Monday, June 26, 2006

Fun Palaces

One of the other fun bits of ephemera of the Biennale was Social Cinema, projected onto Lubetkin's still lovely Finsbury Health Centre- especially a somewhat pissed Cedric Price (a pic of whose Fun Palace emblazoned one of the two tapes, thanks for which I got none, which I made for the dissensus tape swap) advocating doing away with the process of listing buildings. So I can't resist quoting from the Telegraph obituary linked below by Bat:-

Price rejected the value of "heritage" for its own sake, and loved baiting the "young fogies" who campaign for every Victorian lean-to. He enjoyed a brief moment of notoriety in 1974 when, asked what he would do about York Minster, he replied "flatten it" - reflecting his belief that if the function of architecture disappears (if people stop going to church, in this instance), then the building must adapt or be disposed of "like a worn-out pair of Hush Puppies".

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Towers of Terror

My Archinect piece is now up, and I shall be thoroughly disappointed if I don't get at least one querulous e-mail about it. Of especial note are the links provided by Mr John Jourden, not least this Hal Foster article on the Independent Group; and Ludwig Abache's picture gallery has some magnificently alien shots of Robin Hood Gardens...



Currently planning a long post on top Reichian sexploitation classic I Am Curious Yellow and may also for research try and obtain WR- Mysteries of the Organism- and am having trouble getting them cheaply and easily in the appropriate fashion. So if anyone's got copies and is feeling generous, e-mail me please, ta...

Thursday, June 22, 2006

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Sore Eyes

OK, so I may have been a little mean about the London Architecture Biennale. I confess I was put off by the 'themed' nature of the event, 'Change'. As in presumably, 'Change, sponsored by the Corporation of London'. But a couple of things have made me more sympathetic to the whole endeavor.


First of all, an entertainingly pointless debate, '1960s Architecture- Iconic or Eyesore?' (surely another to add to Penman's list of infuriating uses of the word 'iconic'). In the all-red interior of the Starr Auditorium of the middle-class disco ('this is not a political position' says one wag on the panel) this was principally interesting for having therein the two poles of the debate- Rodney Gordon, one of Owen Luder's partners on the tragically late Tricorn Centre; and facing him, Prince Charles' favourite architect and defender of the architectural legacy of Albert Speer, Quinlan Terry.


Much of the 'debate' circled round the usual stuff- Terry's magnificently bored patrician disdain (he described being a persecuted classicist in the 60s as 'like Soviet Russia- anyone who stood against the brave new world got knocked down'...ahh) offsetting Gordon and a woman from the 20th century society's unrepentant joy for concrete and all it entails. Difficult to stifle a cheer when one of Terry's diatribes was interjected with 'so you'd like us to live in a Feudal System?' 'We do!' he bizarrely (if interestingly) replied. (anyone listening to the Radio 3 broadcast of this tonight will have the pleasure of hearing me gauchely asking a question about the disintegration of community postwar and being told 'you can't blame Thatcher for the 60s')

The other nice bit involved an exhibition on the Golden Lane Estate of the original designs along with utensils specially designed for the estate, while harp music played in the background...appealed to the (thinly disguised) sentimentalist in me. And there's even a thing on redesigning public toilets! Sigh...

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

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May I join the fair chorus of approval for Woebot's non-canonical Beatles post. My occasional partner in crimes of one sort or another, Monster Bobby, took as a slogan for one of his more ambitious projects a return to the time 'before the Beatles ruined everything'- to Meek, Spector, Mann/Weil or Goffin/King as opposed to all this four boys with guitars writing their own songs nonsense. And while this is a very seductive argument (tho kind of evokes the Pre-Raphaelite 'return' as well, no? And every return is a rupture after all..) among its flaws is that it forgets how interesting the sheer artiness and artfulness of the (early as much as the more officially 'arty' late) fab four would have been.

In one of those awful NME originals magazines, a little Q&A with our heroes from 1963-4 reveals their rather un-English tastes; one member for instance claims his ideal woman to be Juliette Greco, of all people. Jon Savage's essay on Stuart Sutcliffe is totally key here, the tracing of how postwar conformism and austerity gets subverted by the incursion not only of rock & roll, but also the European, abstraction, ambiguous sexuality- setting up their base in Germany of all places...or think of them in A Hard Day's Night, stealing moves from Welles' The Trial...or even in their dress, with its combination of ostensible smartness and effeminacy...

Addenda- at the debate referred to above, Rodney Gordon used as an analogy for the the commercial brutalism of the tricorn and the gateshead carpark the Beatles' combination of avantgardism and accessibility; eliciting the response from Quinlan Terry 'well I never liked The Beatles.'(!)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

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Mathematical Certainties


Not much of late due to blogger, the various libraries I use for free internet access and my own unusual quantity of activity are all conspiring against me...nonetheless- my abstract for Cultural Fictions is up at The Measures Taken- a full report should follow, as oddly enough it was almost entirely excellent-- and perhaps a platform from which all sorts of new alignments could spring...Pictures taken mostly from the magazine USSR in Construction rather than the handouts I had- which, if anyone wants one they can e-mail me as I had many, many spare. (In a nice coincidence I actually won the dog and bell quiz, via Mths questions! NB this is not necessarily due to my own talents)

See also IT's excellent Cultural Fictions paper on Sartre, PKD, Martians and what we have to say to them (and them to us)...
Update- this also very fine indeed

Risk Assessment


Seeing as it's currently the (fantastically vacuous) London Architecture Biennale a quick eulogy is in order to perhaps the finest architecture site around- the Twentieth Century Society's Risky Buildings list.


Here we have a list of modern structures under threat, the text a catalogue of astounding philstinism obviously designed to induce maximum ire. The threat usually comes from supermarkets, councils anxious to build another shopping centre, uppity hayseeds horrified by flat roofs- and frequently government itself, as in the current attempt by Tessa Jowell to de-list the budget Xenakis hyperbolic parabaloids of the Commonwealth Institute.


But what really makes this so eerily beautiful are the photos. A potted history of british modernism, from Elizabeth Scott's 1928 Shakespeare Theatre to Victor Pasmore's Apollo Pavilion in 1969, is shown now rusting, rotten, overgrown- Ballardian terminal sites, contaminated streams running through monuments to the space programme.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Talking with the taxman about Poetry

Featuring poems, pictures and mp3s of the man himself reading in the 1910s, an excellent site devoted to Vladimir Mayakovsky.

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Saturday, June 10, 2006

Concrete Universals


Tremendous photos by Ludwig Abache for a project I've been working on for Archinect which should be up this month...

See also some fascinating pictures of demolished hospitals and optimistic childrens' guides to architecture mit IT

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Socialist Lavatory League

Somewhere in the 1970s diaries of enthusiastic sadist, critic, buttock fetishist (most memorably, viz: 'the buttocks are the most aesthetically pleasing part of the body because they are non-functional. Although they conceal an essential orifice, these pointless globes are as near as the human form can ever come to abstract art')_ and first person to say 'fuck' on telly Kenneth Tynan, is a recounting of a dream of the 'socialist lavatory league', a clandestine revolutionary organisation dedicated to the collectivisation of toilets. A utopia in which the very concept of the 'private toilet' is abolished. This is perhaps a situation as close to paradise as any I could imagine.

Walk round London and you can't fail to notice at specific points huge, gothic, palatial public toilets. You also can't fail to notice that they have, invariably, been closed down. Its as if capitalism is now hurtling back to a time before even the public amenities of the 1860s. This being, for reasons connected with the rather unpleasant chronic disease from which I suffer, a subject close to my heart. Grotesquely, Central London is beset with public amenities that only allow standing room- space age pods with automatic doors, rarely if ever open, a perfect demonstration of an allegedly dynamic system incapable of providing even the simplicities of a cistern.

So then comrades, I propose we re-open the toilets, smash the gates, go door to door in Hampstead and demand at gun point the use of their facilities! Incontinents of the world unite, you have nothing to empty but your bowel!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Saville Row

First, an apology to k-punk and the readers of Fact magazine- Mr Saville was referring on reflection to Piet Zwart (one of whose montages is above) pesky Mancunian accent. Second- in fittingly pop retentive style, here's my personal top five of Saville sleeves, leaving out the obvious JD ones. Starting with...

OMD- Architecture & Morality (1981)

Fitting in with the almost absurdly 1981 content- grandeur, paranoia, sharp lines and industial melancholy- these architectural photos, hard and indistinct, are absolutely perfect. Typography sehr Lissitzky.

Section 25- Always Now (1981)

Or, the second half of Jan Tsichold's career as reinterpreted by Saville- elegant, classical, abstracted...according to Jon Savage this cover rather overwhelms the music therein, but on the contrary the combination of austerity and pomposity seems quite apposite.

Visage- The Damned Don't Cry (1982)

Any of the sleeves circa the second Visage LP with their employment of Helmut Newton's photographs would have sufficed- but these, with their groups of aristocratic poseurs, are the definitive emblem of the conjunction of uppity proles like Steve Strange with the UC they align themselves with. The Julie B phrase 'can a Burchill look at a Churchill' in an image.

Pulp- This is Hardcore (1998)

Really, after the Factory sleeves, there are some diminishing returns for Saville- Peter Gabriel's 'Sledgehammer', sundry sleeves for justly forgotten music journo glam project Gay Dad, and lots of Suede (actually the Suede sleeves are great, but I digress). But the Pulp sleeves circa 1998 are his best since Joy Division, a stunningly bleak and eerie repudiation of the Roxy Music penthouse fantasy- a deathly jetset, an claustrophobic cycle of grim sex and harcore porn with no means of escape.

New Order- Movement (1981)

Surely one of the most blatant acts of plagairism in Saville's career, a precise lifting from a 1932 Fortunato Depero poster (below), layout and typography almost completely identical. Another bit of ammunition for the 'Factory as Fascists' argument as well in the press of the time. But somehow it doesn't matter in the slightest. It's a great design- wouldn't you rather have it on the sleeve of a record than in a gallery...?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

‘Art is a Branch of Mathematics’- Zamyatin’s Socio-Fantasy

My abstract for Cultural Fictions at Goldsmiths- which I shall be delivering, possibly even with handouts, on the morning of the 15th of June…

The genre of the 20th century dystopia, as expressed most famously through the work of Huxley and Orwell, has throughout the century dovetailed with the concept of ‘totalitarianism’- typically, a conflation of Fascism and Communism into stories of schoolboy horror, habitually set by exam boards to demarcate the consequences of thinking about possible futures.

Through a reading of their main antecedent, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s 1920 utopia/dystopia We, I intend to investigate these notions by restoring to them their historical context. Rather than a ‘prophecy of Stalinism’ or a critique of communism, Zamyatin’s novel will be seen first of all as a somewhat mischevous participant in the political/aesthetic debates of the early 20s, through his relation to the ‘Socialist Taylorism’ of the Soviet NEP, the mathematical and geometrical fetishism of Productivists and Constructivists in the USSR, and the ‘Glass Chain’ of post-revolutionary Expressionist and functionalist architects in Weimar Germany.


Zamyatin takes Alexander Rodchenko’s phrase that ‘art is a branch of mathematics’ and extends it to society as a whole. Unlike his sucessors though, Zamyatin’s technique is immanent- the structure of his novel and the reasoning and syntax of his narrator speak within the society he delineates.

Through an investigation of Zamyatin’s sources and his methodology, his nightmare will be re-historicised and re-materialised, with the theories that feed into the novel being treated as a kind of utilitarian science fiction in themselves, harnessing their work to actual production.

A Tiger's leap into the Past

Slavoj, as ever looking like a vagrant in a Kieslowski film, has been regaling folk gratis at Birkbeck College. On Thursday a reading of Vertigo (what did you expect, surprises?) grew into a surprisingly Benjaminian conception of the temporal, in Hegel’s Philosopy of History and in Deleuze’s Difference and Repitition (of which I know naught) Not having mastered shorthand my notes are rather garbled, but nonetheless this seems to fit with various other discussions, such as this one at dissensus, where mms writes-

It's not that they're retro, they're not repeating what is a well trodden way of making the music buying public react, like indie 2006, its that they're kind of analogue utopian, they take their cues from times when technology made it look like anything is possible and would make human beings have a wonderful future beyond their mundane workaday lives.
This echoes thru doctor who and radiophonic thru to the original selling point of mcdonalds 'to unlock housewives from their role in the kitchen by producing nutrious fast food, for example.
This stuff is all over say raymond scotts manhattan research cds - outrageous electronics mixed with utopian messages about the future (through investment in its consumer products of course).

In this way i think just the sonics of abstract electronic music has seeped through british culture as a vast hopeful but irrational spectre, maybe not just these collector guys like Stereolab who worship it but the ravers etc too, an abstraction from the norm ..


Anyway bearing in mind the likelihood of massive change between the original content and my scribbled notes, Zizek said something like this…

Hegel does not declare that he has reached the end of history, but that at every point we are at the end of history. As in Benjamin’s Theses, you have to include the betrayed dreams, the lost possibilites, in order to assess history, as the proletarian revolution will repeat, faithfully and redemptively, these moments…The French revolution’s ‘excess’, as opposed to its foundation of liberal capitalism, carries on through history. For Deleuze ‘virtuality’ is possibility that ‘reverberates’, even if it is not actualised. To be haunted by what might have been is part of what was. As Agamben says we should ‘rehabilitate possibility’…


In Deleuze’s ‘static genesis’ all virtualities which sustain it are present. ‘A pure past’ in Difference & Repitition ‘where all events including those which have sunk without trace are stored and remembered’….for TS Eliot the ‘historical sense’ is a perception of the pastness and presence of the past. ‘A new work of art changes all previous.’….Rather than the dialectic discovering necessities, it takes a period that is ‘necessary’, going in stages, and grasps the concrete historical dynamics by including the possibilites and the thwarted hopes. Not to ‘close’ the past, but ‘open’ it. Not an evolution, but an outbreak of possibilities.


Further to the above: a few weeks ago I went for a walk round Liverpool St to find a few of the cafes in Adrian Maddox’s Classic Cafes book, only to find that the whole street we were looking for had been knocked down. It was a relief then this weekend to find this place open. ‘High Class’, declares the 1930s sign, and so it is. A gorgeous confection of lipstick-red walls, formica and gorgeous sculpted chairs seemingly out of the Festival of Britain or the Independent Group’s This is Tomorrow, a time-warp to the future…

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This is one of Mayakovsky and Rodchenko's early 20s adverts, very interestingly discussed in Christina Kaier's Imagine no Possessions. Apparently, this beer 'Drives out Hypocrites'...

From an at some point to be finished piece on sexuality, class, clothes and architecture

‘The strength, health and joy of aristocrats in other times strike our grocer-types as lacking thenecessary degree of refinement. That revolution of consciousness belatedly arriving after having too long burdened society, will one day affect even our dress. Women have already taken the lead. Their styles and fashions are bold, sensitive, expressive. Just look at the young girls of 1942. Their hair styles reflect a healthy and optimistic outlook. They go forth crowned with gold or ebony. But in the reign of Louis XIV or during the Renaissance, you boys are the ones who would be radiant as archangels with hair like theirs, and strong as Mars and handsome as Apollo. But the women have stolen your thunder!’
Le Corbusier, Talks with Students