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Valdas Ozarinskas, 1961-2014

Valdas Ozarinskas passesd 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? 

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. 

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.   

The New City Reader, Uneven Growth, and Hong Kong

The Museum of Modern Art's "Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanism in Emerging Megacities," curated by Pedro Gadanho opens this week and the Network Architecture Lab had the opportunity to do a project for the show and respond to the question Pedro posed to us: "how can architecture solve the problem of uneven growth?" I am going to explore the show in a few blog posts, beginning with this one, which addresses our overall conception for the show. Tune in tomorrow to find out why we developed the game SYMTACTICS as part of our contribution.   

 

Pedro assigned us the city of Hong Kong to investigate, pairing us with MAP Office (Laurent Gutierrez and Valerie Portefaix), a local office operating between the realms of art and architecture. Projects for the show were intended to be collaborative and both teams soon understood that the best way we could produce a collaboration was to respect the difference between our approaches and create a dialogue. MAP elaborated on a poetic project that they had already begun developing prior to the show, "Hong Kong Is Land" in which they created a series of imaginative drawings representing artificial islands, each of which, Calvino-like, corresponded to conditions that they identified within the landscape of greater Hong Kong.   

 

Our own approach was a bit different. In considering Pedro's question while touring Hong Kong, the Netlab team on site (Jochen Hartmann, Robert Sumrell, and I) wondered if it was really possible for architecture to solve the problem of uneven growth. And, no matter how much fun tactical urbanism can be, wasn't its DIY approach to urbanism just another neoliberal tactic deployed in support of the long war against governments providing services and solutions to problems, e. g. sending food trucks to Ferguson? Isn't tactical urbanism, as Oli Mould suggests, just the latest iteration of the "creative city"? "Yes, but…" was our answer. And that but is that tactical urbanism doesn't have to set out to solve minor problems, it can set out to solve big problems, by allowing architecture to engage with politics. Specifically, we realized that it was, yet again, time to revive the New City Reader and to understand that our own contribution would be to think of our role (two architects and an architectural historian) as public intellectuals, creating a tactical intervention in the museum to get ideas across. For as I constantly have to remind people, the Network Architecture Lab is not and has never been a mock-startup, rather it is a think-tank devoted to working with students, recent graduates, practitioners, and individuals in other fields on the problem of networks. In other words, if neoliberal politics worldwide have resulted in changes in taxation that have encouraged uneven growth, then our project set out to solve the problem of uneven growth politically, to reach out to the visitors at MoMA and to all of you to find ways to activate the public realm to bring the question of uneven growth to the table, both at MoMA and in our homes. As a newspaper of public space, the New City Reader claims to do precisely that, to tactically intervene in space in order not to produce a rant, but rather to provoke discussion, in this case discussion about uneven growth in Hong Kong and beyond.

 

Instead of writing a lengthy blog post on these matters, it seemed best to simply introduce the editorial that I already wrote for this edition of the New City Reader. You are most welcome to read the entire New City Reader here, or pick up your free copy at MoMA, should you be in the New York area (warning, we only printed 23,000 copies, which, over the course of the show means a hundred a day to give away; they will reputedly be refreshed in the morning).     

 

 

How can we solve the problem of uneven growth?

The Umbrella Revolution’s first goal is a directly representative democracy, but it also expresses deep concern about uneven growth and the doubts citizens have that Hong Kong’s government will adequately address that problem.

Hong Kong is a city of extremes. While the International Monetary Fund lists Hong Kong as having the seventh highest per capita income in the world, the city also has the highest income inequality of any developed city in the world, even before considering the habit of wealthy families in China to understate their income. Although immigration to Hong Kong has become virtually impossible, migrant workers come to Hong Kong on visas with specific expiry dates, severely limited rights, and no opportunity to settle. These workers form a permanent underclass of temporary non-citizens, whose lack of rights is underscored and exacerbated by income disparity. Hong Kong now has one of the world’s lowest birth rates. But the greying of Hong Kong doesn’t mean that the city is growing less unequal. On the contrary, the elderly face a precarious existence, and if they are lucky enough to have younger family members, the latter will be financially crushed by the burden of taking care of them. Add growing danger from climate events due to global warming and Hong Kong is a post-apocalypse in the making. But Hong Kong is only a model city, a few years ahead of the game due to extreme growth. All of us face this future, if we can make it that far.

Whether in Hong Kong, New York, or just about anywhere, every day we are reminded of the challenges posed by uneven growth and rising inequality. Real estate prices in global cities are rising stratospherically, even as other cities are shrinking and being economically gutted: this year Detroit has already shut off water to over 27,000 poor residents who have fallen behind on their bills. In the megacities that this show focuses on, wealth and poverty coexist. As apartments costing tens of millions become normal, the middle class finds itself rapidly joining the poor, working short term jobs with no benefits, trading savings for debt, hoping that not to get sick or disabled. When we are lucky enough to have jobs, we pretend that a lack of job security makes our lives more fun, that moonlighting keeps us fresh, that eighty-hour work weeks show how much we love what we do, that we love tiny spaces, that we are most at home in hotel rooms or jet planes, and that our bodies aren’t destroyed by this existence.      

How can we solve the problem of uneven growth? Not by neoliberalism, with handouts from NGOs or Kickstarter-style funding, but through politics. If political systems worldwide appear thoroughly broken, political change—as the Umbrella Revolution reminds us—is the one hope we have left, futile though it may be.

As a tactical intervention, the New City Reader begins with a simple premise: we observe that one of the challenges to political action today is the atomization of the public and our resultant inability to talk to each other about politics except by clicking a thumbs up or thumbs down button, political discourse becoming a matter of rants. If the Umbrella Revolution calls for change, we also call for dialogue between people in the streets, or the galleries, about change. What if we take a newspaper and, in the manner of the Chinese Dàzìbào, put it up on a wall to be read? We were asked to make something for museums in New York and Vienna, but why not take this idea and bring it elsewhere? Why not cover Hong Kong with Dàzìbào? The original Dàzìbào were made by hand and even large format plotter prints don’t cost a lot of money. Don’t just read the paper, make one of your own! What if we read it, what if we cover the archipelago of global cities in newsprint? 

Along with a set of articles looking at Hong Kong today and in the future, we’ve included SYMTACTICS, a free board game in which you fight uneven growth through tactical urbanism. Much as building a model of a building allow us to see it more clearly, a game can reveal the particulars of a situation. Just as the New CIty Reader is intended to provoke discussion, a board game to be played with family and friends inevitably provokes conversation. If we can start a discussion we have hope for change. 

Get your free copy of the #netlab’s #newcityreader and...

Get your free copy of the #netlab’s #newcityreader and #symtactics game at the #UnevenGrowth show at #MoMA, opens Saturday.

Playing the final version of Symtactics for the first time....

Playing the final version of Symtactics for the first time. #UnevenGrowth (at highland avenue montclair nj)

Thinking the Unthinkable

I will be speaking about RAND Corporation, war games, and scenario planning tonight, 7pm at New York's Museum of Art and Design.

The link is here although be aware that I am NOT talking about Corbusier (well not for more than a few minutes anyway). If you miss the talk, you can see some of the things I will be talking about here or here

  

How's the Revolution Going? @ the Van Alen

I'll be appearing in a discussion tonight, Tuesday, October 28 at the Van Alen titled '"How's the Revolution Going?" Rethinking Architectural Education from '68 to Today' with Peggy Deamer, Quilian Riano, and Ron Shiffman. The event lasts from 6:30 to 8pm and will be held at Grimshaw Architects, 637 W 27th St, New York, New York. The topic, part of the Van Alen's 120th anniversary celebration, will assess the fate of the calls for change in architectural education made in the 1960s. For more information and to register for the event visit the Van Alen's site

revolution of the present in limerick

As part of the fall lecture series at the University of Limerick, Ireland, I will be showing the film "Revolution of the Present," a feature-length documentary by writer/director Marc Lafia, executive producer Jose Fernandez-Richards, and producer Johanna Schiller on Tuesday, October 14th at 5.00pm. This is the European premiere of the film, so if you are in the area, we hope that you can make it. Course director Peter Carroll and I will discuss the film afterwards. I am honored to be part of this production and immensely proud of the work the team did. There is hardly any better introduction to my work or network culture than this film. Should you not be in Ireland at the time, you can check out Revolution of the Present here.    

Kiosk @ Columbia

I will be appearing alongside Leah Meisterlin (formerly of the Netlab) and authors Astra Taylor and Andrew Blum today at noon in Ware Lounge (on the 6th floor of Avery Hall) at Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation to discuss the impact that digital technology is posing on architecture, cities, and most of all our lives. Topics to be discussed will likely include data centers, debt, oversaturation, creative workspaces and the tyranny of fun, together with ways to make all this better. Hope to see you there if you are in the area!