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Modern Shorts Selected by Terence Gower

Public Programs

Modern Shorts Selected by Terence Gower

April 18 2008

Remember those pristine depopulated images of modernist interiors? This screening presents several short video works that address such images of modern architecture with a certain irreverence. The works mock a clean, idealized image of modernist buildings as untouchable icons. Here the architecture is touched, jumped upon, danced in, transformed into building blocks, copied, and activated as settings for romance and more. The screening can be seen as a guide to a modernism, which is inviting, lived in, humanized, and sometimes even tropicalized. Films and videos curated by Terence Gower in conjunction with “Tlatelolco and the localized negotiation of future imaginaries” organized by Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City and on view in the Museum as Hub space located on the fifth floor of the Museum.

Terence Gower Ciudad Moderna, 2004 Digital video, 6:20 min

Dorit Margreiter 10104 Angelo View Drive, 2004 16mm film transferred to digital video, 6:56 min

Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle Le Baiser (The Kiss), 1999 Digital Video, 12 minutes

Ursula Mayer Interiors, 2006 16 mm film transferred to digital video, 3 min

François Boué New Ark, 2001 8mm film transferred to digital video, 9:27 min

Ulrik Heltoft The Sneeze, 2008 Digital video, 1:30 min

Sadie Murdoch Water and Dust, 2004 Digital video, 7 min

Domènec Unité Mobile (Roads Are Also Places), 2005 Digital video, 9:35 min

Caspar Stracke Rong Xiang, 2008 Digital video, 8:32 min

Recently there has been a general resurgence of interest in modern architecture. art exhibitions, advertising campaigns, even real-estate marketing schemes have tapped into this trend. Part of the attraction of modernism is the pristine nature of its documentation. Photographers and filmmakers documenting these buildings from the 1930s through the 1960s tended to strive for extremely clean, idealized images. Whether interior or exterior shots, and regardless of geographic location, architectural photographs from this period were usually set up to hide signs of human habitation, including the human inhabitants themselves.

The works in this screening question this clean, idealized image of modern architecture. Here the architecture is touched, jumped upon, danced in, squatted in, transformed into building blocks and children’s toys, and activated as a setting for romance and more. I imagine this screening as propaganda for a modernism which is inviting, lived-in and perhaps even humanized.

When I produced the video Ciudad Moderna in 2004, one of the principal reactions to the piece was an observation about how this video “humanizes” the modern architectural settings it depicts. I like to describe Ciudad Moderna—with its alternation of film clips with pristine stills of Mexico City’s modern architecture—as a collision between an architectural slide show and a sex farce.

This is a description that I think Dorit Margreiter (Vienna) might find amusing for her film work 10104 Angelo View Drive (2004): In a series of serious and slightly sinister views of an often-filmed Los Angeles house designed by John Lautner are intercut with rapid clips of mayhem unleashed by a local lesbian performance troupe in the very same setting. These short clips read like the repressed unconscious of the house expressing itself and acting out.

Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle’s (Chicago) video Le Baiser (The Kiss) is one of the great classics of architecture-themed art. The artist, impersonating a window-washer, cleans the windows of the terrace façade of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House. The long strokes of Manglano-Ovalle’s squeegee demonstrate the beauty of Mies’ uninterrupted floor-to-ceiling glass panes, and the thorough cleaning brings to mind an all-over caressing of the building’s façade, similar to covering a lover’s face with kisses. This video is usually shown in a loop as part of a larger installation.

The two female protagonists in London-based artist Ursula Mayer’s short film Interiors (2006) also seem to belong to the modern house (The Goldfinger House in London) in which they endlessly wander. They are like the house’s restless spirit, or perhaps the restless spirit of modernism, caught in the orbit of a small Barbara Hepworth sculpture displayed on a pedestal.

François Boué (New York) has been producing short 8mm films on modern architecture for several years, often edited in-camera. New Ark (2001) is made up of a series of short pans and static shots that show the architecture of Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building in New York and Colonnades Housing Complex in Newark. The compositions are reminiscent of Rodchenko, but they also evoke survey photography, due to the grainy film and the warts-and-all depiction of the architecture, shown slightly worn and clearly inhabited.

Copenhagen-based artist Ulrik Heltoft’s short video The Sneeze (2008) shows a brief intervention (described in the title) in an elegant modern Neapolitan art gallery. This piece is usually shown looped, with the lovingly shot short clips of the pristine white cube alternating with the artist’s blundering interruption.

The program takes a playful turn with British artist Sadie Murdoch’s video Water and Dust (2004). The artist disguises herself as architect Eileen Gray and crashes Philip Johnson’s favorite table at the Four Season’s restaurant (designed by Johnson in 1959). Murdoch’s character proceeds to play with the equivalent of a set of building blocks, transforming Johnson’s monolithic guest house designed for his own estate in the early 1950s into the Monument to Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, equally monolithic and designed by Johnson’s “master” Mies van der Rohe in 1926.

The games continue with the Barcelona-based artist Domènec’s Unité Mobile (Roads Are Also Places), from 2005. The video takes the form of a “day in the life” documentary as a tiny copy of Le Corbusier’s Marseilles Unité d'Habitation—mounted on a toy truck bed—navigates the corridors, elevators, and terraces of the real Unité. A new adventure is always around the corner for the miniature Unité as it encounters the inhabitants of the complex (known locally as “Corbus” for their dedication to a “Corbusian” lifestyle).

New York filmmaker Caspar Stracke’s new video Rong Xiang (2008) keeps us firmly in Le Corbusier territory. Though this time the architecture is inhabited by Chinese squatters. Stracke has been documenting well-known buildings and their copies for several years—the Athens and Nashville Parthenons, the Rome and Yamoussoukro (Ivory Coast) Saint Peter’s Churches, etc. Rong Xiang takes us on a trip to China to visit an improbably accurate reproduction of Le Corbusier’s Notre Dame du Haut chapel (Ronchamp, France). But unlike the lovingly maintained original, the Chinese copy was abandoned and had been overrun by squatters by the time of filming.

In an interesting and relevant postscript to the above paragraph, the Chinese copy of Notre Dame du Haut was recently demolished at the insistence of the Fondation Le Corbusier. According to the artist, the Fondation runs a search-and-destroy mission for those structures that would sully the pristine image of the master’s greatest works.

Films and videos selected by Terence Gower appear in conjunction with “Tlatelolco and the localized negotiation of future imaginaries” organized by Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City and on view in the Museum as Hub space located on the fifth floor of the Museum.