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On the Screen: “Bodybuilding Architecture and Performance”

On the Screen: “Bodybuilding Architecture and Performance”

We titled our recent review of the book Bodybuilding Architecture and PerformanceOff the Page,” and now you can experience it for yourself on the screen as part of Radical Broadcast a free, online exhibition space created by Performa. The exhibition, organized by Charles Aubin, Curator, Performa and Carlos Mínguez Carrasco, Senior Curator, ArkDes, extends the book’s exploration of the use of live performance by architects. It charts a multigenerational lineage of designers and studios who have made architecture out of actions. Over the course of a week, we wandered in and out of the channel, catching fragments of films, thinking through the ideas and possibilities they propose, and feeling the sounds of other places. Although we could leave and enter whenever we wanted, once on the website, the exhibition required attention, presence, and dedication to be able to catch all of its rotating schedule of films. There isn’t a save for later button. As we enjoyed the liveness of the experience, we made a selection of videos that raise further questions. Thanks to Performa and the contributors involved, we have the opportunity to include them below alongside more information on the exhibition.

Haus Rucker Co, Ballon für Zwei, Vienna, 1967. Ph. Gerd Winkler

“Bodybuilding, the book, launched during the last Performa Biennial in November 2019, was a ground-breaking pronouncement for architects, writers, and historians across disciplines, with its overview of live performance by architects as a means to explore critical ideas about architecture and to involve the public head-on. Now, Bodybuilding, the online exhibition, takes performance and architecture into new realms. In films and excerpts of live events, it brings the book to life, while at the same time raising the possibilities of digital publishing. Performa produces the two in tandem, one form expanding and complementing the other.”  

– RoseLee Goldberg, Performa Founding Director and Chief Curator 

Bodybuilding looks at the intersection of architecture and performance through three lenses: Design, exploring the use of performance in the design process to investigate alternative uses of spaces; Experience, relinquishing the expectation of permanence to look at ephemeral structures that allow an architecture of instability, fantasy, and adaptability and other modes of user engagement; and Critique, considering how performance has served as a critical tool to uncover hidden agendas inscribed within the built environment. 

It also features rare archival material from some of the most radical minds of postwar architecture, including Arata Isozaki’s astonishing dancing robot-buildings at Osaka Expo ’70, and Aldo Rossi’s otherworldly Teatro del Mondo, a floating theater that sailed through the Venice lagoon in 1980. These iconic works offer an alternative historical lineage for architects today, such as Andrés Jaque and the duo Cooking Sections, who have turned to performance in the face of new economic and environmental challenges.

“Architecture is inseparable from bodies and actions. Bodybuilding compiles the work of architects who put their discipline under pressure. The exhibition identifies performance as a critical tool to rethink architecture’s role in society, and to imagine new forms of living together.” 

– Carlos Mínguez Carrasco Senior Curator at ArkDes 

Wilson and Roberts, Marching On, Asante and Dancers, Marcus Garvey Park, 2017. Ph. Jenica Heintzelman

Karaoke (2001) by Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas

On the final workday before the LTB, or Lithuanian Savings Bank—the country’s last state-owned bank—was privatized in 2001, Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas staged a series of actions that rubbed up against the happy-go-lucky narrative of a post-communist Lithuania. Since 1997, the duo has practiced in entangled terrains across architecture and the urban environment, media, and politics, devising participatory works that limn possible alternative forms of self-organization. They gained access to the bank at an uncanny moment between two financial regimes. Bank employees, alongside actors, performed ABBA’s “Money Money Money” inside the bank’s lobby: the camera pans across a chorus of women in demure skirts and pantyhose while they gave alternately dispassionate and spirited deliveries of the song—“I work all night, I work all day, to pay the bills I have to pay / Ain’t it sad / And still there never seems to be a single penny left for me / That’s too bad”—edited together into five seemingly continuous takes. The ease with which Lithuania embraced both the allure and mundanity of the private market is repeated here ad nauseum, and a building embodying the ideals of Marxist economics becomes a soundstage for the cheesiest subordination to the free market. What results is a grotesque melody of capitalist hustling, clumsily voiced by the last representatives of the dismantled socialist state. 

The song gets stuck in your head—and that’s perhaps part of the point. Its repetitive nature highlights its irony. Can humor be a way to re-imagine the covertly mundane but impactful spaces that we inhabit?

Courtesy Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas and Performa.

Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency, Al Madafeh (2016)

In 2015, at the peak of the European migration crisis, Sweden welcomed more than 150,000 men, women, and children fleeing war and economic privation. While most refugees settled in major cities, like Stockholm and Gothenburg, several Swedish government programs proposed opportunities in remote parts of the country, such as the northern town of Boden, which Palestinian architect Sandi Hilal visited in 2016. There, a Syrian refugee couple, Yasmeen Mahmoud and Ibrahim Muhammad Haj Abdulla, caught Hilal’s attention; they made a point of inviting people to their home. Muhammad Haj Abdulla explained: “In our house we are humans, but in public, we feel that we are just numbers. I wanted people to see me as a human and to appreciate who I am. This was possible only in our home.” From this starting point, Hilal embarked on a series of staged encounters that examined ways to regain social visibility and political agency through the practice of hospitality. With Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency (DAAR), an architectural studio and residency program she founded in Palestine with Alessandro Petti and Eyal Weizman a decade earlier, Hilal considers the space of the living room (al-madhafah) in Arabic) as an arena for renewed social and political interactions. Masquerading as an invitation to coffee, Al Madafeh became a performance of the right to host. Among cushions and fruit, Hilal and her collaborators asserted the political subjectivity of the refugee or foreigner by inverting the social dynamic of host and hosted. Hilal operated as a facilitator and, with DAAR, built a network that expanded outward from Boden with temporary institutional homes at ArkDes in Stockholm, the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, the New York University Gallery in Abu Dhabi, as well as in the Fawwar refugee camp in Palestine. 

In our editorial Out of Focus Domesticity, we propose to re-imagine the domestic as it goes out of focus due to quarantine measures. This video, however, illustrates the importance of hosting others that goes beyond the temporary.

Courtesy Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency and Performa.

Come Hear the Bioscope (2018) by Wolff Architects

Could one hold a funeral for a building?” That was the key question for Ilze Wolff, of the South African design studio Wolff Architects, when she staged Pumflet Luxurama ,a memorial dedicated to the Luxurama Theatre. Opened in 1964, the “Lux” (light in Latin), as it was affectionately nicknamed by its habitués, was a pillar of the cultural and political life of Wynberg, a southern neighborhood of Cape Town. In its heyday, the Lux screened movies and hosted live music for a mixed audience—a rare possibility under South Africa’s apartheid regime. Famed American singers Percy Sledge and Eartha Kitt took the stage of the Lux, as did national figures such as saxophonist Winston Mankunku Ngozi and musical director Taliep Petersen. More discreetly, the movie house also served as a hub for political meetings by organizations such as the United Democratic Front, a major anti-apartheid voice of the 1980s. On September 2, 2018, Wolff led a commemorative event for the cultural hub, taking participants from its derelict empty theater to its angular, modernist balcony. They inspected the dilapidated seats, the worn-out red curtain, the redundant sound console: all remaining traces of a former life. The homage morphed into a procession down the road, convening four generations of musicians to perform a selection of the music once played at the Lux. Led by the Winston Mankunku Ngozi Foundation and Themba Ngwenya Gospel Brass Band, the farewell march concluded at a nearby local café for a final wake for a building that had its own place among South Africa’s freedom fighters. 

How buildings get old is a question that we often ponder. This video seems to answer the question in a poignant way, making the building come alive again through its rhythms and gestures.

Courtesy Wolff Architects and Performa.

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Performa’s Radical Broadcast program, Bodybuilding, is dedicated to the extraordinary life and work of curator and art historian Germano Celant (1940-2020), a good friend of Performa, whose foreword to our recent publication, Performa 15, introduced a special section on performance in the Renaissance, a text that all of us at Performa deeply treasure. Germano’s intellectual and humanist presence has been felt across disciplines in the history of contemporary art since his first writings appeared in the late 1960s; visual art, architecture, dance, cinema or sound, were all examined with his probing and inventive approach to history, politics, and the shifting sands of the present. In 1972, writing for the catalogue of MoMA’s landmark exhibition “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape” (curated by Emilio Ambasz), Celant coined the term “radical architecture,” a phrase that solidified the many burgeoning conceptual strategies of a new generation of architects and that remains a touchstone for questions of space, performance, and the responsibilities of the architect, that appear in Bodybuilding. Performa extends its deepest sympathies to Germano Celant’s wife, Paris, and their son, Argento, and to the teams who have worked with him, from Genoa to Milan, Venice and New York, on his visionary and ground-breaking projects. 

Bodybuilding is a 24-hour online program accessible for free on Performa’s homepage (performa-arts.org) on view until July 15, 2020. Most works in the exhibition will screen once daily, while one Performa Commission from the organization’s archives and two rarely seen feature-length films will screen at dedicated times. For more information, you can see the full schedule here. There will also be talks on Performa’s Instagram live by RoseLee Goldberg, Charles Aubin, and Carlos Mínguez Carrasco with invited architects. 

DATES: May 15 – July 15, 2020 / LOCATION: https://www.performa-arts.org / ORGANIZED BY: Charles Aubin, Curator, Performa, NewYork; and Carlos Mínguez Carrasco, Senior Curator, ArkDes, Stockholm / SUPPORT: Bodybuilding is supported by the NYC COVID-19 Response and Impact Fund of The New York Community Trust and by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.

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Read more about the book here & you can pre-order it here.

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