Saturday, December 15, 2007

I'm Not Sure Your PaddleBoat Belongs On My Waterbed Press

I've been reading Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office of Soft Architecture by Lisa Robertson. I highly recommend you buy this pocket sized book. It looks like this:

Nice, eh?

I'm going to past some quotes from the book below but most of them are more serious in tone and I think it's important to know that there are some terrific moments of humor throughout the essays. These moments of wry wit and self awareness extend an invitation to us to be a member of the Office of Soft Architecture or at least engage in the "office's" discourse. They counteract or balance the other times when it may seem that we're reading a manifesto and its continuation instead of actively being asked to participate and consider where we fit into such a "movement." In the essay Rubus Armeniacus, which discusses the history of the blackberry and nature as ornament to mortality, Robertson writes, “After some study the Office of Soft Architecture has reached the opinion that our alien is the dystopian epitome of the romance of botanical pattern as applied architectural decoration. To illustrate our opinion we’ll ramble through a picturesque landscape of quoted fragments (127).” The "alien" is the blackberry and the "dystopian epitome of the romance of botancial pattern" relates to how blackberries tend to cover, take over, and smother the surfaces they initially seem to decorate and fuse with organic life. Here, you can see Robertson winking at the reader, enjoying her self indulgent, uneconomical language.

The essay, "The Fountain Transcript," begins with photographs of "fountains" seen around the Vancouver area, such as this lackadaisical polar bear spitting water:

5 Specific Quotes I Think Are Important To This Text:

1) “The object of architecture is to give happiness.”—162

2) “The shack is the natural language of architecture.”—179

3) ‘”From the hearth to the field is a great distance.” It is the task of the shack to minimize this distance, in the service of an image of natural liberty.’—179

4) “The shack demonstrates the site-specific continuum between belief and the perception of necessity. We like to remember that politics are collective experiments in belief.”—180

5) “The city is the shack inside out. It choreographs the delicious series of our transience. This is the future.”--185

It’s commonly accepted that often we are unable to disassociate the saccharine coatings of nostalgia with actual historical events and how these lead to an idealized, utopian, false version of the past. When Robertson researches historical landmarks or artistic trends we now romanticize, she consistently finds how commercialism and materialism have corroded the initial concepts while we simultaneously create sentimental associations that become affixed to them. In an essay on the Arts and Crafts-era Ceperly Mansion in Burnaby (British Columbia), she explains, “Arts and Crafts philosophy…created an identifiable style whose formal integrity ironically could eclipse its own concern with regional context to become a highly marketable commodity, advertised through their commission (107).” While she began her project to trace “the city of Vancouver dissolve in the fluid called money,” the essays that compose Occasional Work are far from studies on the dissolution of a city and they are not angry or despondent in tone. Instead, they chronicle, question, and deconstruct different strains of belief in utopias in which we, often unknowingly, become enmeshed.

Robertson sights the development of the shack as a place of limbo or overlap where people can feel that they are getting closer to the (failed) pastoral utopia. Yet, if the “object of architecture is to give happiness” and architecture’s origin lies with the concept of the shack (“the shack is the natural language of architecture”), is the human construct of architecture, which is supposed to provide the possibility of happiness, then based on an unattainable utopia? Is modern happiness possible? Robertson sees us pulling out of this utopian delusion through our connection with and exploration of surface and out ability to re-think it. She sees the surface as an opening, a medium, a space that’s between the object and the beliefs we extrapolate, the politics. Robertson writes from the Office of Soft Architecture, "When we walk in the inscription-splattered street we are interested to question the relation of surface to belief. This question defines our stance as citizens. Thinking about colour we open up a space in the surface, the potent space between substance and politics. A tiny freedom drifts there and we adore it (145)." Surface becomes the place were individual minds meets the matter before we idealize it. We are in direct confrontation with the actual thing. Amongst many other goals, I see this project as a way for Robertson not only to explore the history of surface but to reconceptualize how to find and construct modern happiness, define citizenship, and develop a legitimate sense of freedom.

The following quotes have been divided into six sections: Modernity, Rhetoric, Utopia, The Office of Soft Architecture, Surface, and Nostalgia. These headings are themes that flow through all of her essays. Sometimes the statements negate each other and at other moments they build upon previous ideas and interrelate, I made these groupings to help un-confuse myself as I read the essays so I thought they might interest you.

“The truly utopian act is to manifest current conditions and dialects. Practice description. Description is mystical.”—16

“Nothing is utopian, everything wants to be. Soft Architects face the reaching middle.”—17

“Maybe utopia is memory, unbearably simple and symmetrical and practical. Our suburb flaunts the awkward authenticity of an origin.”—26

“…we need to gently augment the fraught happiness of our temporary commons by insisting on utopian delusion as a passage.”—67

“After some study the Office of Soft Architecture has reached the opinion that our alien (blackberry) is the dystopian epitome of the romance of botanical pattern as applied to architectural decoration.”—127

“Laugier tells a simple story: the retreat from lucid pleasure to protect opacity, then to willed structure. Is architecture a moment to the failure of pastoral utopia, whose greeny bliss only passes, like a tempest? The shack as first principle seems to be a protection against weather and against time.”—177

The Office of Soft Architecture:
“but Soft Architecture expires invisibly as the mass rhetorics of structural permanence transmit: Who can say when the astonishing complicities of the woven decay into rote?...Yet our city is persistently soft.”—15

“Soft Architecture will reverse the wrongheaded story of structural deepness. That institution is all doors but no entrance. The work of the Sa paradoxically recompiles the metaphysics of surface, performing an horizontal research which greets shred of fiber, pigment flakes….”—17

“Soft Architects believe that this site (Lot 26, New Brighton Park) demonstrates the best possible use of an urban origin: Change its name repeatedly. Burn it down. From the rubble confect a prosthetic pleasure-ground; with fluent obliviousness picnic there.”--41

“Dear Reader- A lady speaking to you from the motion of her own mind is always multiple. Enough of the least. We want to be believed.”—68

“We propose a theoretical device that amplifies the cognition of thresholds. It would add to the body the vertiginous unthinkable. That is, pavilions.”—79

“After some study the Office of Soft Architecture has reached the opinion that our alien is the dystopian epitome of the romance of botanical pattern as applied architectural decoration. To illustrate our opinion we’ll ramble through a picturesque landscape of quoted fragments”—127

“The Office of Soft Architecture finds the chaos of variation beautiful. We believe that the structure or fundament itself, in its inert eternity, has already been adequately documented- the same skeleton repeating itself continuously. We are grateful for these memorial documents. But the chaos of surface compels us into new states of happiness.”—128

“I tried to recall spaces, and what I remembered was surfaces, here and there money was tarred. The result was emotional. I wanted to document this process. I began to research the history of surfaces. I included my own desires in the research. In this way, I became multiple. I became money.”—introduction

“Surface inflects our gestures. And vice versa. Each belief is an extension of a rhetorical space.”—53

“Consider that we need to drink deeply from convention under faithfully lighthearted circumstances in order to integrate the weather boredom utopic, with waking life. By ‘integrate’ we mean: to arc into a space without surface as if it were an inhabitable, flickering event.”—68

“The problem is not how to stop the flow of items and surfaces in order to stabilize space, but how to articulate the politics of the passage.”—78

“The chaos of surface compels us towards new states of happiness.”--128

“…the surface of the city indexes conditions of contamination, accident, and subordination. We always dream in color. This is part of the history of surfaces.”--139

“We are aligned with surface. We exchange mineral components with an historical territory, less like cyborgs than like speaking, ambulatory dirt.”--143

“Artifice is the disrespect of the propriety of borders. Emotion results. The potent surface leans into dissolution and disrupts volition- it’s not a secluding membrane or limit. To experience change we submit ourselves to affective potential of the surface. This is the pharmakon: an indiscrete threshold where our bodies exchange information with the environment.”—143

******“When we walk in the inscription-splattered street we are interested to question the relation of surface to belief. This question defines our stance as citizens. Thinking about colour we open up a space in the surface, the potent space between substance and politics. A tiny freedom drifts there and we adore it.”--145

149 “they address both substance and the future of bodies. Hence the surface poses a rhetorical index even while temporal contingency renders it partly unaccountable. We wish to face the unaccountable.”--149

“The problem of the shape of choices is mainly retrospective. That wild nostalgia leans into the sheer volubility of incompetence. This nostalgia musters symbols with no relation to necessity…Containing only supple space, nostalgia feeds our imagination’s strategic ineptitude.”—16

“Yet stylistically these fountains’ nostalgia is not for omniscience but for unfashionable, minor happiness: in this sense they flood the grid with its countertext. Why shouldn’t we seek to describe happiness?”—55

“Arts and Crafts gardeners argued for the return to a cottage gardening tradition. It’s difficult to judge now the extent to which the vision of the cottage garden, intimate, overcrowded, bursting with nostalgic flora, was a retrospective fantasy of cozy rural origin.”—103

“If the special chronicle of the house and garden can be considered as the gradual discorporation of the propriety of the boundary or wall, perhaps the transient and beribboned rhetoric of the picnic is the most modern of architectures.”—112

“But what we have come to appreciate about this rubus, apart from the steady supply of jam, is the bracingly peri-modern tendency to garnish and swag and garland any built surface it encounters.”—127

“The limitless modification of the skin is different from modernization—surface morphologies, as Rubus shows, include decay, blanketing and smothering, shedding, dissolution and penetration, and pendulous swaggering and draping, as well as proliferative growth, all on contexts of environmental disturbances and contingency rather than fantasized balance.”128

“The economy of the shack enumerates necessity, or more exactly it enumerates a dream of necessity, using what’s at hand. This improvisatory ethos is modern. It is proportioned by the utopia of improvised necessity rather than by tradition."--178

Rhetoric (& words related to building language):
“The potential of these fountains seems to draw towards it a verbal rhetoric of heightened politesse…”—56

“Morris’s was to be a soft rebellion, implemented by art, rhetoric, and consumption. Lifestyle became an ethical category.”—98

“Nature provided an intimate stage for the family; the wall, no longer the determining icon of properties of use, became a rhetoric.”—111

“The plant’s swift rhetorical trajectory from aestheticized exotic, to naturalized species, to invasive alien, all the whole concealing a spurious origin myth, displays a typically hackneyed horticultural anthropomorphism.” 127

“We recognize the dialectic that we believe continues to structure architectural knowledge: Modification vs. Frugality.”--128

“Metaphor inflates an economy. Colour is structured like market. Both colour and market are measured combinations of sentiment and emotion. A political economy appears to contain their instability, but at any moment this structure could be flooded by the randomness of affect.”—142

“Painted, striated, gilded, and charm-decked, antiquity received gestural language, became tactile, and in turn served briefly as the authority for an architectural language of social exchange.”—146

“These architects participated in a broader discourse around polychromy, a discourse radical in its articulation of European history as a spatial accretion of social and material practice…the surface of architecture expressed a historical rhetoric of use. Surface effects were not subordinate to deeper structural ideals; rather structure partially extroverted to itself became a component in the ornamental grammar of the surface. The polychromatic surface communicated rather than suppressed corporal historicity and change.”-149

“..the shack is the natural language of architecture. By natural we mean original. If architecture is writing, the shack is speech….Architecture is derived from the unexpected shack, as language is derived from a vernacular. Or the monad is a spiritual shack. It stores belief.”--180

Ok! So now you want to buy it and read it for yourself, right?


There is a massive reading at the KGB this Monday with Mark Bibbins, Mark Strand, Charles Berstein, etc etc. BUT, if you're sick of walking up those flights of stairs, if the red painted walls is starting to give you migrains, if the overprices beers are making your wallets weep, come to this instead:

at Cornelia Street Cafe

Monday | December 17, 2007, 6 p.m.
Joanna Fuhrman, Eileen Hennessy, Chris Tonelli

Chris is reading!



Maximum Etc said...

FIRST COMMENT! waddup, punks?

AEG said... boring. And no one, today, "hates" Sally Field, but no one is happy to see that she's still around either.

Julia Cohen said...

AEG, get your ass out of your film theory books and enjoy a little poetry related stuff. You look like a Braque still life in your crotchety old age.

Hiram said...

What does that Braque thing mean? Please Respond!