The Questionable Structural Integrity Of Transforming Architecture

<p>Highlights from the Index Media Festival.</p>

A still from Sergej Hein’s Berlin Block Tetris.

During the month of August, the Index Media Festival is hosting a series of panels, exhibitions, performances and screenings throughout New York City. The festival, which is curated by video artist and instructor Kristin Trethewey and curator/artist/archivist Victoria Keddie, seeks to engage individuals who explore media culture and to investigate the impact it’s having on our surroundings and everyday lives. It wishes to explore the convergence of art and technology and how the latter is mediating and transforming the former.

Each week is dedicated to a different facet of this dialectic relationship and the festival was inaugurated last Wednesday at Harvestworks with a panel on media art festivals and their role in contemporary art discourse. The opening also included the exhibition To Have And To Hold, which features artists such as Andrew Graham, Matthew Spiegelberg and Janos Stone and will be ongoing until the end of the month.

For this week’s series of events, the focus is on the mediated landscape, or rather the constructed world as it exists both virtually and in real life. As the world becomes mediated more and more by mapping technologies and data trackers such as geo-locative data, GPS systems, Google Maps and Earth, there is a need to see how not only these trackers are affecting our perception of our surroundings, but how they are actually affecting the environment itself.

Architecture too is adapting to the progressively digital world. Whereas before buildings would be designed and conceptualized via drafts and physical models, with the advent of new video and motion graphic technology, architecture has become represented by more indeterminate and amorphous forms. Architecture in general is now seen as something more than a fixed structure that inhabits a single space, but rather as a series of forms that are in constant flux, interacting and responding to its surroundings and the people who inhabit it. Rather than just being a medium of design that imagines actual buildings, it has become the inspiration for music videos and short films that use architecture to comment on the state of the world and to envision its future.

Last night, guest curators Cornelia and Holger Lund hosted Animated Architecture, a two-part program of short films and music videos that explore architecture in just this way.

In many of the films, the structures at the center of the works are generative in nature, perhaps responding to the more authoritarian function-over-form architectural style of Modernism. The videos often portray not entirely new buildings, but older buildings being deconstructed and reconstituted into something more contemporary with software aesthetics. Rather than simply show the degradation of homogenous monolithic buildings, the artists instead appropriate their forms, twisting and distorting them into something new as a commentary on their inevitable disrepair.

Coming from a background of studying the interaction between music and video, Cornelia and Holger also chose films where music plays a prominent role in presenting structures that are responsive to sounds. The two separate programs that were chosen for the festival originally played at the Stuttgart International Festival of Animated Film.

Tomorrow at Harvestworks, Cornelia Lund will be moderating a panel called Mediated Landscapes with Robert Pietrusko, Ingo Gunther, Igal Nassima, Jon Rafman and Katja Loher where they will be investigating the “commonalities between building landscapes in both the online and real world.” Artist Jon Rafman will also be hosting a Second Life tour.

The artists participating in the panel will then showcase their work starting this Thursday in an exhibit at 266 W. 37th Street called Landscapes-Worlds Real that explores the same ideas and is curated by the directors of the festival.

Here are some of the highlights from the screening:

Kaspar Astrup Schröder, My Playground (Trailer), 2009, Denmark

My Playground documents a group of people known as “freerunners” who practice a conditioning of the body known as Parkour that allows them to overcome obstacles with efficiency. Probably the least conceptual video, it shows people interacting with architecture in a very conceptual way. Rather than be constrained by the construction of their surroundings, they interact with it in way that is more conducive to their purposes, thus transforming the architecture through an active physical engagement that views it as something more than just a rigid, unchangeable form. Buildings, instead of restricting movement enhance it through the activity of the freerunners. In turn, the architecture itself evolves to conform to this dialectic relationship.

Quayola, Architectural Density, 2006, GB

Described as representing “China’s irresistible process of growth and its precariousness,” the film shows a traditional building being deconstructed and then reconstituting itself in what could be termed as a very viral way. As it grows, it becomes more and more abstracted—a mere shadow of the former building. Fragments of buildings are continuously heaped on top of each other as if the construction itself has taken on a life of its own, achieving a point of absurd complexity wherein there is no longer any purpose but to build for its own sake.

Johannes Guerreiro, Twisted Reality, 2008, Germany

Regular buildings no longer stay in one place or even one shape and begin to break apart, grow and move all on their own. It’s as if they have taken on a life of their own, becoming creatures that not only define space but inhabit it as well. It shows architecture as something that is alive and constantly affecting and shifting the space it inhabits.

Sergej Hein, Berlin Block Tetris, 2009, Germany

Created as a commentary on the homogenous design of socialist architecture, it appropriates the blocky aesthetic into a humorous game of Tetris. Buildings are just identical blocks that are shifted and dropped on top of of each other in a way that is likened to a game rather than to any aesthetically pleasing design.

Keiichi Matsuda, The Technocrat Retrofit of London, 2009, GB

In Matsuda’s video, a section of London is erased and reconstituted through a “retrofitting” of disparate objects to create a self-contained technocrat in a post-capitalist economy. It shows the space slowly going from an abstract collage of fragments to a redesigned city that is sustainable, with its own agriculture and production.

Jan Schönwiesner, Visual Music, 2008, Germany

In this nightmarish music video for Amon Tobin, an supposed real estate agent has to contend with the evolving face of architecture as something that is no longer as tangible and unchanging as it once was. How do you sell something that no longer has any determinate shape and can be transformed on a whim? The man in skyscraper costume denotes a world of anthropomorphized buildings that rather than stay the same can evolve organically as if they are living things.