Valdas Ozarinskas, 1961-2014

Valdas Ozarinskas passed away yesterday and a bad year became much worse. I had heard he was not well when I was in Vilnius last week and I feel awful that I didn't make an effort to see him. 

Valdas was a brilliant architect. For years he practiced at the Šiuolaikinio Meno Centras/Contemporary Art Center in Vilnius, Lithuania, creating exhibitions that were stunning. Minimal but aggressive, Valdas's works were comparable in force only to the very earliest moment of minimalist art, before it became a style, an architectural equivalent of industrial music (I mean from the days of Throbbing Gristle, not the drum-machine driven works of the 90s). Valdas publically eschewed ideology but could probe theoretical questions as deeply as any architect I know. We had many conversations whenever I visited Lithuania, generally about the problem of the individual in a post-industrial society. Had he spoken English and had he written his thoughts down others would have understood how deep a thinker we have lost. The loss, to put it in a Lithuanian context, is comparable to the loss of George Maciunas 35 years ago, another figure of similar force, but who I only had a chance to meet once. Their minds were not dissimilar: both Sloterdijkian kynics in the best sense.  

He made many projects, but I will only reflect on one here. Valdas often collaborated with Audrius Bučas and together they produced Black Pillow, which was shown at the ŠMC in 2011 and subsequently at the Liverpool Biennial. The show'sweb site wrote that given its exhibition at the peak of the economic crisis in Lithuania,

The two architects’ formalist idea was initially supposed to appeal exclusively to the limits of the viewer’s phenomenological experiences. However, it quickly got wrapped in various stories and interpretations due to its unusually large dimensions, menacing black colour and the moods that prevailed in Lithuania at the very peak of the economic crisis. Black Pillow took a symbolic shape and dimension accumulating all the possible personal and collective failures of our lives.

From our discussions in the gallery next to the black pillow it was clear that Valdas understood and intended such a symbolic dimension from the start. Or more specifically, he intended—as he often did—to give us a neutral but cathetic object that we could project onto as we wished. Never melancholy, Valdas was always relentlessly positive even about the bleakest of conditions, albeit often astounded at the stupidity of our world.

Alain Badiou's 12th thesis on contemporary art reads "Non-imperial art must be as rigorous as a mathematical demonstration, as surprising as an ambush in the night, and as elevated as a star." Nothing could describe Valdas's work better. One night over beers at the ŠMC cafe, its Lithuanian Soviet modernism itself brilliantly reconstructed by Valdas, I read the theses to him, translating them into my broken Lithuanian as best I could and we shared our analysis of the theses.  

Even last week Valdas was putting together a final show, at the Antanas Moncys House in Palanga. That we have lost such a mind only proves how stupid our world is. To talk to Valdas was to hear the Lithuanian word "siaubas" or "horror/terror" over and over. That was the madness of this place we inhabit, a world in which we battle against zombie bureaucrats and power-mad psychopaths, where goodness is rarely rewarded but idiocy is. To remember him, what can we do but we keep marching forward, one foot in front of the other and say, anything is possible? 

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Aleksandra Kasuba at the NDG, Vilnius

It's a privilege to be speaking about the work of Aleksandra Kasuba at the National Art Gallery (Nacionaline Dailes Galerija) in Vilnius this coming Thursday at 5pm.

One of my earliest memories, from when I was four, is crawling through her Live-in Environment, which she had installed in the townhouse that she and her husband, sculptor Vytautas Kasuba owned. You can imagine the impact it had on me. 

In my talk, I will focus on Kasuba’s constructions of the 1960s and 1970s in which she worked with high technology fabric from Dupont to create environments that occupy a third spatial order, neither art nor architecture. I will also read her work against a larger discourse on art and architecture in New York City at the time, revealing her own approach to problems that challenged other avant-garde artists and designers of the day.

The occasion is the opening of a reconstruction of her 1975 project "Spectrum, an Afterthought " which she conceived of after the installation of "Spectral Passage" at the De Young Museum in San Francisco.  

Kasuba's work is uncannily similar, and in many ways to the digital architecture of the contemporary era (not to mention Richard Serra's torqued ellipses). Still, the diaphanous qualties of the fabrics that she worked with give it a lighter feel and mark it as distinct from architecture (she was neither trained as an architect nor did she consider herself to be one). Instead, it strikes me that these kind of inhabitations are closer to tents, perhaps structures that nomads might construct within the non-places of the contemporary world. Imagine if airports were filled with structures like these, as spaces to pause in.       

If you are in Vilnius that day, I hope you can make it. I'm afraid that my talk will be in English although I'll be delighted to take questions in Lithuanian as well as English. 

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On Escape

I promised I'd blog more about our project for the Uneven Growth show, but it took longer than I expected to get around to it. In the meantime, I've refreshed the Web site a little, cleaning up a few links here and there and I discovered a great new event at the Van Alen, recently redesigned by Collective-LOK (which includes my good friend Michael Kubo).

"Ultimate Exit: the Architecture and Urbanism of Tech-Secessionism" is taking place next Thursday December 11. See more here. This promises to be a truly fascinating event with the brilliant architect and theorist who I am priviliged is one of my closest friends, Ed Keller, accelerationist theorist Nick Land, Bitnation CEO Susanne Tarkowski Tempelhof, Geoff Manaugh of Bldgblog, artist Andrea Crespo, and artist Martti Kalliala whose works, together with Daniel Keller's will be a backdrop for the discussion. I wish I was going, but instead I will be making my own escape, lecturing that evening on the tensile structures of Aleksandra Kasuba at the National Art Gallery of Lithuania. 

The organizers have put up the following text:

Can the titans of tech engineer an escape from government oversight? Initiatives like Seasteading and talk of Silicon Valley’s “ultimate exit” are part of a growing tech-secessionist movement in which a variety of actors from venture capitalists and companies like Google to cloud-based communities of individuals are imagining city-state-like sites escaping state jurisdiction.

What might these enclaves look like? How do the architecture, urbanism, politics and psychology of exit intermingle?

After Manfredo Tafuri and Karl Popper, responsible historians aren't supposed to predict the future, but I'm a bad historian, or at least an irresponsible one, so I do that all too often. The event that I'm going to miss brings to mind another section of our Uneven Growth proposal, our scenario entitled Hong Kong, 2047

Where our collaborators set out with a deligtfully poetic interpretation of the city's future, the Netlab has based our research on demographic and economic projections and we grounded our reading in a scenario based on three key drivers: peak population in Hong Kong and China (and the decline from that peak), the consequent collapse of a strong nationalist center on the mainland, and—most pertinent to the event at the Val Alen—the emergence of powerful city states on the Chinese coasts, led by the model of Hong Kong. 

Nor will this stop in Hong Kong. On the contrary, what we call global cities today will form an archipelago of cities across the world that will increasingly take steps to formalize their status. This will be easy in places like the European Union, where countries are ceding power upwards to the EU or downwards to the region. In places like the PRC or the US, it will be a little trickier, and may require the disappearance of the nation states into broader regional governments or alliances in order to assuage nationalist feelings (after all, the logic goes, if the country expands, maybe some devolution to the rising city-states would be ok…).   

This is only one aspect of escape. Another crucial aspect of escape—which we don't cover in the HK 2047 scenario—is escape from cities themselves, the construction of enclaves outside of cities for various purposes. I've written about enclave urbanism before at some length here, but for now, suffice it to say that that threats of terrorism, contagion, and economic collapse are all prompting the wealthy—and even not so wealthy—to ensure that they have holdouts in the countryside. But even more than that, enclaves of exclusivity are emerging, and are often defined by the difficulties of reaching them. More at that link above.

This is not, I now understand, opposed to city-state urbanism, but rather a constituent part of it. Even as finance pulls out of Manhattan for safer, more nimble and virtual venues, the city-state remains, a massive capital sink or spatial fix and a site of luxurious indulgence for archipelago urbanists.   

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