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Posts Tagged ‘architecture’

The Soviet Man of the Future, and Other News

February 1, 2016 | by

Georgy Zimin, Still Life with Light Bulb, 1928–1930. Image via NYRB

  • Philip Larkin’s poems and letters present him as misanthropic, hard-hearted, and above all miserable—but he moonlighted as a photographer, and his work in the medium shows a dramatically different side of him. “In their sociability, tenderness, and sweep, the photographs complicate the caricature of Larkin as England’s laureate of despair, squeezing out lines between shifts as a university librarian … Rather than a poet committed to monkish isolation and routine, Larkin the photographer appears as an eager traveller through Britain and Ireland, with [Monica] Jones often in tow … Larkin kept these travels, and the photographs they inspired, a secret from pen pals like Kingsley Amis, for whom he reserved obscenity-filled reports of his own bitterness and alienation—his wide-eyed curiosity replaced by an ironic sneer.”
  • A new exhibition at the Jewish Museum, “The Power of Pictures,” looks at the revolutionary intent of early Soviet photography and film: “Russia’s new political masters wanted to create a new society and a ‘new Soviet man’ … Many of the best-known avant-garde artists embraced this task with enthusiasm: some felt as though their art was the engine driving history. Artists like El Lissitzky, Rodchenko, Stepanova, Goncharova, Malevich, Mayakovsky, and Tatlin—to varying degrees influenced by Cubism, Futurism, and other western European movements, as well as by Russian folk traditions—had been making work that in different ways sought to redefine the very notion of art … Photography was the perfect medium for promoting the new state order. Its use in newspapers, magazines, posters, journals, and books as something other than portraiture was a new phenomenon. It was by definition ‘modern’ and ‘forward-looking’—a non-elitist medium for the age of mechanical reproduction.”
  • We’ve all tired of the manic-pixie dream girl, that brazen testament to the narrowness of the male imagination. But John Green, in his young-adult novels, gives the stereotype considerably more depth: “In Green’s novels, there is considerable tension between the potent appeal of his manic pixie characters, the excitement and fun they bring into the narrators’ lives, and the messages these characters impart about their own lives and identities. It is only through celebrating the quirky charisma of manic pixie dream girls and fully exploring their attraction that he is able to show their accompanying problems … In his most complex work, he deconstructs the type, showing readers the pitfalls of defining others in narrowed ways … ”
  • Afronauts, the Ghanaian director Frances Bodomo’s new film, tells the little-known story of the Zambian space program, which mounted an ambitious attempt to send twelve astronauts to the moon in the sixties. “Zambia’s landscape isn’t really arid desert; it’s not really desolate,” Bodomo says. “And this is where the sci-fi comes into it, because you can take liberties and telling an alternative history comes into to it. You know it’s wonderful that they’re already on this landscape that already feels like the moon, that already feels like they’re already where they’re going. That feels like the message at the end of the film, that they’re already where they always wanted to be. The loneliness and the pain and the self-negation that exists here is what it’s going to be up there. The trials and tribulations here are going to be up there. Visually, they’re already in their dream space.”
  • Concrete, simplicity, utopia—let’s hear it for brutalism, people. Put your hands together for brutalism. A new book by Christopher Beanland argues that we must learn to love brutalist architecture, and that there’s plenty to love in it: “The key thing about concrete, Beanland argues, is it can span great distances (enabling architects to construct stronger and more spacious buildings) and be stretched into wild shapes, from ziggurats and beehives to flying saucers … Beanland believes our concrete nostalgia is a protest against the greed of the current housing market, with cities like London being bought up by the international super-rich.”

Shut Off Your Heating Systems, and Other News

January 21, 2016 | by

Vagrich Bakhchanyan, Attention! (detail), 1972–73, transfer process, colored pencil, and ink on paper. Courtesy of Zimmerli Art Museum, via Hyperallergic

  • We’ve known for a while that fairy tales are old, but only now have we discovered that they’re in fact really, really, really old—an important distinction. Stories like “Beauty and the Beast” and “Rumpelstiltskin” originated thousands of years ago, researchers suggest, in “prehistoric times, with one tale originating from the bronze age”: “Using techniques normally employed by biologists, they studied common links between 275 Indo-European fairy tales from around the world and found some have roots that are far older than previously known, and ‘long before the emergence of the literary record.’ ”
  • The sound is as important as the surface and the feel. It’s important because our ears define for me the nature of space,” said Derek Sugden, an acoustic engineer who died this week at ninety-one. He headed Arup Acoustics, which designed buildings with sound in mind, thus starting a kind of quiet revolution in architecture, as Gillian Darley writes: “The more recent transformation of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam by Cruz y Ortiz takes its responsibilities to an immense visiting public seriously. Enormous frame-form baffles hang from the Gothic Revival roof of the original atrium, while several interior windows are blanked out with fabric ‘shutters’ to keep resonance at a minimum. Thousands of people come and go (the café is in a separate space beyond) and the experience remains convivial and pleasurable, sound levels no higher than a gentle hum. Yet nothing is made of this achievement in features on the renovated museum in the architectural press: Sugden was right, architects don’t hear.”
  • The Soviet artist Vagrich Bakhchanyan hoped to subvert his government by using its own language against it in his art: “He made works on paper in which appropriated texts and images were combined and layered using transfer techniques, some utilizing official notices by Soviet administrators—the terse, usually handwritten flyers that punctuated the everyday life of Soviet citizens with warnings, admonitions, and exhortations. One such announcement scribbled on a page torn out of a logbook reads: ‘Comrade residents! On Monday the 19th there won’t be any cold or hot water. We ask you to close the taps and shut off the heating system in your apartments.’ Over top of this message, Bakhchanyan has layered an image of a peaceful country landscape. In this and other works, the juxtaposition of random texts and images was meant to produce a momentary disorientation, a visual and mental shock caused by two or more layers of signification clashing and negating one another. The artworks reflect the absurdities and humiliations of the Soviet life—the tragic contradictions between the official ideology of socialism and its everyday reality.”
  • Last November, Yurina Ko went to the Big Eaters World Championship in Times Square, where passersby were fascinated by a Japanese woman—everyone called her a girl—who could eat and eat and eat: “ ‘But the girl. She can eat.’ ‘I wonder what her stomach looks like’ … It’s the magic of the Little Big Eater Girl. She’s skinny, prepubescent, and childlike in her seeming ignorance about what constitutes an appropriate portion of food. And yet she’s an adult. If you take her on a date, she won’t order just a salad but every item on the menu and beg for dessert after. After enjoying every spoonful of this giant meal, she still looks healthy, small, and fuckable … Someone in the crowd points to the Japanese eater and says, ‘But look, now she’s sick.’ The woman looks like she’s in pain, breathing into a paper bag. What’s really happening is she’s starting to regurgitate into it. People scatter at the sight of this.”
  • Today in corporate-media pissing contests: anyone who dreams of landing a gig at Condé Nast has a foolish, outmoded dream, because all the cool kids work at Hearst now. “Working at Condé is passé,” an “insider” told Page Six. (Another compared Condé to Icarus.) “Hearst has the better perks now: visiting chefs in the cafeteria and free workout clothes in the gym. There are also master classes from the likes of Gloria Steinem, Ethan Hawke, and Arianna Huffington.”

Staff Picks: Continentals, Cocoons, Comics

January 15, 2016 | by

Paul Rudolph’s Walker Guest House, as pictured in The Florida Houses.

Don’t let the breezy title put you off. At the Existentialist Café, Sarah Bakewell’s group portrait of Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Beauvoir, and the other “Continental” philosophers who flourished before and after World War II, is chatty, irreverent, gossipy, unabashedly personal—as far from the existentialist tone as it’s possible to get—but it’s also a work of deep intelligence and sympathy, reminding us how exciting those thinkers can be. And it’s a page-turner. I was so sorry to finish the last chapter that I almost—almost—ran over to the Strand to see what they had by Merleau-Ponty. —Lorin Stein

“They worked / They worked / They worked / and they died / They died broke / They died owing / They died never knowing / what the front entrance / of the first national city bank looks like.” Pedro Pietri wrote “Puerto Rican Obituary” in 1969, after having served in Vietnam. There’s no mention of that war in the poem, but there’s a strong sense of futility, death, and disaffection that must have been informed by witnessing the violence of war and then coming home to unfulfilled dreams. “Obituary” is the first poem in City Lights’ new collection of the late poet’s work, much of which is otherwise only available in out-of-print or photocopied editions. I hadn’t heard of Pietri before reading this collection, which is a shame because he strikes me as the Ginsberg of the post-Vietnam era—combining politics, race, and the personal in performative poetry. His lines are propulsive and witty, especially in the playful “Telephone Booth” series, which reads like a flirtatious midnight conversation: “because I do not / want to make / future generations /  lose sleep I / will do my very best / not to influence / anyone regardless / of what a nice ass / they seem to have.” —Nicole Rudick 
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The Phantoms of the Fifteenth Arrondissement

December 28, 2015 | by

We’re away until January 4, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2015. Please enjoy, and have a happy New Year!

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Caillois ca. 1975. Photo: R. Minnaert

In an unremarkable section of Paris, Roger Caillois saw hiding places for “floating beings.”

Pity the Fifteenth! Paris’s most populous arrondissement is also one of its least celebrated. Stretching from the Front de Seine high-rises in the northwest to the Tour de Montparnasse in the southeast, the Fifteenth is sleepy, residential, and architecturally undistinguished. Home to minor government agencies and the headquarters of various corporations, its streets and thoroughfares are named for military officers, former colonial possessions, inventors, and Émile Zola, France’s dullest great novelist. Rue des Entrepreneurs intersects Rue de Commerce, where it branches off into Rue de l’Église and Rue Mademoiselle, which gives a good indication of what was on the minds of the men who incorporated the small suburban villages of Grenelle, Javel, and Vaugirard into the metropolis in the early years of the Second Empire. To make matters worse, the Fifteenth is tantalizingly adjacent to some of Paris’s genuine landmarks, like the Eiffel Tower, located just across the Avenue de Suffren in the Seventh, the Cimetière Montparnasse, on the other side of the neighborhood’s eponymous and much-reviled skyscraper, or the tony apartment buildings on right bank of the Pont de Bir-Hakeim.

Yet this is Paris, and even the most unremarkable stretches of Zone 1 have their devoted mythographers. Born in 1913 in Reims, the jack-of-all-genres Roger Caillois knew something about being fame-adjacent. If you were to look at the faded group photographs of some of the most important avant-garde literary movements of the twentieth century, you would see him, in the background, with his thick eyebrows and chubby cheeks, manuscript in hand, ready to launch into a lecture about his latest intellectual obsession: mimicry, ludology, the sacred, gemstones, secret societies, science fiction, the City of Light. As a student at the prestigious École pratique des hautes études, Caillois became acquainted with the works of pioneering philosophers and anthropologists like Alexandre Kojève and Marcel Mauss. He was a member of the surrealists until a disagreement with André Breton over the nature of a Mexican jumping bean got him kicked out of the movement. He went on to found a discussion group, the Collège de Sociologie, with fellow excommunicant George Bataille, contributing articles to Bataille’s journal Acéphale while skipping the meetings of his secret society, one of which notoriously involved a serious discussion about a ritual sacrifice of one of the members. Walter Benjamin loathed him, but nevertheless included several citations from his writings on Paris in The Arcades Project. In Buenos Aires, where Caillois, a militant antifascist, spent the war years, he met Victoria Ocampo, the editor of the journal Sur. Ocampo was responsible for publishing some of the leading lights of what would become known as the Latin American Boom. Upon his return to France, Caillois took up a position at UNESCO, using his influence there to introduce the French reading public to his new friends Jorge Luis Borges, Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda, and Silvina Ocampo. Read More >>

Short Stories Are the New Snickers Bars, and Other News

November 17, 2015 | by

This (apparently married) person is getting ready to read some complimentary short fiction.

  • Are you the proprietor or manager of a commuter-rail system, an office, a truck stop, or a faculty lounge? Have you found that your employees and/or customers are dissatisfied with your current vending-machine offerings? Would you like to be on the cutting edge of dispensation technology, allowing your workers to nourish not just their bodies but their minds at the touch of a button? If you said yes to any of the above, or even if you agreeably shrugged, consider investing in these short-story vending machines by Short Édition. They’re a hit in Grenoble. “The free stories are available at the touch of a button, printing out on rolls of paper like a till receipt. Readers are able to choose one minute, three minutes or five minutes of fiction … Users are not able to choose what type of story—romantic, fantastical or comic—they would like to read.”
  • By 1966, teen music magazines had phenomenal names—Disc and Music Echo, Record Mirror, Fabulous 208, Rave, Mirabelle, Boyfriend, Jackie—and, better still, they really had their fingers on the pulse: in their pages, teens could find frank, thoughtful discussions of culture and politics. “These magazines collectively sold over a million copies every week. They both reflected and shaped the messages broadcast by pop musicians to teens … Most of the writers were young—some of them even in their teens—and were, or had recently been part of the culture that they reported on … In general these magazines constituted a thorough investigation of the teenage mindset, its hopes, its obsessions, its fears and aspirations. Because, in 1966, pop was for youth: coverage in mainstream newspapers and monthlies was comparatively rare … It was the arena of the time, but not burdened with self-consciousness or filtered through an excess of opinion and ego.”
  • While we’re in the sixties: William Blake, though he’d died more than a century earlier, was a countercultural icon because of his sexual permissiveness. Leo Damrosch’s new biography, Eternity’s Sunrise, complicates that legacy: “Blake was frequently invoked as a representative of liberation and ‘positive’ sexuality. The great chorus was: ‘Everything that lives is holy.’ But in fact Blake ‘was always aware that sex can be a means of exerting control.’ He was increasingly ‘tormented’ by the subject and drew naked bodies that were ‘unerotic, and at times positively repellent,’ a term of revulsion Damrosch later repeats … Here he takes on board the new feminist criticism of Blake, citing the scholar Helen Bruder: Blake was ‘by turns a searching critic of patriarchy but also a hectoring misogynist.’ ”
  • On the long, tortured history between literature and the weather: “Our earliest stories about the weather concerned beginnings and endings. What emerged from the cold and darkness of the void will return to it; waters that receded at the origin of the world will rise at its end. It is easy, in grim climatological times, to be drawn to the far pole of these visions … But apocalyptic stories are ultimately escapist fantasies, even if no one escapes. End-times narratives offer the terrible resolution of ultimate destruction. Partial destruction, displacement, hunger, want, weakness, loss, need—these are more difficult stories.”
  • Moon Hoon, an architect based in Seoul, pours plenty of whimsy into his designs—he’s responsible for Wind House, a home boasting a large, golden tower shaped like a duck’s head—but in his doodles he really goes for broke. Hoon “creates fantastical, stunningly detailed images whose wild creativity bring to mind, among other things, 1960s Radical Futurism, Russian Constructivism, and Transformers … Just the other day, he says, his creativity was triggered by a tray of delivery food that looked like a hat. Other sources of inspiration have included cars, planes, warships, Japanese animation, Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, and watching movies backwards.”

Ham on Rye

October 7, 2015 | by

John Barrymore in 1920.

Some years ago, a friend who works in real estate let me see the Greenwich Village apartment that had belonged to John Barrymore; I had read about it and was thrilled to see the interior. Today its rent is beyond the reach of most mortals, but even when Barrymore moved there, in 1917, the building had a distinct bohemian chic—it had been remodeled by the architect Josephine Wright Chapman. Still, the nineteenth-century row house was modest by matinee-idol standards. Barrymore took the place while he was appearing on Broadway in Hamlet. He was not yet considered tragic or ridiculous or a parody of himself, though he was on the way.

To the modern eye, the light-filled studio with its window seat, skylight, and fireplace are magical enough, even with a tiny bedroom and no real kitchen—indeed, this sort of adds to the charm. Up a narrow ladder, on the roof, was a hut that Barrymore had built: a single weatherproofed room with a vaulted ceiling. The playwright Paul Rudnick rented the studio in the 1980s, and as he wrote in the New Yorker, he was “smitten.” Read More »