CONTROVERSIAL

July 7, 2012
detonater
tilted
Still from Melrose Place, 1995 (source)
Announcement for Public Hearing, 1984

 

Dr. Kimberly Shaw: ‘Well, that makes bomb number three. Don’t you love the smell of sulfur in the afternoon, Sydney?’

 

[bound and gagged Sydney only grunts and groans]

 

Dr. Kimberly Shaw: ‘What’s that? No? Well, I don’t think hell is going to smell a whole lot better, but since that’s where you’re going to spend the rest of eternity, you better start getting used to it.’

 

—’Postmortem Madness’, Melrose Place, Season 4

 

 

In 1992, Beverly Hills, 90210, the prototypical teen drama documenting the hardships of America’s wealthiest teenagers, attained the peak of its popularity, reaching an estimated 18.1 million viewers per episode. In an effort to capitalize on its immense following, its producers spun off Melrose Place, a 90210 for a slightly more seasoned crowd. The series, which followed the lives of thirty-somethings trying to reinvent themselves in a Los Angeles courtyard complex, received criticism and poor ratings in its first season, for being too timid. To remedy these perceived failings, the writers of Melrose Place concocted increasingly controversial story lines in an effort to increase viewership. Love trysts, betrayals and workplace firings, which were commonplace in the second season, were later replaced by catastrophic events such as car crashes, murders and even the walking dead. Not satisfied with individual agony, and to achieve a climax of collective suffering for their entire roster of fictional characters, the writers ultimately turned against ‘architecture’.

 

In the first episode of the fourth season, in a revenge plot not so dissimilar in psychology from those carried out by Al Qaeda in September of 2001 (or by the perpetrators of the Oklahoma City Bombing, which preceded the original air date of… more

 

Through the Federal Government’s Art-in-Architecture program, Richard Serra was commissioned in 1979 to produce a large-scale sculptural installation for the Federal Office Building in Manhattan. Formed from a single sheet of 2-inch thick Cor-Ten steel, Tilted Arc was 120 feet long and 12 feet high. Its 72 tons were balanced by gently arcing the material, which allowed it to stand independently. Positioned diagonally across the plaza, it bisected the space creating an imposing barrier, forcing users of the space to detour around the artwork.

 

Divisive in nature, from the moment of installation, there were requests for its removal. A successful letter-writing campaign brought on a public hearing in 1984. Government officials from the public hearing committee voted 4-1 to remove the sculpture and on the night of March 15, 1989, it was cut into three pieces and sold for scrap.

 

Subsequent versions of the plaza have adhered to a spirit of increasing complacency, via memorial. Since 1997, Martha Schwartz Partners’ intervention distilled the most superficial notions of Serra’s boundary, echoing it through long curving rows of green plastic seating, which curled around mounds of vegetation. A little over a decade later, the space is adequately leaky to be considered irrelevant. Enough so, as to mandate a new version by Michael Van Valkenburgh: an increasingly generic iteration in the series which mimics the greenness of Schwartz’s chair boundaries, replicated through large, organically-curving planters. The soon-to-be plaza promises to be meta-referential, imitating the original intent of Serra through shallow allusions.

 

In their broad appeal, the plazas have not nearly generated the levels of interest that Tilted Arc did. Rather than pursuing potentially controversial agendas, a series of increasingly conservative designers have diminished the site’s critical capacity by tracing past interventions to produce mediocre work that neither offends nor pleases.

 

E. Sean Bailey

 

 

Jean-François Goyette

 

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GIRLS

July 2, 2012
group
bench
The Group, 1966 (source)
Girls, 2012 (source)

 

Girls suffers the burden of an overwhelming critical response—a series of writings that project significant intellectual and artistic questions onto its half-hour form. Essays and reviews betray the false collision of a humorous portrait of several young women with a much larger aim: that of generational definition, or representation.

 

Following the 1963 release of Mary McCarthy’s The Group, a novel presenting the lives of eight Vassar girls who just graduated from college, Norman Mailer published a rather cruel review. He wrote, in the New York Review of Books, ‘She [McCarthy] has eight well-to-do young ladies moving through the thirties on the very outer fringe of events, and none of them has an inner passion large enough to take over the book and make it run away’.

 

If McCarthy’s sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignantly presented Vassar graduates resemble Dunham’s girls in their varied struggles and reflections—and share with them a vivid New York as setting for these tribulations—so Mailer’s criticisms evoke contemporary responses to our HBO program:

 

Her characters…will not look to participate in the center of the history which is being made, and they will be the victim of no outsize passion…She will take these women, nearly all finally dull, because they have neither the interest to break out of the cage of their character, nor even the necessity—the cage is not that cruel, the girls are merely premature suburbanites—and she will obey the logic of the intricately educated and dull, she will follow them through their furniture and their recipes…

 

But while Mailer assumes, perhaps falsely, that in writing, Mary McCarthy must fundamentally engage with the tradition of her form—the history of the novel and its pitfalls and ambitions… more

 

Tours of television and film shooting locations abound in New York City, introducing visitors to previously unknown places, locally celebrated spots and world-famous landmarks. Films like Manhattan, Taxi Driver, and The Godfather along with television shows such as Law and Order, Sex and the City and The Sopranos are a few, of the many, well-loved productions that have inspired this real-world format for indulging fans.
 
A likely candidate for this treatment in the near future is HBO’s Girls, a show which alternately reflects and constructs the reality of twenty-somethings in the city. The Guardian’s effort to map the show’s urban backdrops along with confirmation of the program’s eligibility as a theme for a tour, from a local operator, to the New York Times, is promising evidence that an organized excursion may soon be realized.

 

Tripping in and out of Manhattan into the surrounding boroughs, with its recession-era motifs, Girls’ locations typically avoid glossy upscale settings in favor of average or run-down spots. The validation of these sites—particularly the latter variety—is often dependent on their occupation by young adults. Is it possible that inclusion on a pilgrimage route might promise longevity to these modest venues in the form of enduring physical existence, financial success or memory? As a result of Girls‘ popularity, can the cupcake shop Babycakes look forward experiencing a similar sort of preservation and recognition as Katz’s Delicatessen? Will Tom and Jerry’s, the bar where the character Jessa has a pre-abortion drink, be guaranteed years of business serving busloads of fans? And what will become of those sites that are excluded from the tour?
 

For those locations that do make the cut, they will become nodes in a circuit—a series of spaces which create another layer in a set of unique routes, locating the stages of fictional narratives set in New York City.

 

Rachel Engler

 

 

Erandi de Silva

 

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