ranciere insists, prescriptive, but rather grants artworks, (paintings or writings), the ability to act as if they could actually stand in for real events-acts of living speech, or decisive moments of action and meaning. On the mimetic side, classical poetics thus "established a relationship of correspondence between speech and painting, between the sayable and the visible" (2004a, 16), which gave imitation its own specific space. On the poetic side, the representative regime is built on the Aristotelian idea that life is a disordered succession of events which are only endowed with meaning when they are arranged into plausible causal chains by poets. In this distribution of the sensible meaning is not inherent in the world, but is forged in the Sense given it through its composition into a poetic structure. Within this system not only can high (mimetic) art be distinguished from low (decorative) art, but there is a specific criterion for distinguishing between good (high) art and bad (high) art. This is the criterion of adequation, under which every position in the order of things is deemed to have its own unique character, its own unique style of speech and look. A monologue by one of Shakespeare's fools is thus better art than the words of God as penned by a hack, for what makes the "art" is not the subject matter itself, but the fit between the subject and the manner in which this is represented.

In opposition to the ideology that modern Art distinguishes itself by its focus on medium-specificity and (inscriptional) surface, Ranciere argues that the representative regime is already possessed by an obsession with surface. However, he argues, this "surface" is not essentially defined as a geometric object, but rather as an interface, a space in which the representational "purity" of high art has always been infected by the non-representational "abstractions" of the decorative. The Sistine Chapel and Leonardo's notebooks bear witness to this fact. From this perspective, the modern regime is defined not so much by its turn towards abstraction, as by the arts' final realization of themselves as Art though their complete capitulation to the lack of distinction between the figurative and the decorative, and their unification as a singularity through their wholehearted embrace of the infrathin, interfacial nature of their proper space, that is, "the page," which encompasses both painting and writing. Ranciere calls this the aesthetic regime, and, as stated, in the Platonic schema, it is strictly identical with the reign of democracy.

For Plato, painting and writing are united by their common use of an inert surface as the ground upon which they stand, the place from which they speak. Even more than theatrical mimesis, Plato hated arts inscribed on a page because he conceived of this surface as a dead thing that "wanders aimlessly" without knowing who to speak to or who not to speak to. In the philosopher's eyes, this futile wandering of inert sign-surfaces destroys every legitimate foundation for the relationship between the effects of language and the positions of bodies in shared space. That is to say, under this aesthetico-political regime, in which Plato saw only dead letters and mute images, there is no adequation between ways of speaking and socio-spatial positioning: anyone may speak to anyone, in any way, from any place, and all utterances have the same (lifeless) value. For Plato, the aesthetic formation built around such inert sign surfaces is strictly identical with the reign of democracy, which is defined in the Platonic schema as a form of community based on illegitimate relations that lead to indefinite partitions of identities. Plato's diatribe against writing was thus essentially driven by his political reaction to the Democracy; his work on aesthetics being just another part of his political campaign to topple what was then a fragile new form of community, and set in its place a form that would more completely embody his ideal polis. But democracy has returned, and with it, the indiscriminate, wandering page.

The Contradictions of Literature as 'Literature', or Copying as Medicine for the Disease of Literariness and its Politics of Disorder.

I've transformed from a writer into an information manager, adept at the skills of replicating, organizing, mirroring, archiving, hoarding, storing, reprinting, bootlegging, plundering, and transferring. I've needed to acquire a whole new skill set: I've become a master typist, an exacting cut-and-paster, and an OCR demon. There's nothing I love more than transcription; I find few things more satisfying than collation (Goldsmith, 68).

Citing Flaubert as an exemplary case, Ranciere argues that the "art" in modern literary practice is demonstrated by the deliberate lack of artistry displayed by the writer. Furthermore, this literary lack of literariness is specifically opposed to the "romantic" beautification of life now widely practiced by the masses, especially women. This opposition between Art and non-Art is best exemplified in Flaubert's masterpiece, Madame Bovary.

The aim of the writer was to make art invisible. The mistake of Emma Bovary, by contrast, was her will to make art visible, to put art in her life ­ ornaments in her house, a piano in her parlor, and poetry in her destiny. [On the other hand,] Flaubert would distinguish his art from that of his character by putting art only in his book, and making it invisible. [...] That new kind of mute writing [...] would fit the radical muteness of things, which have neither will nor meaning. [...] The prose of the artist distinguished itself from the prose of everyday life insofar as it was still muter, still more deprived of "poetry" (2004b, 21-22).

Thus is the modern conundrum in which Art both wants to dissolve itself in (a) life (now conceived as 'feminine"), and to radically distinguish itself from it.

Here we arrive at the essence of the aesthetic regime, as defined by Ranciere, that, contrary to much contemporary theorizing, Art's muteness and lack of (classical) artistry is not the result of an allegiance to abstraction, medium specificity, or any other "formalist" principle. It is not even essentially determined by the infrathin space of the page in which it first spawned. For Ranciere, the only essential quality of (modern, or aesthetic) Art is that its form, or mode of being, is divided against itself.

In the aesthetic regime, artistic phenomena are [...] inhabited by a heterogeneous power, the power of a form of thought that has become foreign to itself: a product identical with something not produced, knowledge transformed into non-knowledge, logos identical with pathos, the intention of the unintentional, etc. (2004a: 22-23), [emphasis added].

From the earlier Madame Bovary, in which the author distinguished his own aesthetic aesthetics from the anaesthetic aesthetics of (romanticized feminine) everyday life by making his writing even more deprived of poetry, Flaubert moved to a final demonstration of Art's self-alienation in his novelette, Bouvard et Pécuchet.

Written near the end of his life, Bouvard et Pécuchet is the story of two copy-clerks who, after quitting their jobs for a life of self improvement through reading, wind up returning to copying when their aspirations turn out to be just another species of romantic fantasy.

Instead of trying to apply the words of the books in real life, they will [now] only copy them. This is good medicine for the disease of literariness and its politics of disorder. But this good medicine is the self-suppression of literature. The novelist himself has nothing more to do than to copy the books that his characters are supposed to copy. In the end he has to undo his plot and blur the boundary separating "art for art's sake" from the prose of the commonplace. When art for art's sake wants to undo its link to the prose of democracy, it has to undo itself (2004b: 22).

Copying their characters copying themselves copying the characters that others writers' wrote, for both Flaubert and Ranciere "the life of literature is the life of this contradiction (2004b: 23). For art to be Art, it must undo itself. Is this not also Goldsmith's claim?

Let me go into more detail about Day. I would take a page of the newspaper, start at the upper left hand corner and work my way through, following the articles as they were laid out on the page. If an article, for example, continued on another page, I wouldn't go there. Instead, I would finish retyping the page I was on in full before proceeding to the next one. I allowed myself no creative liberties with the text. The object of the project was to be as uncreative in the process as possible. It was one of the hardest constraints a writer can muster, particularly on a project of this scale; with every keystroke came the temptation to "fudge," "cut-and-paste," and "skew" the mundane language. But to do so would be to foil my exercise. [...] Everywhere there was a bit of text in the paper, I grabbed it. I made no distinction between editorial and advertising, stock quotes or classified ads. If it could be considered text, I had to have it. Even if there was, say, an ad for a car, I took a magnifying glass and grabbed the text off the license plate (69-70).

But if the dominant rhetorical trope, indeed, the essence of Art itself, in the aesthetic regime is the oxymoron, why has this form, and thus the regime, come to the fore in modernity?

Christine Buci-Glucksmann and the Feminine as Allegory of the Modern

Literature is the act of writing that specifically addresses those who should not read (Ranciere, 2004b: 15).

I don't expect you to even read my books cover to cover. It's for that reason I like the idea that you can know each of my books in one sentence. For instance, there's the book of every word I spoke for a week unedited. Or the book of every move my body made over the course of a day [...] Or my most recent book, Day, in which I retyped a day's copy of the New York Times and published it as a 900 page book. Now you know what I do without ever having to have read a word of it, (Goldsmith, 69).

The Wikipedia Encyclopedia defines an oxymoron as "a figure of speech that combines two normally contradictory terms (e.g. "deafening silence")." The root of the word is a Greek term derived from oxy meaning "sharp" and moros meaning "dull." In other words, an oxymoron is a figure (of speech) in which difference collapses. The derived adjective, "oxymoronic," also highlights the appearance of idiocy associated with this disaster. For Buci-Glucksmann the sudden flowering of this contradictory and idiotic trope within the space of writing is linked to a transformation in the symbolic division of gender brought on by the specific nature of the space that arose with the modern industrialized city.

Since Baudelaire, the space of modernized urbanity has been defined by poets as a labyrinth of commoditiy-fetishes. This fetishized maze, Buci-Glucksmann argues, produces a modification in the flow of desire, for here the sexual drive meets the way of mankind that does not wish to know. The principal object of desire is now no longer The Woman, but the cessation of desire itself. And this new undesiring desire produces a perpetual anxiety that is the same as the Baudelarian image of life, the one "that knows no development." Here, as Plato well knew, signification is linked to death, the loss of aura, and a nihilistic emptying of meaning and values. Along side the progressive aspect of modern democracy, there is thus a catastrophic shadow based on the power of absence, which inscribes in writing a blank space that masculine desire begins to decipher in the image of the female body. In the modern partition of the sensible the feminine thus becomes visible in an altogether new kind of way, as the ultimate ground on which men decipher/inscribe the catastrophe of their perceived loss of power, meaning and love. This is how the myth of "castration" plays itself out in the modern world. Here, however, the (anti-)hero is not a prince, but a flaneur, the wandering poet barely glimpsed in the intoxified city. And the (m)other is not The Woman, but the ultimate commodity-fetish, whose being frames his gaze, the prostitute.

According to Buci-Glucksman, this masculine desire, which radically separates eros and love, and deciphers contingency, mortality and man's own "castration" in the feminine form, is not just caused by men's (sense of) loss, but takes this impotencyality as its ultimate goal. Hence the uncreative creativity of Ranciere's aesthetic regime. However "post-modern," the unboring boring is simply one more phase in this poetics of impotency, an anaesthetic that continuously stages its own disappearance without (its) ever coming.

If Plato and Ranciere are right, and democracy is linked to a singularized Art whose essence is ontologically given in the form of an irresolvable contradiction, and Buci-Glucksmann's account of its arousal is correct, then a literature of the "boring with all the boring taken out" is linked to a symbolic order that places men as itinerant voyeurs, coldly copying the ephemera of a meaning- and creativity-sucking figure they really can't confront, for they always abject it into the feminine form. Buci-Glucksman calls this the "tragedy of the modern woman-body" (1987). Though, unlike Flaubert, Goldsmith does not allegorize women, his aesthetic of the unboring boring has its roots in the same dialectic state of arrest, the dream of the stone that is always the new and always the same.

Published in English as "Catastrophic Utopia: The Feminine as Allegory of the Modern."

2Though one is likely to dominate at any given time, these aesthetico-political regimes are not coincidental with historical epochs, for all three have been in play across the ages.

Buci-Glucksman, Christine. "Catastrophic Utopia: The Feminine as Allegory of the Modern." In The Making of the Modern Body: Sexuality and Society in the Nineteenth Century. Eds. Catherine Gallagher and Thomas Lacqueur. California: University of California Press, 1987. 222-228.

__. La Raison Baroque: De Baudelaire a Benjamin. Paris: Editions Galilée, 1984.

Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Cited from, 11.01.05.

Goldsmith, Kenneth."Being Boring." Séance. Eds. Christine Wertheim and Matias Viegener, Los Angeles: Make Now Press, 2006. 67-72.

Ranciere, Jacques. The Politics of Aesthetics. Trans. Gabriel Rockhill. London and New York: Continuum, 2004a.

"The Politics of Literature." Substance 103. Ed. Eric Mechoulan.
Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004b. 10-24.

Source : Open Letter. A Canadian Journal of Writing and Theory
Twelfth Series, Number 7, Fall 2005

Monday, November 3, 2008

You got A good one!

The piece consists of cardboard mailing envelopes used for transporting vinyl records. The main idea of the exhibition deals with the process of collecting through the use of the ‘useless’ objects (mailers), byproducts of the actual collection, which is absent from the show. Dimitris Ioannou covers the exhibition space walls with 514 cardboard boxes- mailers for 12” vinyl records that he bought mainly from ebay and online music stores due to his activity as a dj.

Dimitris Ioannou
“You got A good one!”
Exhibition Space, Konstantinoupoleos 44, Athens

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Landmark study records visionary architecture from the early years of the Soviet Union

Lost Vanguard: Soviet Modernist Architecture, 1922-1932—Photographs by Richard Pare

In the history of architecture, there are few moments that are richer and more challenging, more influential, yet enigmatic, than the birth of modernism. Within it, one of the most fascinating chapters of all was that which opened under the Russian Revolution, producing a body of work that, tragically, remained little known for six decades, until the Stalinist regime collapsed and plunged the Soviet Union back to capitalism.
Images of Soviet modernist structures now on view at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)in New York, and contained in a companion book published by Monacelli Press, may well illuminate, as never before, these precious artifacts and that early movement for modernism of which they formed a vital part.
“Lost Vanguard: Soviet Modernist Architecture 1922-1932” consists of a selection of 74 structures documented in photographs by Richard Pare, prepared with the support of the Canadian Centre for Architecture and its founder, Phyllis Lambert, and presented at MoMA by Barry Bergdoll, chief architecture curator, and Jean-Louis Cohen, professor in the history of architecture at New York University.
Pare made eight extensive trips to the former Soviet Union between 1992 and 2000, according to MoMA’s web site, “and created nearly ten thousand images to compile a timely documentation of these structures, many of which are now in various states of decay, transformation, and peril.”
The Russian Revolution was a monumental event, the first time in history that the exploited took power and retained it. Russian social development had been characterized by poverty and backwardness, but the country remained, as Trotsky noted, “a part of world economy, only an element of the capitalist world system.” In Russia, different stages of civilization and culture approached and intermingled with one another. Europe’s most backward country, still emerging from a peasant economy, was compelled to take the road of socialist revolution in 1917 because there was no other progressive answer to its social problems.
For one brief decade, the first workers’ state attracted leading architects and engineers from abroad to join their Soviet counterparts in carrying out some of the most inspired and far-sighted work of the time. The architects included Erich Mendelsohn from Germany and Le Corbusier from France, who participated in major projects. Albert Kahn Associates of Detroit filled a steamship with architects, engineers, their staff and equipment to build hundreds of factories in the USSR.
In their execution, however, innovative designs often confronted a scarcity of up-to-date materials and the limitations of building techniques that had not changed for centuries. These problems were exacerbated by the conditions of national economic isolation.

Pare’s study brings into focus a process that was, at the same time, both exhilarating and frustrating—lighting up the future while still gripped by the semi-feudal past.
The exhibit notes that the fertile period ended abruptly between 1932 and 1934, as the Stalinist bureaucracy reorganized professional associations by way of stifling criticism. By early 1933, Stalin’s policies had helped deliver the German working class into the hands of the Nazis and brought about the downfall of the Communist International as a revolutionary instrument.
From 1934, the bureaucracy imposed its anti-artistic and anti-Marxist doctrine of “socialist realism,” sinking its teeth into the country and sealing the fate of creative cultural life. The intellectual flower that had blossomed on the surge of revolution would soon disappear into the Gulag as the historical tide ebbed away.
“Lost Vanguard” begins with the dramatic image of the radio tower on Shabolovka Street in Moscow. Completed in 1922, it was the first major structure erected after the revolution.
Between 1914 and 1921, wars and counter-revolution had reduced heavy industry in the USSR to 20 percent of Russia’s pre-war level. As the exhausted economy began to breathe again through the New Economic Policy, initiated in the spring of 1921, the proposal for a radio tower to rise 350 meters above the Moscow skyline embodied the enlightened character of the new regime and its plans for electrification of the vast country.
Designed by Vladimir Shukhov, the tower combines six of the hyperboloid cages he had devised two decades earlier as supports for water towers. These diaphanous forms achieve exceptional strength and light weight by combining straight members in a kind of conical, tubular truss, which reduces the critical tendency of such structures to buckle.
Upper sections were assembled inside the lowest and hoisted into place. Still in use today for radio and television broadcasts, the tower stands at 150 meters, the original plan having been shortened for lack of steel.
From this dramatic starting point, the study and MoMA exhibition review factories, communal kitchens, apartment blocks, workers’ clubs, theaters, elaborate sports facilities, the headquarters for the soviets, garages and even a modest shelter for a bus stop. Examples are drawn from Baku in present day Azerbaijan, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Ivanovo, Gorki and Sverdlovsk in Russia and from Kharkov and Kiev in Ukraine.
Much of what remains is in bad repair and facing extended neglect, or even destruction, in the current orgy of real estate speculation. Still, the evidence is unmistakable. The output was, for its time, prodigious.
In 1925, Erich Mendelsohn was invited to construct the Red Banner textile factory in Leningrad. Having completed the Einstein Tower in Potsdam and the Luckenwalde hat factory, he was among the most prominent young architects working in Berlin. For Mendelsohn, accepting the Soviet commission was a risk worth taking.
While only the power house remains, its towering smoke stacks and half a dozen strip windows, rising the full height of the massive space for generating equipment, give a sense of the vitality of the early Soviet Union. Segmented, ribbon windows wrap semi-circular forms that protrude from the machine room; and the whole gives one the impression of a displaced ocean liner, plowing down Pionerskaia Street.

On returning from the USSR, Mendelsohn published a book about his experience, in which he discussed the contradiction between the widespread aspirations for a socialist future and the conditions of backwardness that dominated the economy.
“Technique is Russia’s great problem,” he wrote, “because only its help can procure the long omitted, can provide the economic support for the idea of balancing the branches of economy; Russia, technique is the symbol of a future, on whose success depends the value of her dreams.”
Everywhere, there are signs of the sharp contrast between the new style and traditional methods of building. As Richard Pare explains, “These pristine modernist surfaces were actually quite medieval in their basic arsenal of materials and techniques. They were built by peasants who had no training whatsoever. They were farmers who came into the city in the summer while the harvest was growing. Here they are trying to interpret this radically daring architectural vocabulary, and yet they’ve never held rulers in their hands in their lives. For them to have succeeded so many buildings of such radical simplicity—with a kind of integrity and transparency—is astonishing in itself.” (In an interview with Liz McDaniel of Men’s Vogue)
The Russian Revolution was grounded in a world perspective, which recognized that the productive forces had outgrown and made obsolete the nation-state system. To establish the foundations necessary for a society based on social equality, only the resources of the global economy would suffice.
The great upsurges that followed in Germany, Britain and China, however, failed to extend the reach of the workers’ state during the 1920s, increasingly thanks to the policies of the Stalinist parties themselves. Isolated in poverty-stricken Russia, the revolution faced intractable conditions. Stalinism fed off those conditions. Mendelsohn, working in Leningrad at the time, must have witnessed the bureaucracy gaining in strength and distorting the early forms of state planning. He identified a tendency to romanticize the future in lieu of confronting the real problems in the actual development of technique.
“As Russia’s poverty delays her success,” he wrote, “the plan exaggerates the execution of the idea, its reality. Consequently, the realistic technique twists itself into a mystical future—the absolute reality is derailed into an erroneous path of romanticism” (Russland, Europa, Amerika, p. 114). Trotsky wrote in opposition to this kind of fantasizing about the future in his Problems of Everyday Life. Isaac Deutscher, in his well-known biography, noted that Trotsky constantly drew attention to the backwardness and poverty of everyday life, “from which the Russian only too frequently sought to escape into the realm of abstract doctrine.”
Nicolai Colli worked with Le Corbusier on a new headquarters for the soviets in Moscow, the Centrosoyuz building, which today houses a Statistical Department of the Russian government. There is a stunning, sculptural sensuality in the long, curving ramps that snake through the interior. Contrast the open interior with a bulky exterior volume skinned in 16-inch-thick red tuff stone from the Caucasus, which was employed to protect the interior poured-concrete structure from Moscow winter temperatures that routinely drop to -40º Fahrenheit.

The facility was advanced in many ways. Built of reinforced concrete, it combined multiple programmatic functions, such as, for example, office space for 3,500, a restaurant, lecture halls, a theater and other facilities. The design explores themes that would be fully developed in future work of the great Swiss architect.
One gets a whiff of the rising tension in the country and the coming assault on intellectual freedom, in a comment about the building by Stalin’s closest henchman. Referring to its soft, reddish veneer and slender columnar structure, the General Secretary’s appointed head of the Organization Department, Lazar Kaganovich, quipped it was a “pink sow with too short legs.”
Another jewel in Pare’s work consists of photographs of the Rusakov Workers Club on Stromynka Street in Moscow designed by Konstantin Melnikov in 1927. Around this time, Melnikov was collaborating with the engineer Shukhov on a number of large garages for the Leyland bus company. The two may have joined forces on this club design that combines beautifully engineered, cantilevered massing to achieve a powerful architectural effect.
Workers’ clubs had been built in other areas of Europe; but in their commissions, the local soviets imparted a new content to this building type. They became the concrete harbingers in everyday life of a new society, incorporating theaters, rehearsal spaces, meeting rooms, class rooms, office spaces and other functions under one roof.
The Zuev Workers Club in Moscow, designed by Ilia Golosov, provides a striking example of the architecture that the new tasks inspired. A vertical glass cylinder balances several massive rectangular solids in a unified, asymmetrical composition. Clear-cut contrasts, such as a glass skin juxtaposed to windows set deep into thick walls, define a fresh vocabulary in which the volume, skin, mass, structure and material are each articulated separately.
Marx praised the Paris Communards in 1871 for “storming heaven.” Could anything less have been applied to the Bolsheviks and the Russian workers? Perhaps, this helps explain why great cantilevers, aerial catwalks and sky hooks fascinated Soviet architects. Here Golosov balances a massive weight on a glass cylinder, manipulating components in a way that does not defy gravity, but demonstrates a confident mastery of its forces.

The exhibition reviews the suppression of creative work by the Stalinist bureaucracy, citing for example, the tragic case of Konstantin Melnikov, who was kept under house arrest and prohibited from practicing architecture from 1932 until his death in 1974. It also cites the dangers posed by today’s real estate speculators, who bulldoze a modernist treasure if the land beneath it can be turned for a profit.
Another, more insidious threat to the full appreciation of these works arises from another quarter. Nicolai Ouroussoff, writing in the New York Times, called the period of the exhibition among the most fruitful in modern architecture, “What distinguished it was,” he wrote, “the passion of its conviction, however naive, that architecture could be an agent for profound social change. That this vision was still born,” he continued, “only adds to its allure: as an incomplete experiment, it potentially could be renewed by future generations.”
Ouroussoff is clearly hedging his bets, not wishing to appear too heavy-handed in disparaging the ideals of the Russian Revolution. The condescending cynicism that dominates his outlook, however, is unmistakable. The assertion that the October Revolution was “still born” and that it was “naive” to believe that architecture could play a role in it speaks volumes about the contemporary intelligentsia.
To grasp the role of architecture as an art form, one must consider it within the context of society as a whole. Were the Soviet modernists engaged in a futile effort? Was it not possible that their work might contribute as the masses around them struggled to raise themselves to meet the tasks of building a new society? If architects could never organize and make conscious and, thereby, never concentrate the aspirations and strivings of their fellow beings, then it would be fair to say that they make no art, or no art of significance.
To illustrate this point, one need only consider a brief historical comparison. With modest means, local soviets erected innovative structures that entertained, educated and organized workers and their families in their neighborhoods. Today, vast sums are spent building casinos in the desolate center-cities of Detroit, Buffalo and Shreveport, with the sole purpose of hypnotizing, addicting and bankrupting those poor souls who are either stuck in dead-end jobs or losing them.

By Tim Tower

Source: World Socialist Web Site