Allan Wexler – Absurd Thinking: Between Art and Design

Allan Wexler – Absurd Thinking: Between Art and Design, edited by Ashley Simone with the close collaboration of Ellen Wexler. With contributions by Patricia C. Phillips, Sean Anderson and Michele Calzavara.

On amazon USA and UK.

Lars Müller Publishers write: Absurd Thinking: Between Art and Design is a survey of work by artist/architect Allan Wexler. The book features projects developed across the artist’s forty-five-year career that mediate the gap between fine and applied art using the mediums of architecture, sculpture, photography, painting, and drawing. Wexler’s works can be broadly described as tactile poetry composed by re-framing the ordinary. They sustain a narrative about landscape, nature, and the built environment that highlights the intriguing and surprising characteristics latent in the elements and rituals that pervade daily life. Wexler’s work is sometimes functional sometimes theoretical, and often a hybrid of the two. In all cases, it demonstrates a commitment to re-evaluating basic assumptions about the human relationship to the built and natural environments.

Allan Wexler, Wall (I Want to Become Architecture), 2002

Allan Wexler, Drawing Water, 2002

Allan Wexler trained as an architect. Yet, he seems to have no respect for the axioms, logic, language and guidelines that govern the practice. Gravity is of little consequence to him and he has no concern for hierarchies between disciplines. In his work, the mundane gets ritualized, the sublime is desacralized.

Wexler, however, understands spaces better than most starchitects. His work makes you look at the spaces we inhabit and the way we inhabit them in a radically new way. By dissecting the basic functionalities of the habitat and decoding its individual components, Wexler extends our definition and perception of architecture. He’s never made any building but he’s been a prolific maker of thought-provoking sculptures, wearable contraptions, wooden disruption and puzzling structures.

“My intent is to have people look at what I might call the softer, irrational side of architecture,” he says. Absurd Thinking: Between Art and Design certainly achieves this ambition! It is a fantastic book. First of all because it made me laugh (when there’s usually very little in architecture or design books that make me smile). But mostly because even Wexler’s earliest ideas and projects still resonate, disconcert and seduce today. I was particularly impressed with some of the works presented in the chapter “Public Places”. He created some basic forms of social media in the early 1970s, suggested that vending machines could be used to bring art and archives outside of the usual cultural spaces and planned to turn the recently-built World Trade Center into a set of massive interactive facades.

Have a look at this very small selection of his works:

Allan Wexler, Cone of Vision, 2016

One of his “wearable constructions that disrupt the senses.”

Allan Wexler, How to Build a Digital Brick Wall, 2009

Allan Wexler, Modern Construction for Bricklayers, 2007

“An exploration of the relationship between the handcraft and computercraft. A brick mouse is used to construct a drawing of a brick wall. The amount of time, sweat, blistering and physical exhaustion to make the drawing of a brick wall is equivalent to the amount of time, sweat, blistering and physical exhaustion of an actual bricklayer.”

Allan Wexler, Building for Water Collection with Buckets, 1994

“Rain falls onto the pitched roof of the building and collected in the buckets that hang along the roofs edge. As each bucket fills, the weight of the water becomes heavier than its counterweight and the bucket drops to the ground, providing water for human use. Because the buckets are different sizes they fall and rise at different rates.”

Allan Wexler, Crate Bed, part of Crate House which compresses an entire house in an eight-feet cube and four crates, 1990

In the book, Wexler explains that “This project is a response to Le Corbusier’s concept of a home as a machine for living. It is a nonfunctional look at a function.”

Allan Wexler, Engagement, 2012

Allan Wexler, Spice Box for the Havdalah Service, 2005

Allan Wexler, ID Shirt, 1971

Long before social media, Wexler imagined that if enough people filled in this t-shirt/questionnaire and wore it in public, connections would spontaneously emerge.

Allan Wexler, Rhode Island School of Design Mechanical Museum, 1971

The RISD Mechanical Museum decentralizes the museum by using vending machines as temporary exhibition spaces.

Allan Wexler, Proposal for the Manhattan Skyline, World Trade Center, 1973 and 1976

I am interested in simple solutions that make a big impact so I proposed the redesign of the surfaces of the towers using only the light switches, the window shades and the labor of the cleaning staff. Each evening the cleaning person consults a calendar positioned at each window of the building to determine if a light is to be left on or a window shade adjusted. ON/OFF – the binary system in operation. The illusion is that World Trade Center’s facade is sliced, dissected, rearranged, or transformed into other facades.

Wexler teaches in the School of Constructed Environments at Parsons the New School for Design in New York City and he seems to be one of the most inspiring teacher you can wish for:

Inside the book: