University of British Columbia (Courtney)



Aug '08 - May '09

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    Thesis Reviews: The Tyranny of a Posture

    Thesis reviews were last Saturday, they were pretty awesome... i took a bit of a calculated risk and decided to develop my presentation as a theater performance since my project was about a bunch of theaters in Manhattan's first "official" cultural district, so about six weeks ago i stared working with my director/producer friend, Danielle Marleau, who just started her own production company out here called Black Pants, she gathered together three very talented local performers, Stefano Giulianetti, M. Pyress Flame and Priscilla Costa. We met weekly to develop the piece; I would bring them the text and images i was working on and they helped bring the architectural theories and concepts to life in a series of vignettes. I was pretty nervous that it would totally bomb and the critics would be crabby, etc. but in the end it was actually really well received - save for a few detractors - that i'll get back to later...

    here's a link to the PERFORMANCE in it's entirety, i left out the comments at the end to respect people's privacy, but it did spark an interesting debate about culture and development in the city. My whole project was based on the fact that the cultural district distinction marks a change in preservation policy, and for the first time preserves a type of USE and not only bricks or cornices. I did a little study on Lincoln Center and talked about how this new cultural district was an opportunity to re-imagine the future of culture in the city, basically asking "what if Lincoln Center had been built without clearing the slum?" using the Fourth Arts Block's new found unity to interrogate the structures of ownership/taxation/liability made physical in the extrusion of the lot line producing the serial urban condition of building - street - building...

    The best reaction for me was that every time i glanced at the audience they were smiling from ear to ear and afterwards the number of people who came up to tell me how inspired they felt and how excited they were about architecture in that moment, that they felt like they really wanted to go out and do something. My professor, George, gave me a hug, told me it was "magnificent," that i should look at the life that was in the room in that minute and enjoy it, because i had created it. That felt really good, and also that the non-architects in the room could actually get into it as well, and understand the architectural concepts through the combination of diagrams, drawings and performance, especially because i've suffered pretty severely all semester from over-academicized language and terribly awkward presentations where i couldn't get my ideas across coherently.

    anyway, while most of the comments were positive, there were a few that thought my intervention would obliterate the existing culture rather than free it. They felt that i should consider the art that happens in "basements and back alleys, etc." but I really think that these comments stem from an insistence in romanticizing the ghetto in a "oh, isn't it great how poor people are so resourceful, let's make architecture that honours their history of squalor." I felt my project was more about calling attention to the increased and empty lip service to culture, paid by city governments while they simultaneously and increasingly disinvest in that same culture. By selling their dilapidated property to these small organizations, the city gets to pat itself on the back for supporting the arts, while foisting off the burden of renovation, instead of contributing real financial and material assistance to the arts groups that have slowly and meaningfully contributed to their neighborhood and the city's cultural vitality over the past 40 years. My project for the FAB Center is a call for the city to view this kind of culture and creative community involvement as valuable at the same level that they view Lincoln Center as valuable to the cities cultural hegemony.

    The other comments that i keep replaying were about trying to decipher the "spirit of stoopness" in my project, because i did a little study on stoops, lightwells and vacant lots being the kind of deviations to the cities structure where the project could take root, where non-profit ideas met a for-profit system and deformed it, and that there had been a "mass destoopification" on the block whose retrofits didn't work out an equal exchange - but, in the excess of a thesis, i had also bridged across the street at the second floor level deciding the bridge could be a sort of stage over the road for the spontaneous street theater that FAB seems to want. But a critic thought that stoop and "skybridge" were polar opposites, the "skybridge" being a quintessential megastructure master planning move, and the stoop a kind of small scale local intervention. While other critics stepped in to defend the project and my position, one said to me later "you know when you get someone to say 'spirit of stoopness' you've got them in your pocket." I couldn't help feel like there was just some lazy reciting from the "evils of modernism" handbook we all cart around with us without actually looking or listening to what this particular "skybridge" might have offered... which brings me to the title of this post... the tyranny of a posture.

    i was listening to an interview with Leonard Cohen on the radio the other day, the interviewer asked about his writing process lately. Cohen said that it's actually been really hard to write in the past few years because the slogans are clogging up the airwaves. the interviewer asked for clarification, what do you mean by slogans?. Cohen answered that its a kind of "tyranny of a posture," about what is "right," a version of political correctness that makes it very difficult to produce art within a narrowly accepted scope of issues such as the environment, the homeless, or social justice, not that he is not interested in these things but that there seems to be only one way to discuss them, the "right way".

    For me the tyranny of a posture continues when it becomes difficult to talk about architecture, especially in school, unless it is directly and didactically dealing with issues of sustainability or the poor, etc. It plays into general public opinions that i was dealing with on my site that all change is inherently bad, institutions are inherently bad, and architecture is inherently bad. When someone comments on my project and says, well why can't these groups just renovate their spaces themselves, or that the skybridge is evil or that i should consider more the little guy making art in the back alley, it is a tyranny of a posture that refuses to imagine a bigger and brighter future, which seems like a basic tenet of the architectural profession, the basis of my project being connecting that bright future to the fabric of the past, or the Historicity of a Cultural Center.

    Lastly, I will just mention, while i have the floor, that the majority of positive and constructive comments came from the female critics while the crabby comments came from men, I have been thinking alot about Susan Surface's thread about Robert Stern's sexist comments at Yale, and couldn't help feel some latent-feminist rage at his and some other bloggers comments. The entire morning of my presentation people (all male) were coming up to me saying "so, i hear you're gonna do a dance" "um, no, i am going to present my thesis!" and that if a guy had done what i did on saturday there would be no question that he was a super genius but somehow because i'm a girl, it's viewed as silly and frivolous. I would really like some of these men to realize that the way they speak to female students is often way more condescending than the way they speak to male students, they seem to look for holes in women's arguments and assume we do not know how to put a building together much more readily than our male counterparts. In my daily life, I walk around and generally feel like a person, a human being, Courtney, and then there are these situations, like reviews, when I am spoken to in a certain way, and I realize, "oh, wait, you're not really a person, you're a girl, a girl-architect making girly architecture," and that is NOT OKAY. But, more importantly, i should be able to be myself, whatever that is, and not have to emulate how men think or work or organize their time or projects, but that the way I and other women work and function might be just as credible and valuable to society and the profession.

    Okay, that's enough, I'm sufficiently agitated... here are some photos from the day, unfortunately, in the craziness of presenting, i have no photos of other people's projects, but it was definitely a solid group of projects, here's a link to the pdf of project descriptions again... we had a reception and exhibition of our work from Thurusday - Saturday and just submitted our thesis books yesterday... one more all-nighter... and that's it! DONE DONE DONE!!! I started [or resumed] work two days later with local Public Art Practice, Jill Anholt Studio, which is great so far, and not worrying about scrounging for any old job that comes along helps too...

    and tomorrow... the World!

    Thanks for listening, Archinecters, i really enjoyed blogging this year and stirring the pot a bit at UBC SALA, there was obviously some backlash from some of my posts calling out flaky professors and what not, that somehow i am airing private matters that should be dealt with privately, while i think i was well within my rights to use my blogging powers to say "hey administration, this is a BIG problem, do something about it" especially when there are websites like Rate your Professor that allow completely anonymous and unqualified statements about professors, personal or otherwise, this is the world we live in now - issues of privacy are a little more slippery. imageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimage



    • will gallowaywill galloway
      May 6, 09 4:23 am

      too tired to watch the link right now, but the idea is brilliant.

      great blog. the friction seems fruitful from where i sit, so well done and congrats on finishing.

      Nam HendersonNam Henderson
      May 6, 09 8:36 am

      A dance does seem like a genius way to present especially given topic.
      Plus, it is always interesting to come at something from a different perspective/posture....
      Mix and match and interdisciplinary.

      Courtney Healey
      May 6, 09 10:25 am

      thank, guys! been nice chatting with you...

      May 6, 09 2:05 pm
      the majority of positive and constructive comments came from the female critics while the crabby comments came from men

      I have often, very often noticed this phenomenon. In school it was very noticeable. Nowadays, many many times I am the only woman sitting on a jury so it's harder to tell if it's just me or a common phenomenon...
      Courtney Healey
      May 6, 09 10:08 pm

      i think i grew up in some sort of bubble where men and women were equal, and managed, somehow, to surround myself with lots of smart/competent/talented women in most situations prior to architecture school... making the attitudes i found there all the more shocking...

      i am sure most "women-architects" have felt this... but i think what really gets to me is when men who are otherwise, or consider themselves to be, fair/balanced/gender neutral/whatever, still come out with these comments and i look around the room shocked like "did anyone else hear that!?!" and people are just sitting there taking it... all i can say is keep fighting the good fight, mantaray... and dudes, get a little honest with yourselves and fess up to your prejudices already...

      chatter of clouds
      May 7, 09 3:49 am

      the most pointed, and may would say the harshest, criticism during project reviews at my school actually came from some women professors. they also were the more educated and intelligent. and they could be as 'nasty' to the girls (many girls claim nasteir still - the woman-on-woman insiduous violence trope i suspect) as to the boys.
      still, i wouldn't draw those faultlines seperating a male style (or inclinations thereto) of criticism from a female style of criticism.

      as for the case of a male architecture student dancing, i hardly think that those bigoted eyes deeming you a trivial woman-architect would deem the dancing guy a serious male architect...maybe a dancing queen ponce-architect?

      perhaps, within the billowing enclosure of your rhetoric, you might be falling victim to another sort of "tyranny of posture"?

      I also thought Surface's school blog post on the Robert Stern lecture (?) was interesting and should really have been posted on the less transient regular discussion board to garner more attention and more criticism.

      Courtney Healey
      May 7, 09 12:07 pm

      sorry, noctilucent, you're no saying anything new either... and this is a bigger argument/problem than either of our little comments can hope to encompass... the rhetoric is billowing b/c the problem is big and nebulous and increasingly difficult to pin down... as evidenced by your comment... girls can be "nasty"... wow... but aren't the "nasty" girl-on-girl comments part of the same problem, i alluded to that by saying that women should "not have to emulate how men think or work or organize their time or projects, but that the way I and other women work and function might be just as credible and valuable to the profession." but to clarify, its not about trying to categorize or define a male or female "style" of criticism or "style of working", but for the crtitics/professors (and commenters apparently) to realize that they crtiticize the other sex differently than their own and maybe they could try to be more aware of that...

      i'm trying to have the discussion, not pretend that i have all the answers or that i know what the right answer should look and feel like, i would love not to draw the line... i'd love to stick my head in the sand too... maybe we could all try working on more fruitful solutions to these problems...

      chatter of clouds
      May 7, 09 12:27 pm
      its not about trying to categorize or define a male or female "style" of criticism or "style of working"

      i alluded to that by saying that women should "not have to emulate how men think or work or organize their time or projects, but that the way I and other women work and function might be just as credible and valuable to the profession.

      you're implicitly contradicting yourself. and i'm uncomfortable with your essentialization of men, and in counterpoint, women.

      Courtney Healey
      May 7, 09 12:32 pm

      believing there is a difference without naming, defining and boxing those differences is not contradicting myself... ... pretending that men and women are exactly the same makes me uncomfortable...

      chatter of clouds
      May 7, 09 1:50 pm

      thats fine, i don't care.

      Courtney Healey
      May 7, 09 1:57 pm

      just care about having the last word, huh?

      Danielle Marleau
      May 7, 09 3:46 pm

      Hey again.

      After reading over your log about the performance/presentation and coming across your comments related to:
      "art that happens in 'basements and back alleys, etc.' but I really think that these comments stem from an insistence in romanticizing the ghetto in a 'oh, isn't it great how poor people are so resourceful, let's make architecture that honours their history of squalor.' "

      I was reminded of an observation made by Laurie Anderson on the same romantic ideal held within the arts community. Anderson makes a point of acknowledging how corporate support lead to disdain in her “New York avant-garde” community:
      “I quickly found out that in my world this was considered ‘selling-out’. . . I had been supported and protected by this network [the avant-garde]. It had always been a safe place to work, until I signed a contract with a ‘commercial’ company ... a couple of years later, (in the mid-1980’s) this process was known as ‘crossing over’ and was looked on more favorably by the avant-garde.” (Anderson, Laurie. Stories from the Nerve Bible: A Retrospective 1972-1992. New York, NY: HarperPerennial. 1994.)

      Just goes to show how pervasive a resistance there is to the idea of making art with money. Or in comfort for that matter. You have my support. I can't wait to move my work out of the back alley;)

      May 7, 09 7:02 pm

      courtney, i don't know you, but i think i would have sincerely enjoyed watching the thesis in person. i also would have made some comments about alleys, but less from a "look at what the poor can do" and more from look at what creative people are "forced" to do because they are continually marginalized. Haring, Basquiat, and Gordon Matta-Clark figured out how to activate those spaces, because they were forced to.

      congrats and have fun.

      Courtney Healey
      May 7, 09 7:14 pm

      thanks for bringing the discussion back to the core issue, danielle... sorry, i got a little sidetracked, as you know i can tend to do ;)

      this relationship between money&art/profit&nonprofit/back alleys&velvet ropes, was a central part of my project. In the transition period between last semester's research to this semester's design, or from Old World to New World i was reading stuff from Lucy Lippard, Martha Rossler, Julie Ault and others... Ault edited this great collection of essays called "How Art Matters: How The Culture Wars Changed America" which talks alot about the underlying policies and cultural shifts taking place during this change from "sellout" to "crossover"

      the problem or fear seems to be in maintaining artistic autonomy or integrity while receiving adequate financial support, coming down to the question of what a society values and is willing to support. Fighting amongst ourselves hardly helps... it's sort of the same problem in architecture... the client/patron has the money and therefore can control the art/design... koolhaas writes about the medieval nature of the architectual commission and how it needs to change...

      but really, my favourite was stefano's quote from Margaret Thatcher when questioned about funding for the arts, something like: If you give an artist one million pounds they will produce a work of art, if you give an artist one pound they will produce a work of art...

      Courtney Healey
      May 7, 09 7:28 pm

      thanks. b3tadine[sutures], obviously, it's not an either-or question, i.e. either alleys or lincoln center, more that while spaces for creative production and expression take many forms, what gets elevated to the level of city-wide recognition is often more narrow or homogenous in scope... this FAB thing is one strange exception and should be exploited, not to say all "alleys" should be...

      May 7, 09 10:23 pm

      absolutely. it's quite okay to tell those critics, that yes you have a point, but it's not a point i choose to explore or that it might be relevant for their exploration, but not yours...what i am trying to say is that it seems those on juries come with their own baggage and tend to hammer away from their POV, it doesn't make them wrong, it just makes their view, theirs.

      Courtney Healey
      May 7, 09 11:42 pm

      exactly, good advice... i am painfully aware that i need to work on my diplomacy in those sort of situations... (and most others)...

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