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.

 

E. Sean Bailey

 

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 inaugurates another line-drawing project in both the abstract and the literal sense. The work consists of a card with the words ‘draw a straight line and follow it’ that is to serve as a ‘score’ to be preformed in order to create an event. The piece represents an especially clear example of a new kind of art, then being developed, that worked by re-staging the opposition between form and content in a configuration taken from music. In addition to expanding the field of possibility within conceptions of art (or drawing, or lines), Young and other early performance artists staged a new set of engagements (oppositional and otherwise) between art and the rest of the world (political practice, socially produced space, mediated language, etc.) that architects would do well to take up.

 

Alan Smart

 

Edited by E. Sean Bailey

 

 

 

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