SMART HOUSES: PAST AND FUTURE
Latent - present but needing particular conditions to become active, obvious or completely developed.
(Cambridge English Dictionary)
Latent 1 - Architecture. Not much to see in this respect, if one counts architecture as a discipline separate from interior design. No buildings are here to challenge us with their virtuality, except a short loop by Aziz & Coucher (Passage, 2002) presenting a subtle, yet meaningless distortion applied to a space in Herzliya; so common (the space) that one should realise immediately that the undulation of the walls is the case in point here, and by no means the architecture itself; and so common (the distortion) that no visitor with even minimal non-addictive-drugs and/or 3D-software-user experience will be impressed.
And yet, looking at that virtual corridor (displayed, in a modest attempt to surprise, as an extension of a real corridor in the building), I am struck again by the nauseating tunnel experience I cannot avoid whenever visiting poor people in Bucharest. The dizziness one feels while moving along in one of those blocks with one-room apartments lined up along an endless, dark, empty, decayed and damp corridor, with a tiny window at the end as a promise of a flight to nowhere. No latency there - only poverty and fatalistic acceptance.
Latent 2 - Design. Not much to see in this respect either, if one counts design as a discipline separate from art. Just like one hundred years ago, form and function are again two worlds evolving apart from each other. As was also the case back then, design is again about stimulating the feeling of power (to possess) and titillating the desire (to show off).
Next to the Latent Space (and I assume not by coincidence) is a small display meant to illustrate the restoration undergone by the Castle De Haar (owners: Etienne, Baron van Zuylen van Nijevelt van de Haar, and Baroness Hélène de Rotschild), under the direct supervision of P.J.H. and J. Cuypers. Started in the late 19th century, the operation took about 40 years and transformed a ruin into a splendid piece of syncretism, where early modern facilities (like central heating and electricity) were obsessively packaged into a typical belle-époque, absurdist translation of medieval crafts. What this neighbourhood tells us is that culture is looping back into the hedonism and vanity, into the redundancy of shape and the inflation of style characteristic of that other turn of the century one hundred years ago.
No latency here either, only the opposite - an urge to produce more, and to superimpose more signs over the same (often meagre) function. And a difference in speed, of course. Back then, an architect's office could indulge in four decades of shaping a megalomaniac project; now, in times of diffuse responsibility, projects come and go faster and faster, and the capacity for making mistakes diminishes proportionally, diffused by the short life span of our ambitions, which must glitter NOW - a tiny now, I must add. Megalomania is replaced by mini-mania.
Latent 3 - Art. There is little to add to the decade-old debate over the convergence between art and design. Maybe just that the process succeeded so successfully that what seemed to be at one time a take-over of one domain by the other (art by design or vice versa - both alternatives had their partisans) looks now like a levelling of ambitions, a homogeneity of language, and a coincidence of goals. This win-win situation results in the sophisticated world of codes in which we are immersed, and the only losers are those purists seeking whatever latency of emotions and perception these two separate domains were stewarding for.
But no latency here either - everything is in your face, the concept, its definition, and their translation into the reality of facts, sensations and events. The best example in this show (and generally speaking an excellent illustration of the ultimate shallowness of this marriage between disciplines) is the door with two symmetric doorknobs (one functional and one not, on the hinge side) devised by Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset. The Duchampian model (the famous New York kitchen door that evolves between two door frames, servicing two adjacent rooms) is reduced here to a mere joke, static, explicit, and non-interactive. A statement of perfect boredom - which is in itself an achievement, distilled in the last years of post-post-modern negative ambition.
Latent 4 - Interiors. The exhibition itself is a compilation of cultural clichés, but with some effort at positioning, one could bring them into a fertile dialogue. By »positioning« I mean beaming the bric-a-brac of objects amassed on the balcony of the NAI into a regular space - into a home. If we are not afraid of the late 60s/early 70s effect (something like the »smart« houses from »Barbarella« and other tongue-in-cheek SF movies), we can do it. Let's try, step by step: The interactive video setting by Ebru Özseçen (»Eclipse«, 2002) uses a delayed capture of the audience in the room, and software that processes the human silhouettes in cascades of graphic shapes and contours, presented on a dark (and therefore ecliptic) flat screen. The visuals are a modest, colourless version of the distortions carried out by Nam June Paik on some of Merce Cunningham's simplistic choreographies, and the interaction is at a basic entertainment level. But if inserted into one of the walls in your dining room (or your library), this type of fluid painting could provide a balance next to the other screen (also flat), where you are showing, in permanent alternation, MTV, your collection of cult movies on DVD and - money allowing - a mellow video by Pippilotti Rist. And they will all function as a spooky kind of dynamic decoration.
Ricci Albenda reminds me of Absalon, an artist who died too young to secure the international success he deserved. While Absalon built architectures as immaculate sculptures (a mix of Mediterranean purity and kibbutz domestic functionalism), Albenda aims at transforming fragments of architecture into sculptural objects. »Portal to Another Dimension (Deborah)/Positive« (2001) is, despite the complicated title, just a calculated accident of the wall, where the (inherently) functional surface is suddenly charged with gratuitous detail, with excess, with a playful volume that one could easily imagine being extirpated at will. An integrated, customised sculpture for your sleeping room (if I have perceived the erotic connotations of the piece correctly), always at your disposition when boredom arises.
Duchamp seems to be very much en vogue, since we have here another, more explicit comment (and one also more in the spirit of the master) - the »Male Fountain and Female Fountain« (2001) by Alex Schweder, two urinals playing on the fundamental gender difference. It is fascinating to see how much energy has been invested lately in the act of public peeing (mind you, that is what urinals are about - peeing in a public setting). Research has established that the act of peeing generates splashes that go up as far as the forehead of the person involved in the act. The Technical University of Delft has come to the conclusion that a visual target in the bowl guarantees the least amount of splash while peeing; it has prototyped bowls with a small fly printed inside, which you can test yourselves (male readers) in the toilets of the Schiphol airport. Finally (and here the apparently daring gesture of Schweder comes into play), some months ago drugstores around Amsterdam were selling little devices allowing women to pee while standing. Made out of paper, for single use, they acted as fake penises. For me, they provoke - besides enthusiasm for such a great design - a question about the latent message of these specific Schweder fountains - are they (just) art, or are they (also) design?
And finally, the best item in the show: »Heatseat Prototype« (2001) by Jürgen Mayer H.. These simple and effective rocking benches are coated in heat-sensitive paint, revealing the positions and contours of the body that has just lain there and left. The voyeurism of this piece has something sinister, a forensic intensity, and reminds me of the photographs performed publicly by Ulay with his own body.
So, in the end, what would a house be that »unconventionally« (I love the word) displays these types of gadgets, objects and situations? It would be nothing more than a regular house, if not here and now, than somewhere and pretty soon. Because that's the problem with futuristic visions - they become truth immediately. There is no latency in our times, you see.
»Latent Space« displayed at the Netherlands Architecture
Institute, Rotterdam, till October 20, and features Ricci Albenda,
Aziz & Coucher, Katharina Bosse, Diller & Scofidio, Elmgreen &
Dragset, Jürgen Mayer H., Ebru Özseçen, Studio Eau Genoux, Alex
Schweder. It is produced in co-operation with the Henry Urbach