Aug '08 - May '09
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.