This is a neat little article from HowlRound about the value of small cities in the art community and the idea of "maker" cities. Totally worth thinking aboutin relation to larger cities.
This is a fantastic blog that reminds me of Situationalist thought
<div style='padding-bottom: 2px; line-height: 0px'><a href='http://pinterest.com/pin/154459462191617349/' target='_blank'><img src='http://media-cache-lt0.pinterest.com/550x/04/21/99/042199b84c804b5c7253b9f01190afbe.jpg' border='0' width='500' height ='333'/></a></div><div style='float: left; padding-top: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px;'><p style='font-size: 10px; color: #76838b;'>Source: <a style='text-decoration: underline; font-size: 10px; color: #76838b;' href='http://blog.sustainablog.org/2012/01/small-rustic-cottages-urnatur/'>blog.sustainablog.org</a> via <a style='text-decoration: underline; font-size: 10px; color: #76838b;' href='http://pinterest.com/aidyl/' target='_blank'>Lydia</a> on <a style='text-decoration: underline; color: #76838b;' href='http://pinterest.com' target='_blank'>Pinterest</a></p></div>
This is part of a really beautiful poetry series that describes the "room of one's own" (via V Woolf) as an essential part of having enough time/space to make thiings. Interesting visual to add to the debate how private VS public space as a catalyst for making.
Shea Hembrey has a slide show of his work in the New York Times:
and a very intriguing TED talk:
and a comment:
OUT THERE By DENNIS OVERBYE
Published: September 24, 2012 New York Times
The Universe Unseen, on Display in Chelsea
Got to be good-looking ’cause he’s so hard to see.
—The Beatles, “Come Together”
Existence is largely made of darkness. Most of the matter in the universe is an invisible something that is not atoms; most of its mass resides in the form of an even more mysterious “dark energy” that is pushing everything apart.
Add to this unpromising palette the ubiquitous black holes that pepper the cosmos, pulling matter and energy into endless gravitational pits, and you have a real challenge if you are an artist intent on portraying the essence of reality.
That is the conundrum posed by “Dark Matters,” a new collection of paintings and sculptures by the artist Shea Hembrey. “How do you show what’s not there? How do you show energy?” Mr. Hembrey asked recently. The exhibit, which he calls “a collective meditation on the unseen structure of our universe,” is his first solo show in New York City.
The show features black holes — including one that looks like a bottomless bird’s nest of meticulously glued straw — and metaphorical models of the cosmos elegantly assembled from burnt cork, moonstones, guinea feathers and a sheet of lead inscribed with intricate cosmic doodles. In a series of trompe l’oeil paintings, the building blocks of modern physics are represented by sticks, twine and old matches — the building blocks of Mr. Hembrey’s youth on an Arkansas farm.
If there is a theme, it is black — not just any black, but 12 layers of it resulting in an inkiness so deep and rich that it connotes not emptiness but fullness. Move your head and you can see faint tendrils of smoke floating through it.
Mr. Hembrey likes to refer to an old Russian description of darkness as “so filled with something that there is no room for light,” or, in the words of the Latvian writer Anita Vanaga, “darkness as inpenetrable multitude that blots out the light.”
It is a pregnant time for this dark busyness, which is to say physics, to invade the art world. In the years since AIDS was discovered, artists have often used biological and genetic material. But particle physics has been ascendant in the news lately. A tsunami of headlines marked the recent claim of neutrinos going faster than light and the more solid discovery of a particle that might be the Higgs boson, responsible for imbuing other particles with mass. (That discovery was made at the Large Hadron Collider in Europe, a facility that once gained a certain dubious charisma over worries that it would produce a black hole that would eat the Earth — another example of darkness arising.)
Physicists have reason to think that in the next few years they might also identify the particles that constitute dark matter, presumably left over from the Big Bang.
As a metaphor, dark matter has escaped its astronomical origins. I was startled to learn recently that geneticists now refer to the 80 percent of the human genome that does not code for genes — once called “junk” DNA — as biological dark matter. It turns out to be more complicated than we thought, rife with switches that control genes and disease, and some physicists now suspect that astronomical dark matter, also called the “dark sector,” might be equally complex, with its own panoply of dark forces and particles and behaviors that could shed light, so to speak, on the deeper mysteries of physics.
Mr. Hembrey, 38, is best known for his SEEK project, for which he dreamed up the names, styles and back stories of 100 different artists and produced samples of their work. He described the whole adventure in a highly acclaimed TED Talk in 2009.
In his talk, Mr. Hembrey described growing up on a farm in Hickory Grove, Ark., an hour from the nearest movie theater, eating squirrel brains. Among his more fantastic-sounding stories, which he insists is true, is of his father killing flies with a BB gun.
All of which made actually meeting Mr. Hembrey an intimidating prospect. Which of his cosmic trickster identities would show up?
“This is my own work,” said Mr. Hembrey reassuringly, stepping out of the shadows in the gallery. A lanky man with a Southern lilt, he explained that he had been pondering the mystery and meaning of dark matter and black holes ever since he first heard about them in college. Intending to be an ornithologist, he was seduced by an art class and wound up with an M.F.A. from Cornell.
Great art should ask big questions, he said.
“If dark matter and dark energy are 95 percent of everything, shouldn’t we all be asking questions about that?” he asked. “What does that look like?
“This is me trying to get a handle on that.”
To that end he has befriended physicists and astrophysicists. One, Frans Pretorius, a physicist and black-hole expert from Princeton, said Mr. Hembrey was very well informed and added that aside from “just being fun to look at,” his art provided a thoughtful insight into modern science.
For example, Dr. Pretorius said, in one painting of twine segments elegantly and symmetrically looped across the black, a clear reference to string theory, one string seems to be misbehaving. Closer examination reveals that it is being held in place by a piece of tape — a symbol, Dr. Pretorius said, of how even the most ambitious and elegant theories eventually have to be mended to fit new data.
Mr. Hembrey’s black hole bird’s nest is his version of a Chinese picture known as the Ultimate and the Eight Diagrams, which consists of a yin-yang symbol surrounded by symbols for the eight elements of Chinese mythology: sky, earth, thunder, wind, water, fire, mountain and lake.
In Mr. Hembrey’s model the elements are represented by eight little test tubes hanging from the edges of the black hole.
Of course they are all empty.
“It’s an audacious thing to build a model of the cosmos,” Mr. Hembrey said. “It’s exciting how little we know.”
Intermedia is a methodology of working and thinking about art in which any field of knowledge, new technologies, media and means of presentation may be used to inform experiments about how we answer deep questions in a broader, more dynamic, resonant and reciprocal relationship to an audience. We push its boundaries so that products that may be inconceivable beforehand are produced and alter the nature of art-forms.
This assumes there is a definition of art in the first place that enables us to question its boundaries, one that can extract art from its web of money, patrons, galleries, and politics etc. Are we talking about the dent of history on the work of of individuals who feel a compulsion to create things, or express ideas for any of our senses to consider?
Enmeshed in other influences or not, I know that I am deeply moved by some artworks and processes, and these are what I think of as art.
How do we make a sculpture into a point of origin which is both a symbol and a fusing of that symbol with what it symbolizes? A symbol for self and a place for self. So to go back to where we started, if art moulds our emotional life in the same way that logic or mathematics might mould our intellectual life, and given that life experience is so fluid and fleeting and difficult to remember, how can art be a concentrated form of remembering? Can memory cohere in an object and if so how does it evoke memory in the viewer? Are we expected to remember another's experience or does the experience of sculpture, which is itself the embodiment of a particular feeling, give rise to another feeling, the viewer remembering something within his or her own experience that need have no relationship whatsoever with the original experience of the making of the work? The fact is that art is not a recreation; it is the record of its own making, of a journey made from first impulse to a reconciliation with materiality. Art's central role is not to make the perfect copy. Real objects can become images but not the other way round. An image is always a virtual thing, a semblance, but my project is to make that virtuality as physical as possible. In nature the most striking visual phenomena are intangible: rainbows, mirages, shadows. I think that it is worth restating, as Susanne K. Langer has done, that all art is abstract in the sense that it separates semblance from material existence; painting by making a two dimensional picture of something, and sculpture by making a semblance that is at the same time built on its own terms. This remembering, remaking, are not ends in themselves, nor are abstraction or figuration ends in themselves. It is simply that the principal aim of art is to alienate forms from their original or common use and to put them to new use, to become expressive of human feeling? And to me this human feeling is an internal one, what Langer has called 'the familiar illusive pattern of sentience': another or strange form which is given back to our perception and yet at the same time reaches beyond itself, a semblance charged with reality that feels towards outer space, to that beyond the palpable...
All this may strike you as being very abstract, so what I want to do is try to describe the processes by which I actually make a sculpture, in this case one of my recent 'variable block' works (the Precipitate, Sublimate, Concentrate series). All of my work starts from a position of unknowing, from a position of direct, raw being. It is a moment of lived time taken out of time which is in some way a point of origin. I am naked covered in a layer of cling-film and my living body is registered in a chemical and mineral way in plaster. This three-dimensional negative that shows the space of my body is then translated into a three-dimensional positive form. That transposition is then translated into a construction using four different block sizes, each block being eight times bigger than the one before. The idea of these algorithmic build programs is to find a means of measurement that translates the anatomy of the body normally configured in the relationship between bone, skin and muscle, into another kind of matrix more familiar to mathematicians or to builders. This new matrix becomes a kind of diagnostic instrument that transfers the inner set or attitude of the body into another form and allows us to see it anew (figure 9). This I think of as a kind of crystallization, a condensation of the subjective experience of the internal nature of the body into an objective form, a body form that is a gestalt, a unitary object made out of many parts. Each of those parts has an absolute and
orthogonal relationship to those that lie around it. They conform very precisely to the way in which in digital imagery an image is held within an orthogonal matrix of squares, where the value of each square indicates something of the way that light falls on the surface of an object. These works have more to do with the condensation of mass conforming to some inner sense of the body. There is a contradiction in the way that these works can be read: on the one hand as an architectural model or an abstract image of absolute geometrical volumes, and on the other as an allusion to a body itself. Architecture contains the body in the absolute coordinates of vertical and horizontal
construction. Here we have the internal body materialized using similar means (figure 10). Another way of materializing a zone of feeling is not about crystallization so much as 'energization', or the creation of a field?I explore this in the Feeling Material works, where I use a three-dimensional positive as the core around which a continuous line of mild steel up to 800 m in length is spun, so that the line makes an orbit around the edge of the body, then shoots into outer space, returning again to the body zone. So it might go around the wrist and then disappear into space and make one turn around the body and then re-enter the body -zone at the chest, go out again, hit the body-zone again around the neck. This continual orbiting from the surface of the body-zone to its farther reaches builds up an energy field, a web, a net which can trap the eye of the beholder but also identify space. The work creates a kind of 'feeling zone'. These works use the tensile properties of the material to create a matrix that evokes the laws of motion, of subatomic particles circling a nucleus and more recent theories of worm holes and string theory. Again, these sculptures have nothing to do with representation but with trying to make both an evocation of a zone of sensation and a matrix onto which sensations can be projected. They constitute a final layer of complication in terms of the syntax of feeling into form by objectifying the tension between mass and space...
In conclusion, we have to ask how do sculptural form and the feeling that it provokes coalesce? My response to that would always be that they coalesce in the imagination of the viewer, not in the intrinsic and independent reality of the work. I think that we have evolved now from the fetishized notion of the unique and intrinsically valuable object to the idea that actually the real location of value is within the viewer. I would not like to think that these works are understood simply as symbols or signs, or even archetypes of aspirations towards wholeness and integrity. I see them as being an acknowledgement of the provisional nature of human experience, but also an expression of a desire to provide catalysts for hope. Nothing is illustrated here, there is no narrative, but there is an act of constitution demanded of the viewer. There is a moment in which the independence and emancipation of art from a form of representation are offered to the viewer, and in that identification with the space of self lies a kind of freedom. I would like to suggest that in this there is a connection between the individual and oceanic, the particular and the field, that combines a re-interpretation of the sublime with a re-positioning of where art belongs, and explores anew whom it can be for and where it can be found...
Feeling into FormAuthor(s): Antony GormleyReviewed work(s):Source: Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, Vol. 362, No. 1484, Bioengineering theHeart (Aug. 29, 2007), pp. 1513-1518Published by: The Royal SocietyStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20209955
THEORY & EVENT
VOLUME 1, ISSUE 4, 1997
I want to get beyond the very limited and extremely specialized conception of art--I want to get beyond the museum, the gallery, and generally what is deemed normal in art today.
The problem is to actually possess the community of dialogue and the game with time which have been represented by poetico-artistic works.
--Guy Debord 2
On June 25, 1995, a team of workers supervised by Christo and Jeanne-Claude completed the artists' latest project. Formally called "Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin 1971-95," the project was a remarkable achievement. As a work of art, it transformed Germany's 100 year-old (and temporarily vacant) parliamentary building and its surrounding space. As a public event, the wrapped Reichstag posed a challenge to the cultural imagination of all who came to view it.
Visually, the wrap reconfigured and elided the large, neoclassical (and not always well-loved) structure which stood, in Christo's words, like a "lonely monolith" 3 at the end of a large, grassy, open area between the Brandenburg Gate and the Spree river. The project had taken years of planning, months of preparation and many weeks of construction. Now the formidable old structure stood cloaked by 100,000 square meters of silver-colored polypropylene fabric held in place by 15,600 meters of blue rope. Importantly, Christo and Jeanne-Claude limited the aesthetic and public life of the Wrapped Reichstag to two weeks. In this brief period, some 5 million visitors from Germany and abroad experienced the artists' visual challenge. To what extent, in Debord's sense, did this artistic spectacle escape its aesthetic representational status and engender both a "game with time" and a "community of dialogue"?
As a game with time, the wrapped Reichstag invited two ways of seeing. First, the wrap's temporal brevity accentuated the fundamental impermanence and ephemerality of Christo's conception of cultural praxis--one that defines his oeuvre. The work clearly challenged the timeless character typically associated with bourgeois "museum art": here was a fleeting and ephemeral act that deconstructed any aspiration toward immortal, auratic forms of culture. 4 Second, by intervening in a particular context and space of German life, albeit briefly, the work of art sparked memories of, and discursive practices related to, numerous historical sedimentations associated both with the Reichstag and the German past. 5 It was a "game with time" both as an aesthetic event and as a cultural--indeed historical and political--intervention.
Moreover, the wrapped Reichstag also engendered "a community of dialogue" in several important and interrelated ways. The project's very scale and immediacy, as well as the media attention given to it, invited a fresh dialogue on the nature of art. The artists' singular intervention in German everyday life not only stimulated "aesthetic" deliberations, but also kindled discourses on countless issues pertinent to contemporary German life. In short, the project was a wide-ranging Gedankenanstoss--a stimulus to thinking about art, culture and politics.
To be sure, the resultant public discourses did not progress toward a coherent dialogic telos: while focussed on the aesthetic event, participants were not necessarily impelled toward consensus and mutual insight. Instead, their discursive practices became increasingly decentered and open, eventually creating a multiplicity of perspectives and subject positions. As Christo had anticipated (undoubtedly drawing on his experience with prior projects), the conscious injection of beauty and aesthetic form into everyday life fostered frequent suspensions of normal discursive practices and themes, in the process opening up new possibilities in thought and action. The artists' work, as he had noted in an interview in 1994, "triggers strong feelings so that humans are momentarily relieved from their everyday miseries. Instead of discussing unemployment, strikes, and the problems of foreigners, they discuss values like dignity, beauty, aesthetics and history." In the process, he concluded, they were offered a "stimulating distraction from the trivial troubles of the everyday." 6 By suspending its audience from the normative discourses of ordinary everyday life, the Wrapped Reichstag initiated a unique politics characterized by new intellectual and affective practices.
[The wrapping of the Reichstag] is not an easy project; it means confrontation and animated controversy and a sharpening of the senses.
Die Geschichte wird enthüllt, wenn der Reichstag verhüllt wird.
--Heribert Scharrenbroich (CDU/CSU) 8
The expression of history in things is no other than that of past torment.
--Theodor Adorno 9
A opening move in the aesthetic game with time came in August, 1971, when Michael Cullen, an American living in Berlin, sent Christo and Jeanne-Claude a postcard of the Reichstag, suggesting that it be wrapped. Cullen did not know his correspondents personally, but he knew--and greatly appreciated--the artists' long preoccupation with the aesthetic effects of wrapping large and small objects. Within weeks, Jeanne-Claude and Christo responded, indicating their interest in the proposal.
Cullen later suggested that Christo, born in 1935, may have had a native Bulgarian's unique interest in the Reichstag. For in the wake of the fateful Reichstag fire of February 27, 1933, the Nazi round-up and trial of domestic and foreign communists purportedly implicated had also included the prominent Bulgarian communist Georgi Dimitroff. Dimitroff's self-defense at the trial was decidedly clever--he managed to question and infuriate Hermann Göring himself. Fortunately for Dimitroff, he was soon released and later rose to political prominence in postwar Bulgaria. His story became widely known in the Balkan country, possibly influencing the young Christo. 10
Years later, in an interview in 1986, Christo not only mentioned Dimitroff, but also conceded that the Reichstag project was indeed "so much more inspirational" given "my links with Eastern Europe. . ." 11 Yet, reflecting subsequent layers of personal experience and the new political and historical challenges posed by the very space of the proposed project itself, Christo's adult representation of his motives was more nuanced. His very first one-man exhibition, he recalled, had been in Cologne in 1961, and he had later made friends in West Germany. Perhaps more significantly, having fled the Soviet orbit in 1957, he became deeply troubled by the erection of the Berlin wall in 1961. Indeed, his immediate artistic statement in response to the Wall was the "Iron Curtain Wall of Oil Barrels, 1961-62," a temporary construct of 240 oil barrels across the Rue Visconti in Paris.
When Cullen's suggestion arrived in August of 1971, the artists were hard at work on the "Valley Curtain" project in rural Colorado. They were searching for an urban project and wanted, as Christo recalled, to "use a focal point in a city and temporarily transform it in my way." 12 He knew, of course, that the Reichstag, located at a troublesome intersection of East and West Berlin, was a volatile urban focal point. Thus, aside from the strictly aesthetic issues associated with such a project, wrapping the Reichstag would also allow him, as he later recounted, to intervene in the "extraordinary history" that clung to this building and its surrounding urban space. To be sure, both building and space initially embodied historical and political meanings associated with the Cold War, but these would subsequently give way to contemporary meanings linked to the unification of Germany. 13 As Christo emphasized three years before the fall of the Berlin wall, he hoped to explore "all the interrelations" 14 that would arise from the multifarious historical intimations associated with the Reichstag. After the wall fell in 1989, Christo saw a structure "rich in content" and allowing "so many interpretations." 15 All these considerations kept the artists' clinging to the hope of the project's completion with great persistence--a persistence which would ultimately impress both supporters and detractors alike.
By the Spring of 1972, the first drawings of the "Wrapped Reichstag, Project for Berlin" were completed. Interestingly enough, Christo had originally entertained running a miles-long fence along the Berlin wall. But the fence's restricted visibility to one side of the confining presence of the wall violated his notion of democratic art. 16 To be sure, the idea of a fence was soon realized as a strictly aesthetic notion in the "Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California" project (completed in 1976). In the setting of Berlin, however, it was clearly inappropriate: "[I]t wasn't doing anything to engage the East Germans on the other side of the Wall. . . ." 17
Christo's vigorous commitment to public engagement, "confrontation," and "animated controversy" had deep roots. In his own words, he was "strongly influenced" by the early Soviet constructivists, and particularly their commitment to taking art "out of the museums [and] into the streets and plazas. . ." 18 To a considerable extent, the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude may also be seen as part of the "new genre of public art." 19 In the words of Patricia Phillips, the intention of such art is "not to create permanent objects for presentation in traditionally accepted public places, but, instead, to assist in the construction of a public--to encourage, through actions, ideas, and interventions, a participatory audience where none seemed to exist." 20 This participatory ethic invariably implies confronting and engaging local communities and authorities from the beginning of a project's conception to its completion. And because this practice is intrinsic to the artists' work, an extensive "campaign of persuasion" 21 of citizens and public officials in the affected communities has typically preceded the construction of the Christos' public art. Indeed, as the artists agreed in an interview in 1993, the dialogue with local communities was both an integral and enriching part of their aesthetic practice: "From Japanese farmers to German politicians, from deep sea biologists to construction engineers [and] ecologists--[we] would not want to miss the unbelievable multiplicity of experiences, information, human relations, and experiences with nature throughout the world." 22
But while authorities in Colorado, California, Missouri, Florida and Paris had sanctioned other projects by the artists throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the response of regnant West German authorities to the Wrapped Reichstag project remained negative throughout these decades. The reasons for three separate German vetoes of the proposed project were complex, but they were never due to any lack of lobbying zeal by Jeanne-Claude and Christo. Bent on engaging the Germans and winning their support, the artists visited Germany 54 times between 1976 and 1995. In addition, Christo created countless drawings of the Wrapped Reichstag, and the artists engaged in numerous meetings with German politicians and citizens. In 1987, they were supported by lobbying efforts that ultimately gathered 70,000 signatures on behalf of the project. Nevertheless, all of these efforts resulted in rejections by three German presidents of the Bundestag (the near-final authorities in such matters) in 1977, 1981, and 1987. 23
In the end, however, this particular game with time was not lost. Historical and political developments soon favored the Christos' Wrapped Reichstag. In 1988, Rita Süssmuth, a supporter of the project, became president of the Bundestag. In November, 1989, the Berlin wall fell; a year later Germany unified, and in 1991 Berlin was voted the seat of Germany's future government. The Reichstag, which had stood virtually empty through much of the postwar period, required reconstruction before becoming a central edifice of Germany's new governmental quarters. Until this reconstruction commenced, the building was effectively available for the artists' project. In light of these developments, the Reichstag project began to assume new meanings. No longer so prominently a symbol for what Adorno had called "past torment," the Reichstag and the project now could embody the fresh hopes and fears of a united Germany.
Christo fully understood these developments, voicing his satisfaction that the project had not been realized before 1989. The building would have seemed like a "mausoleum and our project would have fallen subject to the rhetoric of the Cold War." 24 Yet the final authority to sanction or reject the "Wrapped Reichstag" now lay with Germany's recently-united parliament, the Bundestag in Bonn. The debate in the Bundestag would exhibit the dialogic and discursive dimensions elicited by the project, showing the remarkable extent to which the artists' project had triggered discussions on a host of artistic, political, economic and cultural issues.
An early, evidently unnoticed, ironic note attended the hour-long parliamentary debate of February 25, 1994 on the "Wrapped Reichstag." 25 Both the chief parliamentary proponent of the project, Peter Conradi (SPD) and the chief opponent, Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU/CSU), initially denied that the project's artistic merits were the central issue. Art was not subject to majority votes, Conradi proclaimed to much bipartisan applause. Thereupon, however, he promptly cited two decidedly aesthetic reasons why the artists' project should be sanctioned. First, the wrap's temporary estrangement of the building opened the mind to different, sharper aesthetic perceptions: it would mean Erkenntnis durch Verfremdung (knowledge through estrangement). Second, the wrapping of people and objects was, after all, a prominent theme of art history; valued gifts became more, and not less, valuable when wrapped. A supportive Green Party spokesman later noted the reverent wrappings practiced in Catholic and Jewish religious ceremonies.
But before turning to more practical and political considerations, Conradi injected another, decidedly theoretical, justification. The temporality of the wrap, he noted, brought the transitoriness of life into human consciousness, and its reproduction in the media would engender cultural memories very much like those associated with Christo's earlier projects in California and Paris. He then offered several practical reasons for welcoming the project: it cost the taxpayer nothing, created employment, and represented a fitting sign for the new beginnings in Berlin. Moreover, the artists' remarkable perseverance--their energetic pursuit of their vision for over 20 years--deserved admiration. And, finally, as opposed to the recent images of violence against foreigners reflected by the events in Rostock, Moelln, Solingen and Hoyerswerda, the Wrapped Reichstag would send a gentle, better and more peaceable image of Germany to the world. Echoing this latter point, Rita Süssmuth would later argue that "this wrap is sending a message to the world: we are your partners and we have learned an important lesson of history." 26
Ironically, Wolfgang Schäuble also commented on the aesthetic effects of the artists' work despite his earlier insistence that it would be presumptuous to decide on its artistic merit. Schäuble personally respected the artists' work and appreciated its aesthetic lessons. He made positive mention of the pink fabric which surrounded the islands in Florida, the umbrella landscapes of Japan and California, the giant curtain across a Colorado valley, and the sand-colored fabric used to cloak the Pont Neuf in Paris. But, as he intoned, "the Reichstag is simply no Pont Neuf." Rather, the Reichstag was a singular symbol which represented the heights and depths of German history: from its balcony, Philipp Scheidemann had called out the first German republic in 1918; its (partial) burning in 1933 had given the Nazis a pretext to install their barbaric dictatorship; twelve years later Red Army soldiers raised the Soviet flag onto its roof to signal the downfall of the Third Reich; for almost twenty years the Schandmauer (wall of shame) passed directly behind its eastern facade; and, on the nights of the 2nd and 3rd of October, 1990, Germany's reunification was celebrated in front of its western facade. Having thus partly portrayed the Reichstag as the dramatic symbol of Germany's "past torment" (to utilize Adorno's apt phrase) and partly as a symbol of certain positive developments, Schäuble argued that allowing the artists' project would deny the respect due to such political symbols. After repeatedly characterizing the Christos' works as artistic experiments, Schäuble urged that no experiments be tried on such a significant historical site. Moreover, shifting from the historic to the present moment, he noted the current lack of trust in German democracy and its representatives. Any such political deficiencies, especially if accentuated by the potential polarization that the wrapped Reichstag might engender, should not be exploited to further weaken German democracy. The dignity (Würde) of German history and culture must not be damaged by the Christos' aesthetic experiment. 27
Despite Schäuble's impassioned admonition against the project, a majority of the parliamentarians endorsed the construction of the wrapped Reichstag by a vote of 292 to 223. In a fascinating way, the debate--as a "community of dialogue"--portrayed two dimensions of German democracy. On the one hand, it revealed an almost classic division between "liberals" and "conservatives" operating within the sanctioned political sphere, thus showing the extent to which discussion was confined by ideological parameters and institutional strictures. Most liberals (being currently out of power) had shown an openness toward the project, while most conservatives (being in power) had opposed any "experimentation." To be sure, some conservatives did not share Schäuble's fears that a critical dialogue on the German past would create destabilizing political tremors. Heribert Scharrenbroich of the CDU/CSU, for example, welcomed historical debate. After citing certain positive historical developments connected with the Reichstag, he asserted that the project might well offer the chance for fruitful historical reconsiderations: history, Scharrenbroich concluded, would be beneficially unwrapped as the Reichstag was being wrapped.
On the other hand, the debate exhibited the readiness by a newly reconfigured German democracy to address issues of art, and in the process to confront unknown and unanticipated questions concerning Germany's past and present political culture. More than a year later, Jeanne-Claude stated that what they had learned was "that Germany is truly a democratic country." 28 She might well have added that the construction and completion of the "Wrapped Reichstag"--and its reception by diverse publics--would expand democratic practices beyond the formalistic limits associated with an official political sphere of the Bundestag.
The work creates a participatory public. In some way everybody in this intricate relationship is a maker of the Reichstag project.
This is peaceful and good. The monopoly of power falls away here.
--70 year old Berliner 30
Numerous practical and technical preparatory tasks delayed the construction of the Christos' project for more than a year after the Bundestag vote. 31 It was, after all, a major engineering feat. On June 25, 1995, however, the "Wrapped Reichstag" was completed, ready to be viewed for the next two weeks. In the ten days preceding its realization--to borrow a phrase later used by Eberhard Diepgen, Berlin's Lord Mayor--the structure was progressively transformed from a Bauwerk (building) to a Kunstwerk (work of art). 32 During this final construction phase, the response of a slowly growing daily audience was at first rather mixed. The earliest opinions offered by some forty randomly-chosen viewers were at times tentative and mildly critical. "I am 60% for it," a 74-year-old Berliner (born in the Netherlands) opined on June 16, suspending final judgement until later. 33 A 50-year-old woman visitor from Cologne, although applauding the emerging wrap as a stimulus for communication, pronounced it a Wohlstandsprojekt--the project of an affluent society in a world of great poverty. But as construction progressed, and the general contours of the Kunstwerk became visible, the frequency of both reservations and criticisms diminished. To be sure, critical estimates persisted throughout the construction phase and thereafter. Even harsh critics, as the writer Joel Agee also observed as early as June 19, seemed "all [to] have smiles of pleasure on their faces." 34
What had changed--and opened the door to new discursive possibilities--was the perceptual and experiential status of the Christos' project: it now intervened irrevocably in the everyday life of the audience. Its very presence tended to displace the tensions created by so many earlier conceptual and visual representations of the project. New mental representations, now influenced by the impressive reality and beauty of the Christos' work, began to amend previous depictions. For there was no longer any doubt, in the words of David Galloway, that the "Wrapped Reichstag" was "astonishingly protean":
The aluminized surface of the building's polypropylene sheath responded to every nuance, reflecting a shimmering blue when the sky was clear, a leaden gray when it clouded over, flaming orange at sunset, yellow-gold when spotlights where turned on at night ( 35).
The Christos' project had escaped its earlier systemic confines. It now boldly confronted its viewers, permitting--indeed inviting--discursive responses that were far more varied, open, spontaneous and "unorganized" than those voiced either in the Bundestag debate or the media. The primary datum, of course, was the emerging Kunstwerk itself. Its presence at the edge of the Tiergarten--a space once labelled "almost magnetic [and] metaphysical" by Christo 36--not only dominated the surrounding cityscape but also prompted diverse perceptual images in the minds of many visitors.
Notably, the aesthetic judgments proffered by members of the growing audience were typically and remarkably tolerant and deferential. To most visitors, art was "a matter of personal opinion." They volunteered occasional metaphors and phrases of praise and (more infrequently) condemnation for the project, but few ventured beyond shorthand characterizations. This truncated discourse on art, when compared to the exuberant richness of opinion soon voiced on other topics, was rather startling. Two interpretations may help to explain the manifest reluctance to offer aesthetic judgments. On the one hand, the very novelty and visual ambiguity of the art work may have militated against any discursive rendering. "One stands in front of it almost unable to speak," a 42-year-old dental assistant from Berlin exclaimed on June 25th. On the other hand, the lack of conceptual and verbal tools to formulate artistic judgments possibly prevented articulate evaluations. Two policemen in their twenties, for example, frankly conceded that they hesitated to comment because of their lack of education in art.
Nevertheless, on being repeatedly confronted by the eloquent criticism of an artist named Martin von Ostrowski, most members of the audience left little doubt about their preferences. Von Ostrowski, wearing a gold coat with black lettering that read "Dies ist kein Kunstwerk" (This is not a work of art), was a striking and intrepid opponent of the Wrapped Reichstag. He took great pains almost daily to condemn the project as being "monumental" and "pure kitsch." 37 The audience members who heard him, while usually listening attentively and politely to his admonitions, typically voiced or signalled their disagreement, albeit in shorthand form.
Concurrently, those who commanded the requisite language of art history and criticism offered several revealing insights into the meaning of Christo's cultural politics. A Berlin art professor in his fifties, a resident of the former GDR, elaborated on Christo's place in a "tradition of provocation," one that included the avant-garde aesthetic practices associated with Dadaism, surrealism and, later, situationism. Another former GDR resident, an art teacher in her forties from the Zwickau region, characterized the project as being, in essence, a Zweckentfremdung (purposive estrangement). By wrapping the Reichstag, the Christos' contested normalized perceptions while directing attention to new cultural aims. Interestingly, she tolerated von Ostrowski's suggestion that the Wrapped Reichstag was a form of kitsch, insisting that "[w]e all need kitsch. Kitsch is bad only if it has power over us and manipulates us." A third educated voice, a retired Berlin building engineer, aged 65, observed that the unwrapped Reichstag had flaunted the preoccupations with power that were inscribed in buildings during that age. The Wrapped Reichstag, by contrast, "removes the brutal forms of that time period."
Such articulate judgments on art, however, were the exception. More frequently, audience interest shifted to issues pertinent to the financial side of the project. The Wrapped Reichstag, after all, was an impressive edifice being constructed within a capitalist life-world in which the audience participated. Predictably, their interpretations and evaluations of the art work were intermingled with, and were even displaced by, economic issues. After fashionably dismissing the question of the project's aesthetic worth as a matter of personal opinion, one long-time resident of eastern Berlin hastened to add: "But a lot of money is being made here." Such acknowledgements of the central role of money were frequent among those interviewed, and they extended to a host of other economic concerns. The project's great cost, at a time when the German economy (including that of Berlin) experienced serious downturns, as well as the financial benefits to Berlin and countless businesses, were two prominent matters of concern.
Moreover, the project had also attracted its share of "commercialism." Corporate interests, for example, exploited the spectacle: a West cigarette ad pictured the unwrapped Reichstag while proclaiming "Verhülltes sieht man besser" (What is wrapped, one sees better"). Small-scale entrepreneurs sold their legal and illegal wares, while diverse Trittbrettfahrer (coat-tail riders) were along for the ride, either peddling or exhibiting their talents and skills. Among the latter, a young man clothed and painted grey from head to toe, who stood perfectly still in imitation of a statue of a knight, stated cynically: "Christo is financially good for me. He's in it for the money, and so am I."
In fact, the Christos had taken great pains to remove some of the constraints potentially imposed by capitalism. They derived no direct income from their project, and they insisted on establishing a commerce-free zone around the Wrapped Reichstag. To be sure, they had utilized the capitalist labor market for the construction of the project and sold high-quality collages and drawings in the art market to obtain revenues. But the utilization of labor and the gathering of revenue ultimately resulted in an aesthetic event free from public and private sponsorship, and open to all--not to mention that the event was free of charge. Indeed, Christo specifically objected to the contemporary linkage between "capital investment and speculation" and art. If self-financing in a capitalist market was indeed necessary, it was necessary in order to obtain "poetical freedom." 38 It may be, as Petra Kipphoff argued about earlier projects, the Wrapped Reichstag in fact contested capitalism: the artists utilized capitalist means in order, in the end, to undermine the utilitarian mentality of capitalism. 39
But while capitalist imperatives encouraged innovative financial responses by the artists and also greatly preoccupied the audience, the distinctly democratic voices which had attended the project since the Bundestag debate now re-emerged. The final construction of the wrapped Reichstag engendered a telling discourse on history and politics. In the Bundestag debate, Wolfgang Schäuble had feared the consequences of such a discourse, while Heribert Scharrenbroich had welcomed it. Now, in the week preceding the wrap, a Green Party member expressed doubts that the project would produce a genuine re-examination of the German past. 40 What occurred, in fact, was that the historical and political discussions raised in the free space surrounding the project neither fully reflected the systemic imperatives of the official public sphere nor ignored the manifest concerns of the German past and present. To be sure, there were echoes of the sentiments voiced by Schäuble. One middle-aged visitor from Hamburg, for example, objected to the experimentation of the Christos' art on "this building." "Where he is today celebrating his party," he averred, "there was a wall. One should have more regard for this." There were also predictable outbursts condemning contemporary politicians, reflecting a Politikverdrossenheit (annoyance with politics) sometimes noted by observers of the German political scene. 41 But the tendency to mime such systemically guided political discourses proved to be the exception rather than the rule. More representative of the prevailing dialogue were the comments of a young American, who had resided in Berlin for several years. He had observed the fall of the wall, and participated in several subsequent festive occasions associated with the reunification of Germany in Berlin. Now he identified the way in which the wrap contributed to the alteration of traditional political meanings. "Seeing it as a wrapped building," he said, "almost takes away its political meaning." Sharing this perception of the wrap's deconstruction of previous political forms, a 31 year-old Berlin law student expressed the hope that the Christos' veiling would enlarge the boundaries of the political, creating a political space that "is less removed and more a part of everyday life."
New and unexpected historical reflections and political meanings were indeed triggered by the Christos' art. Many of them played into the dialectics of remembrance and forgetting which the wrap metaphorically evoked. On June 17, the replica of a tank wrapped in white sheets appeared on the north side of the Reichstag, across the Spree. Inscribed on the sheet on the replica's side, in large red print, was the phrase, "Gegen das Vergessen" (Against Forgetting). The wrapped tank--effectively a "counter-demonstration"--critiqued the fact that the West German holiday commemorating the uprising of East German workers against the communist regime in 1953 had been forgotten. The leader of this poignant Gegendemonstration, Sigmar Faust, explained that his group had nothing against Christo. Nevertheless, "without wanting to do so, [Christo] has contributed to this forgetting." The victimization of East Germans, he believed, continued to deserve commemoration. For on this day 42 years ago, an East German dictatorship had cruelly exhibited its commitment to repression, and Faust and his collaborators had greatly suffered from it. Thus, albeit in an unanticipated way, Wolfgang Schäuble's ideological articulation ofthe Schandmauer re-entered the public discourse.
Nevertheless, in the open and "unorganized" discursive space surrounding the Wrapped Reichstag--one which both rested upon and prompted human plurality--Schäuble's and Faust's paradigmatic rendering of the "wall of shame" was ultimately deconstructed by those with different life experiences. A woman biologist in her 50s, who had also resided in eastern Berlin, expressed telling ambiguities shared by other previous residents of the GDR. Emphasizing that she and her husband, a medical doctor, had neither been victimized by the East German regime nor experienced past or present hardships, she pondered the new realities engendered by post-wall Germany. On the one hand, she felt nostalgic about the former GDR, and puzzled by the new realities. On the other hand, she applauded a social system that allowed an event like the wrapped Reichstag to take place: it "brought people together."
The implicit hope that the Wrapped Reichstag embodied positive potentials was articulated more explicitly by other participants of the spectacle. Of course, given the trials and tribulations experienced by Germans since the Wende of 1989, such discourses of hope were couched in terms of hypotheticals and dream-wishes. Expressing support for the Christos' project partially because of his partisan antagonism toward Chancellor Helmut Kohl (who had opposed the project), a 34 year-old nurse from West Berlin lauded the "aesthetic as well as political meaning" of the project. He hoped that their project would "mark a new political beginning," even possibly creating bridges that spanned the social and cultural chasm separating "Ossie" from "Wessie." A 51 year-old woman also reflected on the way in which the wrap opened the spectator's political imagination. Contemplating its utopian political possibilities she noted: "One could imagine that something good will be decided in this building now." What also caught her fancy and spurred her hopes was the discursive, increasingly dialogic, context itself: she liked the "communication that it has produced"--particularly between the generations.
The many provocative human responses produced by the wrapped Reichstag--aesthetic, financial, historical, political and utopian--operated in a new context that momentarily transcended the earnest imperatives of much everyday life. Indeed, the very qualities that Christo had attributed to the artwork itself--its "sensuous, erotic, humorous" characteristics 42--soon began to infiltrate the temporary free space surrounding the project as well as the discourse issuing from the "community of dialogue" which the audience had become. The English term "happening" was frequently used to characterize the event, and the question of whether or not this was a Volksfest (with opinions divided) intrigued many visitors. With such terminological characterizations, people attempted to capture an almost circus-like experience: "verticalists" descending from the Reichstag roof to unwrap the silver fabric panels that would cloak the building, 1200 youthful "monitors" employed (in shifts) by the Christos both to guard the construction site and to respond to audience questions, diverse street performers--to say nothing of countless other Trittbrettfahrer who contributed to a festive atmosphere. Whatever interpretation was offered about the wrap, most viewers increasingly signalled a sense of pleasure and enjoyment with the spectacle. The Christos' aesthetic intervention, after all, effectively demanded the engagement, even co-creation, by all participants, workers and audience alike. Indeed, it was the invitation to co-create that had engendered aesthetic, financial, historical and political interpretations; now, it also frequently produced spontaneous outbursts of humor and irony.
Nine-year old Clarissa, for example, was unsure about the art, concluding that a pink wrap would have been more appropriate. Three seventeen year-old boys, after questioning why an "American" was wrapping "our Reichstag," added jokingly that their school should be wrapped. An African resident of Berlin observed that fear would have attended a similar spectacle in his home country, and went on to question such excesses by an affluent Germany. As an afterthought, he exclaimed pointedly and with a smile: ". . .and it is white." For a seventy-five year old Berlin woman, the wrap was a Gedankenanstoss which prompted the thought that, with some exceptions, all German politicians should be wrapped. Indeed, a number of people reflected with delight that the Wrapped Reichstag counter-acted the excessive seriousness--the Bierernst--so often found among Germans.
The Christos' "gentle disturbance" 43 in Berlin may have had more wide-ranging effects than the artists--as creators--were able to foresee. The creation of the Wrapped Reichstag had elicited numerous differing discursive forms. Diverse communities of dialogue had arisen, with some showing systemically constrained and guarded responses, and others exhibiting spontaneous and unguarded evocations. At times, of course, there were also moments of almost Heideggerian silence and reverent inaction as some people moved quietly from the crowd to the building in order simply to touch the silvery fabric of the wrap, and others sat silently in groups or alone. At other times, the wrap became a canvas for visual self-display: people playfully danced before the lighted edifice at night--their bodies purposefully casting huge and moving shadow figures on the aluminized fabric.
The wrap, therefore, became a free-floating signifier, beginning with the Christos' authoritative rendering and moving to diverse popular reiterations. Sigmar Faust's Gegendemonstration, for example, appropriated the wrapped form to express grief, but a host of other, more playful, appropriations also surfaced in the space surrounding the Reichstag and throughout Berlin. Some individuals were anxious to see themselves wrapped (accommodated for a fee, of course); pictures of wrapped beer bottles appeared; storefronts displayed wrapped furniture; a postcard rendered a wrapped penis; and a cartoon showed an unsuccessful bird's nest now vastly improved by wrapping.
Such significations and reiterations were certainly predictable responses to a festive and momentary aesthetic spectacle in a capitalist life-world. But they also showed the remarkable extent to which the wrap--as Gedankenanstoss, as metaphor, as experience--had deeply penetrated the interstices of everyday life. Indeed, from the moment of its construction, the Wrapped Reichstag had initiated a unique politics of everyday life: it had stimulated the creative rethinking of countless ideas and actions normally taken for granted while also providing the possibility of contesting the constraints of the organized life-world. This novel politics of everyday life challenged various norms and proprieties; it prodded questions about a life-world riven with socially required projects or tasks; and, to some extent, it dissented from the performance principle of an administered world. At least potentially, the aesthetic intervention of Christo and Jeanne-Claude opened up the prospect of a more "liberated" everyday life, one characterized by the renewed and revitalized intermingling of desires, hopes, pleasure, play and intellectual speculation.
To be sure, such a cultural politics was not likely either to initiate wide-ranging social and political transformations or to extricate all individuals from normalized discourses. Rather, the effect of the Wrapped Reichstag was more refracted, diffuse and oblique. By briefly offering a lived experience of alternative tactical engagements within the strategic constraints of the organized life-world, the wrap set in motion diverse and personalized projects premised on the expectation that the openness, dialogue and freedom attending the spectacle could become an enduring part of everyday life itself.
In one sense, then, the Wrapped Reichstag initiated a political practice that would be recognized by members of the Frankfurt School, particularly Adorno and Herbert Marcuse. In their view art, irrespective of its political or ideological content, may provide the impetus for political change. In seeking to find practices that might transcend the confines of an "administered" (Adorno) or "one-dimensional" (Marcuse) society, both theorists came to view art as a critical reserve for political transformation: "good" art works provide a means by which one can revive those thwarted senses, desires and cognitions associated with a life-world that typically militates against emancipatory alternatives. In this respect, those aesthetic works most removed from social and political interests (whether orthodox Marxist or liberal in nature) are the most political. 44 It was undoubtedly in this sense that Christo disavowed "political prescriptions" in art (in terms of form and content) yet still insisted that there was an intrinsic "political dimension" to art. 45
In another sense, however, the art of Christo and Jeanne-Claude clearly belongs to another tradition, one that he actually mentions, and--as noted--was observed by an educated spectator of the event: the "tradition of provocation." For while Marcuse and Adorno saw art's revolutionary potential as arising from its purely aesthetic character, they assumed that any political possibilities could only be realized when art stood apart from an oppressively one-dimensional and administered everyday life. The aesthetic spectacle witnessed in Berlin, by contrast, neither ignored nor fully transcended the practices of ordinary everyday life. Rather, in the words of Christo, it played directly upon all of those "connections" and practices that make up the quotidian. In doing so, it reflected the tradition of the constructivists to whom Christo felt indebted, one that was further developed by the situationists, and of whom Debord was an important member. As opposed to Adorno and Marcuse, this tradition seeks to bring art into the "streets," thus aesthetically reappropriating the contradictions of everyday life for emancipatory purposes. To the situationists what was important was not necessarily to create another great work of art: they sought to infuse everyday life with the pleasure, creativity and revitalization of desires represented in all good art. 46
A similar understanding of cultural politics was recently advanced by Jürgen Habermas. In a provocative riposte to postmodern positions, Habermas critiqued the practices of modernist avant-garde movements (particularly, Dadaism and surrealism) for assuming that one could overcome a "reified everyday praxis" simply by opening up and making more accessible "highly stylized cultural spheres." 47 Habermas, following a suggestion from Albrecht Wellmer, argued that art can have an important political effect if it "is used to illuminate a life-historical situation and is related to life problems." "The aesthetic experience," Habermas continued, "not only renews the interpretation of our needs in whose light we perceive the world. It permeates as well our cognitive significations and our normative expectations and changes the manner in which all these moments refer to one another." 48
This, to a considerable extent, is what Christo and Jeanne-Claude had achieved: the Wrapped Reichstag had certainly permeated cognitive significations and altered normative expectations. To be sure, discernible emancipatory reverberations did not result from the Christos' ephemeral aesthetic project. For some people (including the media) the momentary release or epiphany created by the aesthetic spectacle sufficed; thereafter life went on. In this sense, the experience, like other "leisure" activities in the capitalist life-world, provided little more than a needed respite, thus reaffirming existing realities. On the other hand, new games with time and novel communities of dialogue became possible because the Wrapped Reichstag opened a physical and mental space of autonomy. In this space, human beings, if only opaquely and briefly, could choose to practice and imagine--indeed celebrate--transcendent human possibilities.
Manfred J. Enssle is Professor of History at Colorado State University. He has published books and articles on 20th century German cultural and political life, and is presently working on a study of the everyday life of scarcity in post-War Germany.
Bradley J. Macdonald teaches political theory in the Department of Political Science at Colorado State University. He is the author of a number of articles on Western Marxism, cultural politics and contemporary political theory, and is currently working on a genealogy of post-Marxism.
Japanese architect Ryuji Nakamura has given video conferencing a creative upgrade with his paper house Midget & Giant project, which makes it look like a giant is looking into the house when you use the webcam. It was all created for a workshop that he did at DESIGNEAST 01 in 2010.
Ryuji's official website:
Taking popcorn interprets popcorn popping as Morse code. A text-to-speech program provides simultaneous translation. Since popcorn doesn't have short & long popping sounds, the duration of the silence between the pops create the short Morse code "dots" and long "dashes."
I can see how this could create a series of random letters, but I wonder how it is turned into coherent words. Perhaps it waits until a word appears in the gibberish? The problem with that is you might pop an entire batch of popcorn and only get a couple of words. Perhaps the gibberish is translated into the closest matching word (in the same way that spell-checkers work).
In addition to the popcorn machine, Katchadourian has a nice series of spin-off works including The Popcorn Journal which consists of bags of popcorn along side their text output and Talking Popcorn's First Words which are bronze popped corn from the first batch (which was translated as "we").