Tag Archives: model

OMA to create contemporary art gallery for Galeries Lafayette in Paris

OMA to create contemporary art gallery for Galeries Lafayette in Paris.

Galeries Lafayette Foundation by OMA

Galeries Lafayette Foundation by OMA

The Galeries Lafayette Foundation will take over all five storeys of an old industrial building in Le Marais – one of Paris’ oldest neighbourhoods – just east of the Centre Pompidou.

Rem Koolhaas’ firm plans to restore the U-shaped building back to its original condition and complement it with a new exhibition tower, which will occupy the existing courtyard.

The tower will feature two sets of motorised levels that can be split up to create a total of four mobile platforms. These will be able to move up and down to align with different floors, allowing exhibitions to extend beyond the gallery walls.

“The mobile floors offer a new curatorial dimension, complementing the traditional use of the preserved structure,” said OMA in a statement.

[…]

“The architectural concept was derived from the need for flexibility – a common requirement for cultural institutions – and from the restrictions applied to the site by the city heritage authorities,” said OMA.

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NHM | 51n4e

NHM | 51n4e.

NHM is a project for a Dutch National History Museum that does not own a collection and is not planning to build up one.

This strategic choice allows the museum to have an immense flexibility in presenting itself in different media. At the same time the manifestation as a building has the ambitions to stimulate a physical and collective experience which is directly related to a spatial concept for a museum.

The proposal thrives through the contrast of its two parts: an extra-large exhibition space and a compact slab housing all other museum related functions like reception, education, meeting, lingering. The overscaled space takes the absence of a collection as an opportunity and allows the display of potentially any kind of object, from a middle-age coin to the latest windmill model. Different eras, cultures and societies are brought into dialogue. The space in itself is an abstract and absent background. It can be used for separate parallel exhibitions, presentations, concerts and collective events of any scale. Past and present are shown and happening side by side.

The various rooms of different functions in the thin slab become balconies to the internal landscape of the exhibition hall. For whatever activities the NHM is visited, the exhibition of history is always present. Overviewing the space from a distance, one can individually look back and reflect.

What Does J.G. Ballard Look Like? Part 2: Design Observer

What Does J.G. Ballard Look Like? Part 2: Design Observer.


Peter Klasen, Les Bruits de la Ville (The Noises of the City), acryllic on canvas, 92 x 73 cm, 1966


Peter Klasen, Anatomie du plaisir (Anatomy of Pleasure), acrylic and oil on canvas, 81 x 65 cm, 1964-65


Peter Klasen, Une rencontre a bien eu lieu (A Meeting Took Place), acrylic on canvas, 130 x 162 cm, 1965

Here, I want to consider a German-born artist based in France whose paintings are the most Ballardian I have ever seen. So far as I am aware Peter Klasen has never been discussed previously in relation to Ballard or his writing. There are good reasons for supposing that Ballard was unaware of Klasen’s work and I have found no evidence to suggest that the artist was aware of Ballard, though it remains a possibility. The remarkable overlap in their thinking and practice at a critical moment in the 1960s is a matter of synchronicity, not influence.

[…]

Ballard’s impact on the art world has been a subject of growing interest, which was given an additional spur by his death in 2009. His readily acknowledged debt to Surrealism is already well covered and critical attention has recently moved to his friendship with the artist Eduardo Paolozzi.

[…]

the Gagosian Gallery in London mounted the exhibition “Crash: Homage to J.G. Ballard.” This included artists Ballard is known to have admired — Dalí, De Chirico, Paul Delvaux, Edward Hopper, Ed Ruscha, Francis Bacon, Eduardo Paolozzi, Tacita Dean — as well as artists felt by the curators to share concerns with the writer, including Richard Prince, Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Douglas Gordon and Damien Hirst. (See the lavish catalogue designed by Graphic Thought Facility.)

[…]

The three paintings shown here are typical of Klasen’s work in the mid-1960s. All of these images utilize a combinatorial system derived from modernist montage of the 1920s. Occasionally Klasen glues images and small objects to the canvas, but just as often he paints the entire “montage” as a seamless unit. The component images are shattered into fragments and here Klasen differs from an American Pop artist such as James Rosenquist whose image quotations are more complete, continuous and celebratory. The resemblance to Richard Hamilton, whose painterly probes of popular culture also fused image-sections into new aesthetic configurations, comes in the way Klasen deploys these fragments across the picture plane, allowing zones of unoccupied space to open up between them. Although traditional commercial Pop iconography sometimes appears (a hotdog, a bowl of food, a lipstick), Klasen’s overriding concern is the equivalence between female body parts drawn from advertising and glamour pictures — lips, eyes, breasts, elbow — and the manufactured or mechanical elements, which include taps, valves, plugs, handles, switches, syringes, steering wheels and car windows. He presents both types of image on equal terms within the painting’s symbiotically organized structure. Several of the same image fragments recur from picture to picture and Klasen’s color-drained image-world becomes a semiotic pressure chamber in which new forms of control (and desire?) subordinate the erotic presence of the female subjects.

In an interview in 2008, Klasen recalled the influence during these years of Jean-Luc Godard’s approach to film-collage, his essayistic abstractions, disruptive inter-titles and anti-cinematic moments of rupture. A graphic montage using sources also favored by Klasen can be seen in a poster from 1966 for Godard’s Two or Three Things I Know About Her about the life of a prostitute in Paris. If Klasen’s pictures are still “sexy” to us, despite their coldness and extreme, disassociating fragmentation, then it’s a violently ultra-modern kind of sexiness.

Now consider this passage from a chapter titled “Notes Towards a Mental Breakdown” in The Atrocity Exhibition (first published with the title “The Death Module” in New Worlds no. 173, July 1967):

Operating Formulae. Gesturing Catherine Austin into the chair beside his desk, Dr Nathan studied the elegant and mysterious advertisements which had appeared that afternoon in copies of Vogue and Paris-Match. In sequence they advertised: (1) The left orbit and zygomatic arch of Marina Oswald. (2) The angle between two walls. (3) A neural interval— a balcony unit on the twenty-seventh floor of the Hilton Hotel, London. (4) A pause in an unreported conversation outside an exhibition of photographs of automobile accidents. (5) The time, 11:47 a.m., June 23rd, 1975. (6) A gesture — a supine forearm extended across a candlewick bedspread. (7) A moment of recognition — a young woman’s buccal pout and dilated eyes.

This is one of Ballard’s celebrated image lists found throughout The Atrocity Exhibition. The items that comprise the “operating formulae” can be seen as a miniature exhibition list, as an extreme form of conceptual montage, and as a forced marriage of apparently unrelated images (a classic Surrealist stratagem), which replicates the scrambled structure of the narratives within each chapter, and the way these non-linear chapters ultimately cohere as a work. At the same time, it would be possible to use Ballard’s image kit as a set of instructions to assemble a montage on paper that might then resemble a painting by Klasen (zygomatic arch, angle between walls, balcony unit, accident photos, forearm, dilated eyes, etc.). What both Ballard and Klasen share at this point in the mid-1960s is a cold, appraising, analytical eye. It’s impossible to tell how they feel about what they show, or to know what they want us to feel, if anything at all. Their findings are disturbing and perhaps even repellent from a humanist perspective, yet the new aesthetic forms they use to embody them are, even today, exciting, provocative and tantalizingly difficult to resolve.


Page from “The Summer Cannibals” by J.G. Ballard, New Worlds no. 186, January 1969
Later published in The Atrocity Exhibition. Design by Nigel Francis

Ballard’s experiments with condensed collage-novels in the late 1950s have received increasing attention and they were shown at the Gagosian Gallery; the “Advertiser’s Announcements” he presented in Ambit from the summer of 1967 appear in the catalogue. A few months earlier, in New Worlds no. 167 (October 1966), Ballard published a series of comments on his new experimental texts, under the title “Notes from Nowhere.” He considers the intersection of three kinds of plane: the world of public events, the immediate personal environment, and the inner world of the psyche. “Where these planes intersect,” he writes, “images are born.” In Ballard’s attempt to locate himself, by calling on “the geometry of my own postures, the time-values contained in this room, the motion-space of highways, staircases, the angles between these walls,” the intersection of planes again suggests Klasen’s surgically precise combinatorial technique. Ballard goes on to propose that it might one day be possible “to represent a novel or short story, with all its images and relationships, simply as a three-dimensional geometric model.” Then, just a few lines later, in a curious unedited moment that seems to express his ambivalence, he says that he is worried that a work of fiction could become “nothing more than a three-dimensional geometric model.”

By the early 1970s, Klasen had severely reduced the number of image fragments and the agitated visual complexity seen in his earlier montages. In a development that actualizes Ballard’s conception of a new kind of three-dimensional fiction, Klasen’s constructions, while still wall-mounted, become fully three-dimensional with projecting pipes and bathroom fittings. The unrelenting hygienic cruelty of this work, its absolute concentration on a few fetishistic motifs to the exclusion of everything else — breasts and basin, waist and switches, lips and bidet — bears comparison with the strange mental journey Ballard would undertake as he worked on Crash, the ultimate statement of his ideas about the sexualization of our relationship with technology. “Nothing is spontaneous, everything is stylized, including human behaviour,” he said in 1970, in an interview with Lynn Barber in Penthouse. “And once you move into this area where everything is stylized, including sexuality, you’re leaving behind any kind of moral or functional relevance.” Also in 1970, in a brief manifesto, reprinted in his latest monograph, Klasen set out his aims:

Play on the dialectic of a photographic reproduction and its pictorial transposition.

Play on the magical and poetic power of an object out of place.

Respond to the aggression of society with another aggression.

Show that beauty is everywhere, in a bathroom, for example.

Demonstrate that a bidet, a washbasin, a switch can exercise the same fascination on the spectator as the mouth, the body of a woman or a racing car.

Return these images and objects to the spectator-consumer, allowing him to react to these object-tableaux and to project his own fantasies onto them.

Stimulate his awareness by providing him with aesthetic and ideological information about himself and the world that surrounds him.

[…]

“Respond to the aggression of society with another aggression”: this is exactly what Ballard had done in The Atrocity Exhibition, responding to what he called the “death of affect” — of ordinary emotional responses to events — by playing it out within the glinting, recursive, multi-planar architecture of his book, returning society’s images to the “spectator-consumer,” with their inherent characteristics pulled to the surface and intensified, as a morally ambiguous invitation to know oneself better. Ballard, too, had found a perverse kind of beauty in this material, which is one reason why his writing of this period continues to exert its extraordinary hold on readers.

[…]

The overlapping concerns of Ballard and Klasen in the mid- to late 1960s represent one of the great might-have-beens of contemporary art and literature, but a belated union is still possible. It’s hard to imagine better images than Klasen’s, ready-made or otherwise, for the covers of future editions of The Atrocity Exhibition and Crash. It’s strange that the French, great admirers of both these books, haven’t cracked this one already.

fantastic journal: On the limits of anthropomorphic machines

fantastic journal: On the limits of anthropomorphic machines part 1

part 2

I spend an awful lot of time watching Thomas the Tank Engine. To be more precise I spend a lot of time with someone who spends an awful lot of time watching Thomas the Tank Engine. My (nearly) three year old son is obsessed by it; he sleeps with his Thomas trains, eats with a Thomas knife and fork and wears Thomas pyjamas. The words to the Thomas songs comprise almost his entire vocabulary.

[…]

I’ve spent a lot of time wondering about the roots of my son’s obsession. I’m fairly sure that he’s unaware of the antiquarian nature of steam trains or that the setting is nominally in a slightly distant past. My son doesn’t seem to care that there are aren’t any traction engines to be found anymore or that men don’t dress in spats and a top hat like the Fat Controller. In that sense the appeal of the books might genuinely be considered timeless. The world they depict is somehow complete enough in itself to form a hermetic, self-sustaining universe.

As any parent knows, children are Utopians. They construct fantasy worlds that run on rules of their own devising. These rules are often rigidly inflexible and uncompromising. The appeal of Thomas then might lie in the precise logic of an imaginary railway network. The simple rules that underpin the movement and actions of the trains might also be the part that makes them so successful. The engines themselves have very limited scope for independent action. They can move forwards and backwards, speed up and down, occasionally break down or have an accident but that’s about it. They can’t fight, or dance or play football or run. They don’t chase villains or solve mysteries and they have no special powers. Although they have been anthropomorphised they remain far more train than human. They are in many ways merely extensions of the way that we often attribute human characteristics to machines, giving them names and celebrating their faults as charming idiosyncrasies.

The engines also depend on humans for operation. In the original stories the relationship of the trains to their drivers and guards is very carefully delineated. It does not intrude so much that the trains become ‘simply’ machines but neither are they allowed any genuine independence. They can only deviate from the control of their human operators to a limited degree, normally with fairly disastrous results. These limitations also extend to the minimal nature of the stories where a fallen tree or a faulty turntable provides pretty much the only narrative hook. The legendarily boring nature of the stories is actually cleverly consistent with the repetitive nature of the engine’s tasks. The text mirrors this, repeating simple phrases in a way that is analogous to the movements of the trains. “Clickety clack went the trucks”, “We did it together, we did it together” etc.

Alongside this physically limited universe is an equally restricting moral one. Unsurprisingly perhaps given the identity of the author of the stories, the Thomas books are filled with simple pieties and swift retribution for crimes and misdemeanors. Instructions and justice are metered out by the all-powerful Fat Controller. Sometimes they get abandoned, like Duke the Lost Engine, or decommissioned or even on occasion cut up for scrap. A bleak Victorian morality hangs over the stories allowing for sentimentality and indulgence but only up to a point and only after the work has been done. The aspiration for the all the engines is to be considered “really useful”, a reward that that confirms both their status as machines and their role within an over-arching morality of duty.

The TV series of Thomas remained faithful to both the storylines and the moral universe of the books for some time. The fact that it was filmed using an actual model railway gave it in some ways an even greater degree of fidelity to the concept than the original illustrated books. If the model trains couldn’t do something then neither could the ones in the stories. The wobbly, home-made aesthetic of the model railway became part of the series’ ‘charm’, an anachronistic 1950’s toy used to recreate the equally anachronistic world of 1950’s steam engines.

More recently the series has been introducing new characters, partly as a way of boosting merchandise sales but also in order to create new plot lines. The relatively recent switch to CGI has produced a more decisive shift though. In contrast to the earlier stories, recent feature length Thomas’ have involved the discovery of lost towns, psychotically deranged diesel engines and journeys to magic islands. This expansion beyond the tightly controlled constraints of the original books pushes the logic of the series’ scenario beyond plausible limits.

In Misty Island Rescue, for instance, Thomas is set adrift on a raft at sea, eventually running ashore on an island that appears to be in the deep south of America. Even more bizarrely, when Thomas’ raft hits the beach the engine rolls straight onto a conveniently placed set of tracks running directly out of the water. Later on Thomas discovers some kind of portal or short-cut between Sodor and Misty Island via a vast hollowed out tree trunk. In other recent films Thomas discovers lost towns (The Great Discovery), battles evil baddies (Day of the Diesels) and travels through yet another portal to a contemporary mid-Western village called Shining Time (Thomas and the Magic Railroad).

These fantastical adventures cause a kind of conceptual crisis in Thomas’ carefully controlled universe. His actions are no longer those of a railway engine stuck shunting trucks but of a buccaneering adventurer. The Reverend Awdry’s pedantic fidelity to the movements of steam engines and railway lines is long gone. The driver and guard have become like those film crews accompanying TV explorers, something that it’s convenient to forget about lest they spoilt the mystique. It’s no coincidence that this capitulation to pure fantasy has come about at the same time as a shift from real-time modeling to CGI. Computer rendering allows Thomas the physical and conceptual freedom to inhabit any kind of environment in more or less any way. Thomas has moved from being an anthropomorphised machine into a human being who just happens to look like a train.

The first half of this post wasn’t intended as a rant against CGI, although it’s true to say that the original Thomas drawings are for more subtle and beautiful than the current animations. The development of computer animation has created a renaissance in children’s movies, particularly from the Pixar studio. It’s interesting then that Pixar’s own fantasy world creations are also most successful when operating in a similarly plausible but defined universe to that of the Railway Series.

Much of the humour and pathos of the Toy Story movies, for example, emanates from a tension between what the toys can and can’t do, and from the fact that they are restricted to a series of plausible movements. Their ability to stretch (Slinky Dog), disassemble themselves (Mr Potato Head) and organise military operations (Bucket O Soldiers) provides action sequences within precise physical limitations Equally important to the storyline is what the toys can’t do, such as Buzz Lightyear’s various heartbreaking attempts to fly. They may be ‘alive’ but they also only exist within a logical extension of their ‘toyness’. As in Salvador Dali’s Paranoiac Critical method, an absurd fantasy (of the toys being alive but still toys) is pursued with complete logic throughout.

The toys also clearly inhabit a human world although they fight for independence within it. This is in contrast to the recent Cars franchise which, interestingly, runs into many of the same problems as the new Thomas. Like Thomas, the Cars concept depends on the anthropomorphisation of machines. Unlike Thomas though the machines in Cars inhabit a people-less world, one where they have replaced the roles, characteristics and foibles of the absent humans. This conceit is wittily explored in the first film both visually (vans that look like Elvis, radiator grill moustaches that suggest redneck tendencies etc.) and structurally (a town designed by and for cars).

The action of the first film is confined to very limited spheres, essentially either the stadium in which the cars race or the isolated desert town of Radiator Springs. The choice of the town’s location is important because it avoids all sorts of contradictions that would occur in a larger and more pedestrian – and thus human – orientated realm. The functions of the buildings in Radiator Springs have been altered so that the generic Italian restaurant has become a garage and the petrol station the local drive-in. This is a car-based universe and nothing breaks the logic or the suspension of disbelief required to follow their anthropomorphised autonomy.

In the second Cars film the action has become global and follows the World Grand Prix, a series of races held in well-known cities. This creates a conceptual problem in that the cities (London, Paris, Tokyo etc) need to be rendered both plausibly recognisable and consistent with a people-less universe. Subtle scale changes are made to the sizes of doorways for instance and humour is found in car based versions of human spaces such as the rough local pub ‘inhabited’ by taxis and delivery trucks. And although famous landmarks have been rather fabulously ‘motorised’ (as detailed here) it remains impossible to imagine what they might actually be for.

But the film still begs some fairly fundamental questions which threaten to derail it entirely. What happens in the mansard roofs of those Parisian apartments? Why have upper floors at all? Who are the double-decker buses for? Not only that but the cars themselves are thrown into a full-on spoof spy movie where they fly through the air, set off booby traps and engage in tyre-to-tyre combat Jason Bourne style. As the cars have become more human, moving beyond simply being machines with characters, the absence of humans becomes oddly more telling.

Not only does the construction of an alternative car based society need precise rules to work but the humour depends on the careful substitution of one set of rules for another. The way that cars move, the things that they can and can’t do is very important. When they can fly through the air firing machine guns and foiling international villains their car-ness becomes far less implausible (of course) but also less important. Similarly, when they inhabit an environment whose underlying logic is clearly man-made (stairs, attics, Georgian windows etc), the suspension of disbelief evaporates.

In a sense, the moral universe inhabited by the Cars is every bit as pervasive as the one in Thomas the Tank Engine. The world of duty, obedience and responsibility delineated in Thomas is no less insufferable than the homilies about friendship and staying true to oneself in Cars. There is a confused environmental narrative at the heart of the Cars storyline too, presumably as an attempt to ameliorate the obsession with motor racing to start with. But children’s stories always have an explicitly moral message. The creation of alternative worlds be they miniature, anthropomorphic or whatever, allows for the creation of precise rules and limits. These serve not only to contain the fantasy but to communicate the ethical dilemmas the stories rehearse.

The ‘system’ which underpins the action is a kind of machine itself, a metaphor for a functioning moral universe where things have their place and people understand their role. Tests to the stability of this universe form the narrative for individual stories, helping ultimately to reinforce the desirability of the system to start with. Character’s that deviate from their roles are punished in the end and learn to accept certain limits to their freedom. This is why Thomas the Tank Engine is such a brilliant conception for children’s stories.