Most everything north

Most everything north of the Capitol, before I got to West MLK, was closed. An off assortment of daycare centers, old law offices, and a bootmaker lined the street in low-slung 1960s far-past-modernism main street USA storefronts made of deep-raked painted-over brick or stucco with mold constellations. They felt like they were turning their backs on me. The gold foil lettering on the plate glass blistered. I loved stretches like this where the glass was so black and dirty and the spaces so dark or dim that I could place myself in them via reflection and transparency. But also I stop to try to pick something out of their architecture. Mack and Merrill stress their fascination with the glimmers of vernacular brilliance. I think the thing that is attractive is their longevity and/or their evolutionary purity. They are either still here forty years later because of their nasty tenacity or because when built they had already existed in such an advanced form of their evolutionary development that they had no problems left to solve; they were rooted. I think what excited me was the former. Because if these places were so perfect they would still be building the same things today, and in many cases they are, and I certainly don’t give a shit about the new ones. Do I respect strip malls because they are the perfection of hollow consumption? No. But I would pressure myself to collect some gem of experience from a thirty-year-old strip because of its tenacity. I’ve noticed that in these languishing manifestations there is always some architectural absurdity, whether at the detail level or up to the spatial configuration (Executive Office Building in Decatur). Sometimes these absurdities have been born out of their longevity through generations of tenants, trends, and tarnish. It turns them more into a palimpsest. But what is truly interesting is the design solution that must have seemed so right or so convenient at the time, and maybe even served some specialized purpose or condition that has festered on the building throughout the years. The tenacity of the building itself is more impressive to me than the pig-headed tenacity of the architect in the design and construction process because it is up against so much more, and the only voice that the building does have is the cost estimate of the contractor, the enemy of its idealization during construction. Contractors don’t like to change things. So, in the confusion, these buildings simply have more mysteries to figure out.

I like to take pictures of symmetrical things or frame the pictures with symmetrical balance. It removes the things from their contexts or more firmly roots them in their context. Those two approaches are, I think, the conscious tendencies that cause art and architecture to be more than objects and buildings. These are the two roads of our aspirations. That context, I an expanded field (thanks Ms. Krauss) should include not only the physical site but also the context of convention or of lineage.

What is curious about art or architecture that connects to its context is the gestalt that is established between who is affecting whom. Remaining with the vehicle of symmetry, the building that approached the bilateral condition in nature with an aim to complete or participate in it could be seen as a component in the natural system, a sympathetic building, or ‘of nature,’ yet at the same time, the nodes that established that symmetry in the context are transformed into additional ‘objects’ in the suite initiated by the building. Take for example the Timberline Lodge at the base of Mount Hood. Its siting approximately capitalizes on the axiality of the mountain and its ascendant centrality and profile ape the mountain’s form. Of course, symmetry in nature (or more broadly, in space) only holds up from particular vantage points. But from the ideal station point, popularized by Stanley Kubrick’s photography of the hotel for The Shining, the mountain and building cannot help but approach one another. The building gains power from the mountain by changing it from a picturesque fact to an extraction from nature, a property of the building. It is at these points in physical space, not the space of the concept or the intellect, that the things we take for granted are perceptually transformed into states of existence in which they don’t belong, and which we typically are barred from entering for their fragility. They are convincing mirages.

However, the polar tendency of existing outside, or eschewing the context, necessarily rejecting symmetry or cues, is the territory of the oddity (see description above of the tenacious building). Explain here the process, different than transforming context or itself, the oddity transforms the me by removing me from the context and putting me in a binary with the object. It is a transcendent experience that obliterates the intellectual thresholds of interpretation and expectations and allows me to impose conclusions, and the thing to impose them onto me.

(Out of sequence and schematic) PK’s drawings do both of these things when on display in the manner in which they were shown at UT. Does that make them art or are they architecture. Perhaps neither. Those distinctions don’t allow for slippage into a field of inclusion in the popular consciousness. Because between architecture, the building, and art, the drawing (purely as a tool, a communicative device (even art is meant to communicate something, as much as we insist that it merely exists, its unrestricted binary relationship with the viewer allows nothing more or less than conversation, this more closely aligns art with the architectural drawing)) nothing else lies.  I don’t know that it is valuable to name something for the sake of positioning it in that field. It makes more sense to provide its context in a situation and its effects on the actions of that situation in a more developed sense, otherwise the drawings are the victims of a semantic smokescreen. But the fact that Perry’s drawings intent to communicate something about Architecture I think means little more to this transformation or slippage beyond the prompt to ascertain its real demesne. There must be some other two-dimensional art that moves towards the spatial through its reception. First the way in which PK’s work accomplishes this must be explored.

When I finally arrived at UT I wandered around to try to find Leach’s studio. From its end I could see a glow of narcotic incandescent light washing into a long corridor. Only a galley would spill that. It was silent in the after-hours. I had the sensation and trepidation of walking through a funeral parlor to a wake and seeing the pink saturnine light bathing the wallpaper from a side portal in the middle of the hallway and searching for an excuse to bypass it, to go spend time with mourners in the hallway, or to walk past without indulging in a glimpse into the room. That glimpse eradicates more than I often recognize about my memories of a person. It introduces a lifeless dummy into their name’s evocation, recalling their smile a brittle stitch-snapping leer arises, recalling an embrace I feel cold and satin. I had spent almost a solid eighteen months straight with Perry and then only saw him once for eight to ten hours since. I didn’t want to turn him into paper.

Critical Response:

« | »