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Projects

Furnishing the Cloud: 2015

I partnered with my fellow Emergent Infrastructures research group collaborators Brian McGrath, Orit Halpern, and architect Kim Ackert, along with Radhika Subramaniam and the staff from the Sheila Johnson Design Center, to organize a March 2015 exhibition on the future of knowledge institutions, to be hosted in The New School’s Aronson Gallery. “Furnishing the Cloud” ran from March 9 through 22. I documented and reflected on the project here.

For the past year-and-a-half I’ve been collaborating with my friends and colleagues Orit Halpern and Brian McGrath (and, much earlier in the process, with Jane Pirone, Jessica Irish, and Rory Solomon) on a grant-supported exploration of “emergent infrastructures.” We decided that, rather than submitting our final report in the form of a traditional report — or organizing a traditional who’s who symposium — we’d create a new “knowledge infrastructure” for thinking about knowledge infrastructures. Hence “Furnishing the Cloud“: the exhibition!

We welcomed architect and exhibition/furniture designer Kim Ackert into our group last fall to help us begin devising concrete plans for this highly immaterial concept. And this spring Kim’s furniture design class — to which I contributed on several occasions (they used my “Intellectual Furnishings” work as one of their foundational texts) — was charged with rethinking the ergonomics and architectures necessitated by our digital media devices. They created, using CNC routers and other computational fabrication technology, full-scale cardboard prototypes of their mobile-reading seating, charging stations, data shelving, etc.

The rudimentary materiality of these pieces– skilled, if rough, construction using seemingly-primitive materials — stood in stark contrast to the sleek gallery surfaces: Kim and Jordana Goot, an amazingly talented architecture/lighting design student and installation designer, wrapped the room in white vinyl; shielded the front window, which looks out onto 5th Avenue, in a gossamer scrim; and played with the lighting in an attempt to make gallery visitors feel as if they were walking amongst the clouds.

Meanwhile, Orit’s spring history class investigated various affective, political, cultural, temporal shifts that the cloud has stirred up: parasites, precarity, a drive toward preemption, restlessness, spectrality. They developed online research dossiers for our FurnishingTheCloud project website, and some students from my fall Archives/Libraries/Databases class refined their own projects for the exhibition website, too: Laura Sanchez developed her “Rethinking Libraries for the Information Age,” a summary of and response to the 2014 Architectural League of NY / Center for an Urban Future branch library design study, in which both Laura and I participated. And Eishin Yoshida expanded her “My Little Library,” an exploration of the books and other media resources that cycle in and out of our lives, and how they take on new personal meaning — and enter into new relationships with one another — as our projects develop and our attentions shift.

The FurnishingTheCloud website also features dossiers from the furniture design students, who display precedent studies, chronicle the evolution of their designs, share renderings of the pieces (hypothetically) in use. They’ll be developing their designs — transforming these prototypes into finished pieces — over the course of the semester.

Each project — both the material furnishings in the gallery and the virtual projects that helped to contextualize the exhibited objects — received its own QR code. And all of those codes were displayed in a grid on the lobby wall outside the gallery. We mirrored the wall perpendicular to the rows of codes, hoping that the reflected codes would create a sense of infinite regress, data overload — much like Boulee’s library.

My original idea was to transform this lobby wall into a material manifestation of data overload — and a literal palimpsest of past, present, and future conceptualizations of the cloud. I envisioned Constable and Turner and Van Gogh clouds mixed in with various renderings of “trees of knowledge,” layered atop photos of data centers, mosaicked with neural nets and database architectures, and with the QR codes pinned on top. That didn’t happen.

The show took place in The New School’s Aronson Gallery from March 9 through March 22. Here’s the wall text I wrote:

Much of our common stock of knowledge — from the inscriptions of early civilizations, the classic texts of the ancient world, the manuscripts of the Middle Ages, and the maps and scientific treatises of the Renaissance, to the tweets and open data sets of today — now resides in The Cloud. That Cloud seems to have no boundaries, no place; it floats above us, bringing its intellectual riches to those of us who are connected to it, wherever we might be. Yet The Cloud isn’t nearly as ubiquitous as the weather. Its accessibility is limited by protocols and cables, and its “content” has to be shaped, formalized through various interfaces, in order for us to perceive and process it. 

Furnishing the Cloud considers both how we have historically imagined the architectures and containers of our common stock of knowledge — the universal library, the endless bookshelf, the collective brain  — and proposes new conceptual and physical infrastructures, as well as a new ergonomics, for storing, accessing, and processing the contents of the cloud. 

Exhibition Designers: Kimberly Ackert, with assistance from Jordana Maisie Goot
Curators: Kimberly Ackert, Orit Halpern, Shannon Mattern, and Brian McGrath
Web Development:Daniel Udell
Curatorial Assistant: Nadia Christidi
Students from Kimberly Ackert’s Furniture, Detail and Space course: Dhafar Al-Edani, Mariam Alshamali, Tanyaporn Anantrungroj, Derick Brown, Felipe Colin, Kristina Cowger, Jo Garst, Jennifer Hindelang, Jacqueline Leung, Pei Ying Lin, Valter Lindgren, Mochi Lui, Matilda Maansdotter, Emmanuela Martini, Simon Schulz, Whitney Shanks, Raquel Sonobe
Web Projects: Zachary Franciose, Laura Sanchez, Eishin Yoshida
Students from Orit Halpern’s Making Sense: Methods in the Study of Media, Attention, and Infrastructure course: Nicholas Cavaioli, Raquel DeAnda, Joseph Goldsmith, Angelica Huggins, Ian Keith, Kate McEntee, Awis Nari Mranani, Erika Nyame-Nseke, Kevin Swann, Shea Sweeney, Daniel Udell, Michal Unterberg, Kyla Wasserman

Parsons’ Insights wrote about the show here. My own school, as usual, didn’t really seem to notice. Oh, man — did I just say that?

Categories
Projects

Catastrophe Slam: 2009

Co-organizer, with Dr. Robert Kirkbride, of the “Catastrophe Slam,” which involved a faculty colloquium – with representatives from Parsons The New School for Design, Eugene Lang The New School for Liberal Arts, and the New School for Social Research – addressing such issues as water and food systems, global warming, and global violence;  a 24-hour design charrette, with 29 students from Parsons, Lang, and the New School for General Studies; and a one-week installation in Parsons’ Aronson Gallery (March 9-14, 2009).

Download our Program and our Final Report

WNSR Recordings

Part 1

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Part 2

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Part 3

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Blog

Scripts, Standards, Lists + Diagrams

Simon Evans, The Skin of the Earth is a Blue Blouse (detail), 2013
Simon Evans, The Skin of the Earth is a Blue Blouse (detail), 2013

I keep a list on my iPhone of all the current and upcoming exhibitions I want to see. I learn about some of these shows through ads in Artforum or other art magazines, through reviews in the Times or the New Yorker or other periodicals, through blogs, through friends, etc. Sometimes I’m familiar with the artists; sometimes I’m not. Sometimes it’s a photo of the work that piques my interest, sometimes it’s a review or a description in a press release, sometimes it’s the reputation of the gallery, and sometimes it’s merely the exhibition title. More often than not, I don’t know what I’m in for. I’d say my gallery itineraries are 30% predictable; 70% crapshoot.

I consider myself lucky that yesterday’s Chelsea excursion yielded at least a 75% hit rate. Really good stuff. And I’m a little freaked out by the striking similarities between the 15 shows I saw. Of course I gravitate toward any art grappling with language and text and the “aesthetics of administration” and “institutional critique” — but I really can’t explain how nearly every piece I saw yesterday hit all those buttons. Totally weird, and totally awesome.

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Blog

Aesthetic Reconstruction

Li Huasheng, 0669, 2005
Li Huasheng, 0669, 2005

So this was another tough week. Dammit, love, you jerk. Do you hate me or something?

When matters of the heart get me down, I get my ass to Chelsea. Embraced by those pristinely white walls, comforted by that warm gallery light and that construction-site-meets-parfumery-scented air, delighted or challenged by all the fantastic or awful stuff hanging on the walls and nested in vitrines, I can reassure myself: “Well, at least you guys are still here for me.” TMI, I know. But what’s the use of pretending that my professional endeavors, which are ostensibly the focus of this website, are hermetically sealed off from the rest of my “being”? As if one’s intellectual pursuits are divorced from affect.

I always seem to find, retroactively, a theme for all my gallery tours. Today’s was “reconstruction.” Gee, I wonder why. Aside from my obvious personal motivations for finding messages of “rebuilding” in the work I saw today, most of it actually wasin some way or another, addressing the construction of space and/or meaning — with ink, paint, text, sound, etc.

Categories
Presentations

Critical Futures 3 @ Storefront (2011)

Critical Futures

Tuesday 8 March 2011, 7pm
Storefront for Art and Architecture
97 Kenmare St., New York (NY)

Over the past decade, several transformations regarding media and communication systems, among others, have reshaped the context within which architecture is conceived and debated. The Internet has made images and information free and instantly ubiquitous; magazines, once the undisputed platforms for the criticism of architecture and design, have been challenged to redefine their purpose and economic model in the light of dwindling readerships; blogs have given a global audience, potentially of millions, to anyone with an Internet connection. In all of this, the continued relevance of architecture criticism as practiced today has been put in doubt: as Alexandra Lange writes, “Online, both everyone and no one is a critic, and architecture talk proliferates, often in the absence of buildings.”

Is criticism in the traditional sense still relevant or useful, and can it be more than the legitimation of the new? If the role of the print publication in contemporary production irreversibly declines, what is its future? Will online publishing (from press-release feed blogs to the few bastions of criticism online sites) ever be able to fill this void? What forces might shape architectural production in a post-critical environment?

The event will take place at Storefront for Art and Architecture, a non-profit gallery and events space in SoHo, New York.

Participants:
Justin Davidson – architecture critic, New York magazine
Eva Franch – Director, Storefront for Art and Architecture
Alexandra Lange – journalist and critic, Design Observer
Shannon Mattern – Department of Media Studies & Film, The New School 
Kazys Varnelis – Netlab, Columbia University GSAPP
Lebbeus Woods – architect and blogger
Mimi Zeiger – writer and blogger
Moderated by Joseph Grima – Editor, Domus