Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Design to Kill

Building Fabrics (2009)
digital projection with sound
1280x800px, ca 3min
(click to view fullscreen
or get the avi file)

The slide show is inspired by Le Corbusier's Vers une architecture from 1923 (or Towards a New Architecture, which it has been translated to) and in particular its first chapter, called "Argument". Here Corbusier outlines his purpose as architect, his manifesto if you will, and many notorious quotes have been lifted from it.

That choice had its background in photographs I have taken as a tourist in New Zealand, many of which depict modernist buildings drawn by the likes of Miles Warren. Warren was, of course, directly inspired by Brutalism and he himself undertook journeys of architectural tourism to France, England and Sweden (where I am from).

I wanted to create a slide show similar to one of Fischli/Weiss' works, with superimposed photos combining to create images of luminous and saturated colours. I decided to superimpose pictures of textiles over of the buildings I had photographed in Auckland, Dunedin, Christchurch and Wellington. The textile photographs were taken 'by stealth' in the giant op shops of Glen Eden, giving them a haphazard, transient look. There was no other way to take them, just like the architectural photos were taken like snapshots. I like to think that they are "the authentic impression of a passer-by experiencing architecture" as it is said in a Rodchenko exhibition catalogue, about one of László Moholy-Nagy's pictures.

The sequencing of the buildings is purely chronological, reflecting the traditional use of slides at family gatherings. It gives the work some coherence, as buildings from the same city are adjacent and sometimes a neighbouring couple of shots of the same building give the viewer another clue about the 'draped' structure.

Corbusier propagated the 'mass-production house'. Houses, like clothes, should be mass-produced. At the time they were being drawn according to 'styles' that changed wistfully like seasonal fashions. Houses were ornamental, like carpeting, like patterned dresses.

Having determined the order of the architectural photographs it was simple overlaying the fabric photos, to create variation in hue and luminance. It all came together like a puzzle. The 'double exposures' were made digitally, using the layer blend option that created the most satisfactory result. Sometimes I sought an alignment of the lines and textures of the two layers, sometimes a jarring contrast.

The music the projection is set to is a 1979 piece by James White & the Blacks from New York. "White Savages" could refer to the urban jungle of central NYC, or Paris in the 20s. Fittingly, James Chance, as he is also known, in the same year recorded "Design to Kill" which is exactly what Corbusier claimed the architecture of his times was doing, if only mentally. Houses shouldn't inhibit our lives. Like the car, which was the ultimate solution to transport of small groups, the house should be streamlined for the family unit's needs. The house should be 'a machine for living in'. Without architecture, there would be revolution Corbusier predicted.

The soundtrack matches the pictures' radical change in texture, hue and rhythm with wild fluctuations of pitch and density of sound, underpinned by a steady beat just as the images relentlessly move onwards to the next. If the music of 60s mod group The Creation was "red with purple flashes", James White & the Blacks cover the whole gamut of the humanly visible colour spectrum.

The slide show ends in white noise and a black void. Which is the shortest way to anarchy: building with fabrics (style) or fabricating buildings (mass-production)?

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