Wednesday, April 25, 2007

With more perspectives, more understanding is possible

Leonard Koscianski 2002
Focusing their attention on the dark side of postmodern society, critical postmodern artists depict the sinister aspects of a media saturated, postmodern world. The critical postmodern artist depicts the fragmentation of society and the alienation of individuals as dark, problematic - weird. This outward, critical perspective is closely related to the central tenets of Critical Theory and high modernism.
Critical postmodern art is based on the postmodern assertion that all artist perspectives are valid, but unlike postmodernism, the critical postmodern holds that greater understanding of society is possible by viewing it through the lens of individual artworks or narratives. With the possibility of detatchment, a more independent point of view might be feasible. Like postmodern art, and unlike the art of the Enlightenment, critical postmodern art does not see itself as part of a progression toward an ultimate truth or beauty, nor as part of a grand art historical continuum. However it assumes that with more perspectives, more understanding is possible. This implies the recognition of a modicum of "objectivity" though it may be elusive. If some assertions are "true" – the Earth is round, Nazi Germany was inhuman, then some visual expressions might be true, or more accurately truer than others. This would seem to revive the idea of artistic detachment and notions of an avant-guarde, valid or not.
The validity of multiple perspectives does not negate truth. Because it respects the validity of the individual artist’s perspective, critical postmodern art pays respect to the integrity of that perspective more than was the case with postmodern art. It values multiple perspectives, and the integrity of each individual artist’s vision, and by extension the individual self. This departs from Lyotard’s assertion that "A self does not amount to much". (Lyotard, 1979) This is also a departure from the postmodern art assumption that a work of art is just a move in a "language" game. Conversely, this recognition of the validity of multiple perspectives separates the critical postmodern artist from the self-centeredness of modern Existentialism. He attempts to reconcile objectivity and subjectivity. Though his vision may be largely subjective, at the same time he believes that there are other largely subjective views which when experienced may lead to understanding, or objectivity. This may be an attempt to have ones cake and eat it too, or it may be a way out of a postmodern trap.
If individual perspectives are important, then artwork, which expresses those perspectives, must be developed seriously even if the content is humorous. For this reason critical postmodern art is often more highly crafted than postmodern works, and often more accessible and communicative. The critical postmodern artist rightly or wrongly assumes that craftsmanship implies respect for the viewer, and enables artwork to communicate more effectively. The critical postmodern artist is ethically engaged in the act of creation rather than ironically detached.
As the world moves beyond the postmodern, critical postmodern recognizes the phantasm of advertising and shopping malls as a materially destructive force. It explores the effect this phantasm has throughout the world. The critical postmodern artist recognizes the need for art works which are not merely expensive status symbols, but which act as independent lenses onto a troubled world. In this praxis the critical postmodern artist recognizes the need for some form of ethics, integrity and aesthetics, without yearning for a contemporary version of the pre-postmodern world. However when one adopts a critical stance it does imply a certain moral superiority. The achiles heal of critical postmodern art may be an attempt to have both ways to be socially critical but at the same time retreat to the safety of postmodern multiplicity. LEONARD KOSCIANSKI paintings & drawings HOME BIO CONTACT WHAT IS CRITICAL POSTMODERN ART?

Monday, April 23, 2007

The way the building is tilted at 20deg to the road to catch the breeze

Golconde Golconde is the dormitory that The Mother wanted to build for her disciples, in Pondichery. The commissioned architect was Antonin Reymond, who was practising in Japan. He came to the country to assist in F.L.Wright's Imperial hotel, and then went on to open his own office, in 1920. He was known for his love for RCC and incorporating Japanese values and practices in his buildings.
In 1935, he was given the task, by The Mother, to build a dormitory for Sri Aurobindo's disciples. He was assisted by George Nakashima (an architect in Raymond's office) and Francois Summers (a Czech architect who worked with Le Corbusier) before coming to Pondy. The building has distinct Corbuserean influences. The strong horizontal lines, the shading devices, the recessed semi-basement that gives makes it seem like the building is floating.It has a few Wrightian ideas incorporated in it too - the way the building is tilted at 20deg to the road to catch the breeze, the "organic architecture" principles of Wright, where the building is a part of nature.
The first RCC framed structure to be built in India, the building is an archetype for detail.Everything, including the furniture has been designed to suit the climate.The building has been so sited that the longer facades have been designed to face the North and South. There are no walls - only asbestos louvers that screen the interior from the exterior, providing shade from the sun while ventilating the interior space.The Southern garden is heavily wooded, while the Northern garden is sparsely planted. The difference in temperatures facilitates conventional currents through the building.
CORRIDORS on the NORTHERN SIDE - access to the rooms
Sliding teak doors with no rollers and panels alternating on the inner and outer frames provide constant ventilation, while ensuring privacy.The flooring is of black cudappah that has been laid with large joints to disguise the irregular edges which were a result of a lack of precise cutting instruments in those times. The few walls have been plastered with Chettinad egg plaster, which is dense and highly reflective.The extended low sills, highly polished black cudappah floor, the shining white walls and the constant breeze through the building proves to be the perfect canvas for the sunlight streaming in through the louvers.
The furniture has also been aptly designed to suit the climate.The bed is made of cane, with provisions for a mosquito net, the chairs have cane seats and backrest for ventilation.The extended low sill allows for additional seating, with a view into the northern garden, which has narrow reflecting lotus pools.The utilitarian core consisting of the main staircase, bathrooms and laundry area services the building.The wiring and plumbing are concealed and the building is provided with lightning conductors.
From the street, a large exposed concrete wall with an oversized door allows forms the dominant part of the elevation, behind which is visible a series of louvers that form the northern facade. The subtle shifts in scale and accent - between form, structure and detail make the entire building a harmonious union. The Golconde ( named after the Golconda Fort ( a mine of jewels)) , funded by Akbar Hayadri, the then Diwan of the state of hyderabad , remains a vital part of Modernist Indian Architecture for being the first "home-made" building of its kind and its success in merging aesthetics, craft and technology almost-perfectly. Posted by Jyotsna at 1:55 PM Labels: Monday, April 23, 2007

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Baker's low-cost architecture was in sharp contrast to the promise of big science

LEADER ARTICLE: Master Builder Amrith Lal TOI 21 Apr, 2007
Laurie Baker, who passed away in Thiruvananthapuram a few days ago, is relevant for a world that is threatened by global warming. His futuristic vision of India, encapsulated in his buildings and ideas of architecture, emphasised efficiency in the use of materials and energy, improvisation and adaptation of local craft and artisanal traditions, and the needs of millions of homeless. The hundreds of houses, churches and public buildings he designed and constructed offer a rare example of an equitable and sustainable architecture. Baker has spoken about the influence of a Quaker upbringing and the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi in his life.
In an autobiographical essay, he recalled how Gandhi took fancy to the Chinese shoes he had made of cut waste clothes when they met the first time. Gandhi invited him to come and work in India after the war. One can deduce from the encounter that Baker shared some of Gandhi's economic ideas even before they had met in person. The Quaker roots had inculcated in him an appreciation of labour and austerity. One does not know if Baker shared Gandhi's interest in the British philosopher, John Ruskin. However, there is an imprint, conscious or otherwise, of Ruskin in Baker's work, especially the ideas expressed by the former in his writings on the Gothic. Ruskin suggests three rules to test the desirability of a product: One, never encourage the manufacture of any article not absolutely necessary, in the production of which invention has no share; two, never demand an exact finish for its own sake, but only for some practical or noble end; three, never encourage imitation or copying of any kind, except for the sake of preserving records of great works. These, we can see, formed the core of Baker's work ethic.
The contribution of Baker to Gandhian praxis is similar to that of the economist J C Kumarappa. Unlike with Kumarappa's formulations on the village industries, Baker's ideas found a wider audience. As in the case of Kumarappa, it was Gandhi who gave a political orientation to Baker's professional skills. Baker's experiences within the Quaker community may have prepared the ground for him to relate to Gandhi and understand science using moral categories. His pacifism was also shaped by the belief that the science which disrupted the order of life negatively ought to be shunned. He was always supportive of campaigns that sought to expose the false science of our times. He wrote with equal passion on the need for an essential architecture and the immorality of a nuclear bomb. The aesthetic and wholesomeness of his buildings and concepts were a reflection of his philosophy of life. In the essay, Architecture and the People, Baker summed up his work practice in four points.
  • One, he had a clear idea of his clients and their needs. To him, they did not exist as social and economic categories; they were not high income groups or tribals, but people with names and personalities. He once said that he could recall the names of all those for whom he had built houses.
  • Two, no one has the right to waste money, materials and energy in a country like India.
  • Three, people have the "inherent and inherited ability" to know what good architecture is. Architects, he felt, could and should learn from ordinary people.
  • Four, design has to be organic; it has to be transferred from the field to the drawing table and not the other way. He wrote that, "good or bad design, or good or bad taste has little to do with colour, or form, or texture, or costliness — but that has only to do with honesty and truth in the choice of materials and the method of using them".

His concepts of architecture and design were not utilitarian; he only reiterated that utility and aesthetics can comfortably coexist. There is a fundamental critique of the way knowledge is currently understood, acquired, valued and practised in Baker's work. He did not respect the hierarchies implicit in the use of modern knowledge. He acknowledged traditional wisdom and was constantly learning and adapting it in his work practices. The divide between thought and manual labour was for him a false one. He designed his buildings in such a way that they would "fit in with the local styles and not be an offence to the eyes of the people". The housing projects Baker undertook for the poor were in sharp contrast to the government housing projects. His homes were lived in whereas the sarkari concrete huts ended up being used as cattle sheds and storehouses.

In one sense, Baker was a lucky man. Gandhian ideas of social and economic reconstruction were on the retreat by the time Baker began to build. Baker's low-cost architecture was in sharp contrast to the promise of big science. However, he found a powerful backer in C Achyuta Menon, the communist leader and chief minister of Kerala, and the Archbishop of Thiruvananthapuram when he settled in Kerala in the 1960s. The Baker model of a low-cost housing revolution to address the needs of the poor found a lot more takers among middle-class elite in the later years. The joke about the upwardly mobile Malayalee seeking a Baker model house with an exorbitant budget explains the complex nature of his acceptance among people. People may have only bought in to the form of his architecture, and not the vision behind it. A construction company offered tributes to him with a front-page ad in a leading Malayalam daily on the day his death was reported. Of course, the master builder would have smiled at the irony. Editorial l Columnists l Speaking Tree l Interviews l SUNDAY SPECIALS l Letters to the Editor

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The possibility of emerging into light is essentially preserved

In a sense, the artist, and the artists ideas are influenced by their arsenal of technology, whether that be the hammer and tongs, the brush, the pencil, or any number of the countless other possibilities. The artist speaks a particular language in their work, and as an artist, one must be conscious of this physical language. As Husserl states when discussing Galileo, “culturally acquired ideas can become part of one’s ‘natural attitude’ through the addition of technology to the body”[8], and one must be aware of what technology we extending our body with and what kind of ‘cyborg’ we may become. For my part, having the hammer and tongs in my arsenal, being able to manipulate the blocks of red hot steel with technology that will (hopefully) eventually become an extension of my body, is a valuable and desirable skill.
With this arsenal, the artist translates certain ‘truths’ into the language of art, and through this revealing of truth, there is also a concealing, “the two together constitute the full nature of Truth”[9] which is called ‘the Mystery’ by Heidegger. In my own work, I often find myself writing my most personal or truthful thoughts backwards on the page. As difficult as it is to read, the purpose on an unconscious level perhaps, is the act of writing, not reading. The same can be said not only for my notes and diary entries, but also for my work. In articulating the very personal and intimate desires in LoveSick, by bringing them into the real world and making them into a real piece of art, they have also been concealed in this same piece of art. Without the security and concealment of the articulated work, the unconcealed ideas would remain concealed by their unrealized articulation. “Concealing itself is not mere closing itself up but, as Heidegger says, a sheltering and guarding, in which the possibility of emerging into light is essentially preserved, in which such emergence belongs. ‘Self- concealment guarantees to self-disclosure its essence’”[10]...
When I started attending lectures on phenomenology I wrote all my notes backwards, I didn’t really think about why, it just felt like the right thing to do, so as a particularly self-indulgent person, I indulged myself and am left with almost unreadable notes. It was only nearing the end of the course that I discovered why I felt this urge...Posted by E.Armanious at 6:07 PM