OPPOSITION

September 23, 2011
ford paik
Mayor Rob Ford’s Mugshot, 1999 (source)
Composition 1960 #10, Performed by Nam June Paik (source)

 

Warmed water molecules are propelled into the sky, latching onto particles of dust to form clouds; cumulus, stratus, cirrus and cumulonimbus. Previously blue skies turn to gray. As the air cools, droplets crystallize in the frigid temperatures, falling instead of rising. What begins as a dusting of white powder gradually thickens into a suffocating blanket. Branches snap and roofs buckle. Opposition sets in.

 

On October 25, 2010, the citizens of Toronto elected Mayor Rob Ford to ‘stop the gravy train’ (wasteful spending) at City Hall. But when it was discovered that there was no legitimate ‘gravy’ to be found, and that alternate strategies would need to be employed to reduce the city’s operating deficit, including the closure of libraries, cuts to daycare programs and increases in taxes, a once supportive electorate began to sour. This unrest turned to outrage when the Mayor hijacked a democratic, pragmatic, decades long waterfront planning process which proposed parks and human-scaled neighborhoods on the lakefront. The Mayor proposed to instead sell the land to an Australian developer with plans to build a mall, giant Ferris wheel and monorail. Confronted with such sad prospects, opposition descended on City Hall like a blizzard with planners, designers, academics and the populace at large voicing their unrest, thus decimating the Mayor’s approval rating and effectively robbing him of his political sway.

 

In light of the opposition, the Mayor’s alternate waterfront vision was voted down 45-0 (including the mayor’s own vote against his motion) on September 21, 2011.

 

Oppositions – I am against them. Well, of course I am not. It is however important to understand that the effect of an opposition, and therefore its value, is to frame a space between two limits. The opposition itself becomes a thing that sets up a tension between two terms but can also work to negate everything outside of the binary. Mao’s assertion, later quoted by the doomed urban guerrillas of the Red Army Faction, that ‘We must draw a clear line between ourselves and the enemy’ initially leaves unclear whether the line is vertical—a separating barrier—or horizontal, a tether that connects the opposed terms as they spin in the void.

 

Discourses on architecture are, of course, often framed in terms of oppositions as well. A foundational opposition that was originally used to open a space of radical potential in the figuration of Modernism was that of form to function. Separating these two terms made possible the thinking of architectural objects in terms of the production of actions, situations and, if not lifeforms, then at least what Agamben terms ‘forms of life’. This opposition, however, has the potential to go stale, lose its negative, dialectical power and harden into positivist dogmatism. In Modernism this staleness allowed the emergence of a reactionary, post/anti-Modernist formalism which did little more than invert an unproductive dichotomy. Lines are drawn in abstract space or become disciplinary boundaries marked out by referees like lines on a football field.

 

The art piece Composition 1960 #10 in 1961 by La Monte Young, a musician turned performance artist… more

 

E. Sean Bailey

 

 

Alan Smart

 

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FLOOD

September 9, 2011
levee mies
Mississippi River Flooding, 2011 (source)
Titanic, Stanley Tigerman, 1978 (source)

 

‘You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.’

 

—Rahm Emanuel, Former White House Chief of Staff

 

 

Floods alter reality and create unimaginable situations, structures, and images by turning roofs into porches, streets into rivers, cities into swamps and yards into swimming pools. Often such a crisis can bring out the best in people, not strictly in the form of heroism or generosity, but also through adrenaline-fueled ingenuity.

 

While conventional flood mitigation involves sand bags and metal flood barriers, homemade levees were employed to keep the water out of yards and homes when the rivers began to rise near Vicksburg, Mississippi. Using nature against itself, the homeowners appropriated the techniques of Land Art as preservationist-functionalism. Born out of crisis, the levees alter our understanding of the water’s relationship to the land: floating like small barges, these temporary islands appear scaleless against the vast flood, the rescued homes standing fortress-like inside their earthen mounds.

 

While some of the makeshift dams gave way during the flood, vanishing into murky waters, the surviving mounds will also, in time, dissolve into the landscape. Much like the Earthworks projects of the 1970s, their existence will persist only in photographs – amazing remnants of a terrible disaster.

 

My interest in Stanley Tigerman’s 1978 collage of the sinking of Mies van der Rohe’s Crown Hall has nothing to do with Mies’ architectural reign over Chicago, the complexities of an academic rivalry between IIT and UIC, or postmodernism as an attack on Modernism. It has everything to do with the shadowy foreground of the scene, and its mysterious man in a boat. Who was this man and what were his intentions?

 

At first glance, the man in the boat appears to be the lone survivor of a tragic accident. An accident which risked endangering, or perhaps even pushing to the verge of extinction, ‘glass box’ architecture. The man’s survival is significant, as it means that the traditions of the glass box might be triumphantly carried on to future generations. This type of happily-ever-after scenario would best be played out on the big screen, to some sort of heroic Hollywood soundtrack; credits rolling, sobs of joy from the audience. The man in the boat was a hero.

 

Alternatively, is it possible the man in the boat intentionally sank Crown Hall? It would not be that hard, after all. A broken window or two would do the trick. While the first scenario portrays architecture as an innocent victim, the latter labels it as a threat. Glass boxes are not for everyone. I can picture the man’s face now: slowly, confidently paddling away from his kill, never looking back. The man in the boat was not a hero; he was a villain.

 

But, alas… more

 

Matt Shaw

 

 

John Stoughton

 

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