A few months ago, i interviewed Léopold Lambert about Weaponized Architecture, an architectural project and research that explores the power of architecture as a political weapon. The concept is illustrated by historical precedents, interviews and essays but it is also exemplified by a very precise situation: the impact of the Isreali occupation on the Palestinian built environment, in particular in the West Bank.
At the time of our conversation, Léopold was about to turn his research into a book. The publication is finally out (both in paperback and as an expanded mobile book) and its title is Weaponized Architecture: The Impossibility of Innocence.
It's a lovely book and one that constantly surprises the reader by the depth of the research, the thought-provoking facts and ideas brought to light, by the photos, the maps and by the graphic novel that closes the book.
I'm not going to review it. Instead, i'll take the fact that it recently landed inside my -always grateful- letterbox as an excuse to talk to Ethel Baraona Pohl and César Reyes Nájera who are both architects, bloggers and heads of dpr-Barcelona, the publishing house for Weaponized Architecture.
dpr-barcelona specializes in architecture and design books. Each of their publication is the result of a creative exchange between publisher, author or designer and the collaboration of academic experts that make most complete the overview about each project. Showing a clear innovative way to bring the contents to the public, our projects transcend the boundaries between time and space from conventional publications, approaching to those which are probably the titles of architecture in the future.
What i most admire in dpr-barcelona is that the publishing house is never afraid to question architecture, expand debates nor take risks with the way their books are presented and enjoyed.
I'm copy pasting below some extracts from my online conversation with Ethel and César, it took place just before the book was out, hence the use of the future tense:
What i most admire about dpr-Barcelona is that you don't seem to avoid politically challenging subjects. For example, when you chose to publish Situation Room, Weaponized Architecture, Un Atlas de Cartografías Radicales (the Spanish edition of An Atlas of Radical Cartography.) How do you select the books you are publishing and in some cases even translating? Do you pick up just what interest you as architects at a particular moment or do look for 'gaps' in the market?
We prefer to refer to them as gaps in the thinking. As architects we have been mostly educated through images more than ideas. Our task attempts to revert this situation by the contents we share and by the way we spread them. Coincidentally most of key issues we're facing now as civilization deals with political and economical challenging subjects. Under this scenario architects, liberated from their aesthetics constrains, could genuinely learn and collaborate with socially useful projects and ideas. We build our editorial task in that direction.
Why did you chose to publish Léopold Lambert's thesis for example? How did you come across his research?
Our relation started as most of the connections done in the "network": We noticed and follow Leopold's work since he was editing the blog Boiteaoutils. We found quite interesting mostly all of the issues he deals at the blog and finally we got in touch in 2009 to publish his project Kili No Nara in our blog. From there our connection was going beyond the blogroll, so when we published Lost in the Line, we realized that it was part of a bigger project: Weaponized Architecture.
While exploring the research done by Léopold, we realized that it was a job worth spreading to a different level. Placing its research and proposal in the West Bank, Lambert expands politically the field of architecture narratives, integrating design as a weapon within the scene of the Palestinian struggle. Here we see an act of architectural disobedience, a way to resist an establishment using architecture as a weapon with all its political implications.
How did you turn a thesis into a book? Does this involve a lot of editing, reformulating, reformating? Or did you manage to stick as closely as possible to the original text?
Even its origin is a thesis, when you go into the research and the structure proposed by Léopold, then you realize that naming it "a thesis" is just a formalism. Lambert shows in this work a clear intention of going further and works on the subject as an author committed to the subject studied. That is a sort of implication that goes beyond the limits of Academia.
So, our intervention as publishers has been minimum given that both the contents and the complete layout has been done by the author. We have done minor format adaptation for printing purposes and our main task was focused in supplementing with a publishing strategy aimed to expand the message as wider as possible by means of mobile-book version and the addition of Augmented Reality experience to some contents of the printed version facilitating multi-platform interaction to make more powerful [if possible] Léopold's commitment.
The book will have a free expanded-mobile version, which means that almost all the contents, but adapted to the logic of mobile devices (enhancing immediacy, brevity, and simplicity) will be published for free under a CC license expanding the content of the physical book. The interaction with Augmented Reality will be part of this mobile-book.
The book includes interviews with blogger Bryan Finoki and with Palestinian lawyer, novelist and political activist Raja Shehadeh and will be published both in paperback and as an expanded mobile book, with Augmented Reality [AR] interaction, so the content itself will be expanded through mobile devices.
Related entries: Book review: Atlas of the Conflict. Israel-Palestine, Open City: Designing Coexistence - Part 2, Refuge, Decolonizing Architecture - Scenarios for the transformation of Israeli settlements and Welcome to Hebron.
The Circus as a Parallel Universe, edited by curators Gerald Matt and Verena Konrad. With essays by by Birgit Peter, Matthias Christen and Verena Konrad. And interviews with pop artist Peter Blake and filmmaker Ulrike Ottinger.
Published on the occasion of the exhibition of the same name at Kunsthalle Wien.
Publisher Verlag für moderne Kunst writes: Clear the ring for the world of acrobats, clowns, and exotic animals! Presenting a number of contemporary works of art, the catalog »The Circus as a Parallel Universe« offers an introduction into the universe of the circus and highlights a wondrous place full of knowledge of the world, surprises and sensations, a place of poetry, but also of excitement, confusion, and unease. The circus as a parallel world has become a projection surface in film and literature, but also in the fine arts.
I wouldn't normally review the catalogue of an exhibition i haven't seen but i was seduced by the description of the book and its accompanying images (midgets! Anthony Quinn in La Strada!) But then i don't know much about the circus, i've never even been to the circus. Not because i have that "clowns freak me out" affectation but because i've always been so sad for the animals.
Still, there is something unique and endlessly appealing about the whole circus aesthetics though: the garish colour, the merry silhouette of the tents, the posters, the costumes (which i do wear on some occasions) and Moira Orfei (do click with sound to max volume). Don't laugh at Moira, she used to be the most beautiful creature of Italy. I just wish she'd leave those tigers alone.
The book has the usual format of a catalogue: a series of essays and then a few pages about each artists participating to the show, plenty of images and a couple of interviews thrown in. The essays are particularly good at identifying the rules and roles of the circus. On the one hand it's a world of escape and dreams. A world where social conventions, animal behaviour and even the laws of physics are challenged. But it is also a microcosm that sets very clear limits to its own transgressions, makes a business of violating norms and requires that its members operate within a strict framework.
The text The Circus as a Model of the World charts the intertwining histories of circus and cinema. Both shared the same venues, the same audiences and the nomadic lifestyle in the early days of the cinema. They might not have so much in common right now but the movie industry has never stopped looking at circus as a source of inspiration (apparently some 600 circus films have already been produced in 30 countries.) The essay Taste and Prejudice, however, demonstrates that the circus isn't meeting with the same appreciation as the other sources of entertainment. While theatre and circus used to compete in the 19th century for example, it is now obvious that one is now regarded as a form of art while the other doesn't meet with the same respect.
The interviews in the book are as enjoyable and though-provoking as the essays. They would, however, benefit from some context or at least a short introduction. For example, the interviewer kept asking Peter Blake about his collection. If i hadn't seen an exhibition about that collection two years ago, i wouldn't have received much information about it from the interview only.
I've said a few words about the essays, the interviews, the images are as good as you can hope in a catalogue. Let's talk about the small texts explaining the works exhibited by each artist. Actually there's only one thing i can say about them and it is that they are in german only! The whole book is in english and german except the part dedicated to the individual works. Why be so cruel? Why translate one half of the book and leave the other part in german only? Still, i did discover a few works i liked a lot. That Deborah Sengl does animal anthropomorphism like no one else.
The artists selected have found inspiration in the circus in its childhood entertainment form (as opposed to glamourous Cirque du Soleil-like performances), reconstructing part of its magic, decoding its figures and metaphors, extending its boundaries. Here's just a small selection of their work:
In 2005, Javier Téllez organized a parade of patients from Mexicali's CESAM mental health center. They were protesting against general views on mental illness in today's society. The procession stopped in Las Playas, a Mexican town on the US-Mexico border for the first-ever firing of a human cannonball over an international border: from Mexico to the US.
In the installation illustrated below, light chains hanging from the ceiling move up and down. The installation is activated by a person pedalling on an exercise bike.
Publisher Routeledge says: In an accessible yet complex way, Rebekah Modrak and Bill Anthes explore photographic theory, history and technique to bring photographic education up-to-date with contemporary photographic practice. Reframing Photography is a broad and inclusive rethinking of photography that will inspire students to think about the medium across time periods, across traditional themes, and through varied materials. Intended for both beginners and advanced students, and for art and non-art majors, and practicing artists, Reframing Photography compellingly represents four concerns common to all photographic practice: vision, light/shadow, reproductive processes, editing/ presentation/ evaluation.
I'm guilty of a serious case of Judging a Book by its Cover. The indecisiveness in picking up a single image for the cover put me off. Once you open the book, i can't say that the design gets much more appealing (although it is remarkably effective) but the content is literally mind-blowing. Bringing together rigorous theory, idiot proof 'how to' tutorials, artistic works that illustrate each concept and method might sound a bit too much for a sole book written by only two authors but somehow, it works. Theory, techniques and illustrative works complement each other efficiently.
The texts are extremely rigorous and well-researched but the authors never take readers' knowledge of any concept nor reference for granted. Nothing is too pedestrian: the tutorials are extremely detailed and info boxes regularly pop up on the side to explain in few words what is a magic lantern, a chiaroscuro or an installation. Who is Lacan, why Bauhaus matters.
Reframing Photography is probably not a book you'd want to read from cover to cover in one afternoon (it's 500 dense pages, my friend!) I headed to chapters presenting the work of the artists, looking for new names as much as new perspectives on artists i already knew. In the coming weeks i'll probably be back inside the book for the step-by-step on how to construct a pinhole camera and use it. I'm also quite tempted by the one detailing how to hand-colour black and white images.
Another quality of the book is that it doesn't abstract photography from its social context, discussing issues such as censorship in military operation, the place of photography in social networks like facebook, or comparing notions of originality and reproduction in photography to the same notions in genetics, etc. I learnt a lot from the paragraphs dedicated to the right to photograph, the authors not only explain that private parties have no right to confiscate your film if they don't have a court order, they also explain how to handle confrontation.
Reframing Photography: Theory and Practice is accompanied by a website of the same name. The online resource is so action-packed i sometimes wondered if the publishers were not shooting themselves in the foot.
Here's a few works i discovered in the book:
With Objective Distortions, Garth Amundson questions photography by manipulating the image with lenses made from recycled water bottles.
Rebecca Cummins converts trucks, buses and mobile homes into moving camera obscuras.
Somewhere in France, long before Cindy Sherman:
Shizuka Yokomizo sent an anonymous letter to people living in ground-floor apartments asking them if they could stand in their front window at a specified date and time, for them to be photographed. Anyone unwilling to participate, they are suggested to draw their curtains. Because the seance takes place at night, Yokomizo's subjects can only see the photographer as a dark silhouette.
Just because i love Edward S. Curtis' photos:
German expressionists were pioneers in the art of playing with shadows:
I love that movie btw, and it's now in the public domain in the US.
The Sky's the Limit - Applying Radical Architecture, edited by Robert Klanten, Sven Ehmann and Sofia Borges.
Publisher Gestalten writes: Thanks to innovations in building materials, design technologies, and construction tools, a new generation of architects can finally realize structures that would have previously remained mere dreams. This emergence of a new vernacular of radically sculpted buildings, rooms, and installations melds rigorous usability with a playful and cutting edge aesthetic, facilitating highly functional yet undeniably exhilarating spaces.
The Sky's the Limit serves as a compelling exploration of these seemingly impossible, yet surprisingly practical structures and spaces. Unleashing the creative potential offered by the latest developments in design and construction, this book presents spectacularly formed buildings, façades, and interiors as well as inspiring temporary projects and urban interventions by both young and established talents. The projects featured here have all been built, are actively in use, and transport us to the outer limits of our spatial imagination.
The Sky's the Limit - Applying Radical Architecture shows architecture that defies inhibition and doctrines but its 'radical' element shouldn't be confused with the critical investigations of Archigram or Superstudio. Many of the buildings presented in the book have been commissioned by major cultural, political and religious institutions and by business organizations. They act as striking symbols of their power. Given the high number of ambitious buildings erected in Spain, one can also suspect that they were commissioned and financed long before the crisis that is bringing Europe to its knees.
One thing is sure though, every single building in the book is arresting, unique and worthy of more newspaper columns than The Shard and other candidates in the race for tallest skyscraper.
The chapters in the book divide radical architecture into:
The Sky's the Limit is a collection of cutting-edge buildings. And it is a remarkably well-curated collection. But don't expect detailed descriptions of the technology used, of the challenges encountered or the impact the building had on the people who work inside it or live around it. This is a coffee table book, theory is scarce.
Another thing! This is probably not the place for such comment: but why is architecture literature suddenly so fond of the preposition 'atop'?
Still, i loved that book, its content is magnificent. Quick selection:
Spaceport America in New Mexico, the world's first commercial space terminal.
Invisible from a distance, the Moses Bridge is a wooden passageway that parts a river in two.
The terminal, control tower and storage spaces of the Aeroport Lleida-Alguaire are drawn in a continuous line, forming a single construction.
A playground structure turned into a joyous pavilion covered in funhouse mirrors and wood panels.
Twelve buildings shaped like archetypal houses and stacked upon one another.
The 4-story building has plants in lieu of a façade, as well as floor-to-ceiling windows and curtains to make up for the absence of interior walls.
On the coastal border between Turkey and Georgia:
A concerte building for the employees of the Paris transportation system. Shaped like a ship with round windows.
Ordos Museum is covered in metal tiles that can stand violent sandstorms.
Little Hilltop with Wind View, a 8 meter-tall viewing tower commissioned by a Japanese wind power company, allows people to admire the landscape as well as the company's wind turbines. The light and flexible building is also responsive to the wind, swaying slightly on its platform when the wind blows. Like a tree in the breeze.
Views inside the book:
The Art of Not Making: The New Artist / Artisan Relationship, by Michael Petry.
Publisher Thames & Hudson writes: Can an artist claim that an object is a work of art if it has been made for him or her by someone else? If so, who is the 'author' of such a work? And just what is the difference between a work of art and a work of craft?
The Art of Not Making tackles these questions head on, exploring the concepts of authorship, artistic originality, skill, craftsmanship and the creative act, and highlighting the vital role that skills from craft and industrial production play in the creation of some of today's most innovative and sought-after works of art.
Michael Petry presents the art of over 115 contemporary artists - including Takashi Murakami, Matthew Barney, Tony Cragg, Cornelia Parker, Grayson Perry, Ai Weiwei, Daniel Buren and Carsten Höller - all of whom have one thing in common: they do not always make their own work. Instead, they often either employ others to produce it on their behalf, or appropriate objects made by someone else. Original interviews with the artists and artisans offer insights into this creative collaboration, which often produces works breathtaking in their scope and ambition.
Painters of the Renaissance did it, Damien Hirst does it and so does Takashi Murakami. Marcel Duchamp became one of the most influential artists in history for doing it. Each of these artists rely on external assistance to 'do their job.' Some have an idea for an artwork and entrust an assistant or the expert of another discipline or craft to actually make the whole piece. Others delegate only part of the process. We know that. Yet, in the mind of the public, the artist is still this individual of great mind, impeccable dexterity and expertise who's behind every single element of his work.
Interestingly, Michael Petry draws parallels with cinema. A film is the result of a collaborative effort between actors, technicians, assistants, writers, etc. Yet, we never question the fact that it is the film director who is credited as the maker of the film.
Petry believes that the rise in this partnership between the artist and the artisan is partly due to the return in favour of a highly crafted aesthetic in art, an aesthetic that contrasts with the mass-manufactured one. Another factor is that museums and galleries need to create 'spectacles' that will attract visitors, and that often entails works of spectacular proportions, a challenge that usually requires the involvement of more than one person/skill.
The author had the pragmatic idea of interviewing (or maybe he had an assistant do it for him?) artists as well as professional makers and artists who work for other artists. He asks them the reason for their collaboration, how they deal with production issues, authorship issues and what happens when one of the parties is not satisfied with the final object.
The book is quite light in theory (since The Art of Not Making is one of those coffee table trophies, theories was probably not the whole point anyway) but it still manages to provide a historical perspective, a few thought-provoking ideas, many questions and almost as many leads to help readers answer them for themselves. It also contains hundreds of illustrations and for each artwork, the author attempts to retrace the production and the technical skills necessary to complete the piece.
A mushroom cloud weighting several tons and made of brass cooking utensils.
Wool tapestry based on an engraving showing rioters burning and looting an orphanage in New York, partly hidden by the hand-cut felt silhouette of the hanged woman.
Rug produced by hand by women rugmakers in Arraiolos, Portugal, using a traditional needlepoint stitching technique invented there.
The artist collected dead fighting dogs and lapdogs and had them stuffed and preserved by professional taxidermists.
I'll never get tired of this one! Working with a taxidermist, the artist had the life-size cast made from a living animal. Body is made of polyvinyl, polyurethane foam and polyester resin. Eyes and horns are made of glass.
Shedboatshed (Mobile Architecture No 2) is a real wooden shed that the artist bought, dismantled, reassembled into a boat which he rowed down the Rhine, dismantled then reassembled again as a shed to be exhibited in a Basel museum.
Houshiary and architect Pip Horne oversaw the fabrication of handmade clear-glass panels which were etched with patterns based on her paintings. The new window replaces the one that had been damaged by WWII bombings.
Branching bronchia of a human lung made from glass and partially wrapped in silk extracted from the golden orb weaver spider. The silk is being developed for use in bullet-proof vests.
Doves made from Murano glass, then covered in ink.
Alternative and Activist New Media, by Leah Lievrouw.
Publisher Politi writes: Alternative and Activist New Media provides a rich and accessible overview of the ways in which activists, artists, and citizen groups around the world use new media and information technologies to gain visibility and voice, present alternative or marginal views, share their own DIY information systems and content, and otherwise resist, talk back to, or confront dominant media culture. Today, a lively and contentious cycle of capture, cooptation, and subversion of information, content, and system design marks the relationship between the mainstream 'center' and the interactive, participatory 'edges' of media culture.
Five principal forms of alternative and activist new media projects are introduced, including the characteristics that make them different from more conventional media forms and content. The book traces the historical roots of these projects in alternative media, social movements, and activist art, including analyses of key case studies and links to relevant electronic resources. Alternative and Activist New Media will be a useful addition to any course on new media and society, and essential for readers interested in new media activism.
I might have covered many books and exhibitions that demonstrate how artists use technology to protest, campaign, challenge institutions, or express social and political concerns but i still had to review a book that studied alternative and activist new media from an 'Information Studies' or purely social point of view. This one was written by a professor in the Department of Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles and it has the (rare) merit of including contemporary art practices in its field of investigation.
Leah Lievrouw looks at what she calls the five basic genres of contemporary alternative and activist new media: Culture Jamming (think of the Billboard Liberation Front or ®TMark), Alternative Computing (hacking), Participatory Journalism (e.g. Indymedia, blogs), Mediated Mobilization (the Arab Spring) and Commons Knowledge (Wikipedia). She goes from defining elementary concepts (such as "what makes new media 'new'") to detailing recent theories and observations in a seamless and impeccable way.
She describes Alternative and Activist New Media, traces back their antecedents, weights their strengths and weaknesses in, pits them against their mainstream/institutionalized equivalent, analyzes their rise from fringe to (almost) mainstream, sums up the debates surrounding this 'new media ecology', and illustrates each 'genre' with a case study.
Alternative and Activist New Media is a book for students. Of media, new media, communication, sociology, media art. This is also a book for people like you and me. People who've been using wikipedia for years, who blog, who know about The Yes Men's "identity correction" performances. People who are familiar with the language and concepts of Alternative and Activist New Media. But does that mean that our insight doesn't need more structure and a solid historical background?
Elvis, my young Staffie, was a equally enthusiastic about the book (or maybe equally unimpressed by the design of its cover) ....
Image on the homepage: The Yes Men's golden skeleton.