åyr

Arches
2017
Print on dynajet fabric mounted on bespoke Fabric-lite light box
95 × 145 × 7.5 cm (37 ⅜" × 57 ⅛" × 2 ½")
Edition of 3 plus I AP

Installation view: Home Economics at the British Pavilion, Venice Architecture Biennale 2016

Don't be fooled by the rocks that I got
2016
A set of two couture embroidered cotton muslin, G clamps
Dimensions variable
Unique

Installation view: Architecture, Berlin Biennale 9

Installation view: Newcomers, Project Native Informant 2015

Installation view: Newcomers, Project Native Informant 2015

Interior Illusions Lounge 4
2015
Print on dynajet fabric mounted on bespoke Fabric-lite light box
120 × 100 × 7.5 cm (47 ¼" × 39 ⅜" × 2 ½")
Edition of 3 plus I AP

Installation view: Comfort Zone, Frieze Projects 2015

Installation view: Aspects of Change, Bold Tendencies 2015

Installation view: Welcome, you're in the right place! Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo 2015

CV

åyr

Founded 2015

åyr (formerly AIRBNB Pavilion) is an art collective based in London whose work focuses on contemporary forms of domesticity founded by Fabrizio Ballabio, Alessandro Bava, Luis Ortega Govela and Octave Perrault.

The collective was formed in occasion of an exhibition inaugurated during the opening days of the XIV Architecture Biennale in Venice which took place in apartments rented on a flat sharing website.åyr is interested the evolution of the contemporary home and its transformations from fortress of the family to commodity traded online with performances, site-specific installations, events and writing.

åyr is not connected to or endorsed by Airbnb Inc or any other Airbnb group company or affiliate.

Solo Exhibitions:

2017 Interior Therapy, Queer Thoughts, New York
2015 Schöner Wohnen, Armada, Milan

Group Exhibitions:

2017 Nuit Blanche
2016 Here and Now, Museum Ludwig, Köln
2016 Location1049, Gstaad
2016 Do I still have to sleep in the cupboard?, Cookies, Rotterdam
2016 X Bienal de Nicaragua
2015 9800, 9800 S. Sepulveda Blvd. Los Angeles
2015 Tower, Ibid. London
2015 Morphing Overnight, Seventeen Gallery, London
2014 Community Development Meeting + Do More Of What They Love, 63rd 77th Steps, Bari
2014 The Office, ACL Partners, Paris

Curated Projects:

Lectures and Workshops:

2015 Famili, x and beyond, Copenhagen
2015 åyr mattresses, Royal College of Arts, London
2015 Stay With Me, Ideas City Festival, New York
2015 Lafayette Re-Source, Fondation Galeries Lafayette (FGL), Paris
2015 How to Thrive, Zabludowicz Collection, London
2015 Artists, what is your collective value?, ICA, London
2014 Home ’14, AA School of Architecture, London
2014 Everything That is Solid Melts Into Airbnb, with Andrea Branzi, Swiss Institute, New York

Writings:

2016 "When Harry Met Sally" w/ åyr, Rem Koolhaas, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Berlin Biennale 9
2016 "From Line to Sphere", Flash Art #308
2015 "Famili", Harvard Design #41
2015 “My Flip Phone Brought Me Here”, Volume #44
2014 “Catfish Homes, Airbnb and the Domestic Interior Photography”, Rhizome
2014 “Home 2014”, Fulcrum Issue #96

PRESS / REVIEWS

2 Jul 2016

åyr :: Home Alone

On art, architecture, and domestic effects of digitalization

Samsung’s Smart TVs come with a fine-print warning: if you enable voice recognition, your spoken words will be ‘captured and transmitted to a third party’, so you might not want to discuss personal or sensitive information in front of your TV. Even if voice recognition is disabled, Samsung will still collect your metadata – what and when you watch, and including facial recognition – though you won’t be able to use their interactive features. The SmartSeries Bluetooth toothbrush from Oral-B, a Procter & Gamble company, connects to a brushing app in your smartphone, which keeps a detailed record of your dental hygiene. The company advertises that you can share such data with your dentist, though, in a privatized health market, it’s more likely the purpose of such technology is to share data with your insurance company.

The more ubiquitous technology becomes, the less its presence is noticeable; its invisibility however, renders us, its users, transparent. The cultural logic of the information age is predicated on an inversion of the gaze: within this fusion of surveillance and control, the screen, as Jonathan Crary has noted, ‘is both the object of attention and (the object) capable of monitoring, recording and cross-referencing attentive behaviour.’ Data processing – whose reaches span the NSA, credit rating agencies, health insurance providers, up to the sorting algorithms used by Google or Instagram – is predictive, modelling future actions on previous behaviour. As such, as Orit Halpern argued in her 2015 book Beautiful Data, data processing implies a model of temporality in which the past is a standing reserve of information, waiting to be mined. This information is used to build user profiles, which in turn will determine the outcome of student loan and health insurance applications, credit scores, or whether you are placed on a ‘no-fly’ list. This might seem anodyne, but as Hito Steyerl notes in A Sea of Data (published this year in the e-flux journal) the Human Rights Data Analysis Group estimates that around 99,000 Pakistanis have been wrongly classified as terrorists by the NSA’s SKYNET program. The potential political usages of these structures include the power of any regime to stamp out dis-sidence in a preemptive manner, by meting out forms of informal punishment like employee transfers or loan denials.

After the global surveillance disclosures of the past few years, we have grown increasingly aware that our affective devices double as control mechanisms, and that sorting algorithms curate our experiences, both on- and, by extension, offline. This nexus of communication and control will be intensified by the introduction of the Internet of Things (IoT). Once our homes become fully equipped with a number of smart appliances, as Evgeny Morozov recently argued in an op–ed for the Financial Times, daily interaction with data-capturing devices will become virtually unavoidable. Your fridge will signal that you are running out of milk to Tesco’s drone delivery service. Your microchipped cat will let himself in and ‘meow’ recognition software will signal a smart can-opener to prepare his meal. Convenient as it may all sound, you will be living inside a world of biometric analyses and pattern recognition that fully captures and profiles its users to place financial wagers on their short- and long-term future.

For a film (Patterns of Life, 2015) included in the recent, large group exhibition at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin – ‘Nervous Systems: Quantified Life and the Social Question’, co-curated by Stephanie Hankey and Marek Tuszynski from the Tactical Technology Collective, and Anselm Franke – artist Julien Prévieux employed dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet. The dancers enact the ways data can be extracted from bodies in motion in order to create ‘patterns of activity’, subsequently used to marginalise or criminalise their targets. Also within ‘Nervous Systems’, the collective Tactical Tech (Maya Indira Ganesh, Stephanie Hankey and Marek Tuszynski) staged a mock customer centre called The White Room. Staffed with tech greeters, The White Room offers a tour through the newest developments in apps and wearable technologies – fitness trackers, subcutaneous contraceptive implants, biometric ID cards – along with insight into their possible grievances: punitive insurance premiums, corporate control over employees’ fertility, financial capture of even destitute citizens. The area also presents makeshift solutions for subverting their usage: a wall-plug that allows for unauthorized editing of information read on wireless devices, or a metronome to deceive your fitness tracker. Playful as these seem, the premise of the exhibition is ominous: our socialization is at odds with the current convergence of financialization and digital tech.

Architecture collective åyr, who will participate in the British Pavilion, ‘Home Economics’, for the 15th Architecture Biennale in Venice this coming May, echoed similar concerns about the changing nature of domesticity amid the corporatization of intimate spaces in a recent article for the Harvard Design Magazine. The collective describe how the family home and the nuclear family were historically co-constituted, and how the corporate capture of the former will impact the organization of the latter, as much as implying an overhauling of governmentality. The smart home, and by extension, the smart city, have the potential to become the interface for the mediatization (and subsequent financialization) of all aspects of life. For the 14th Architecture Biennale in Venice, åyr (which was formerly known as AIRBNB Pavilion, but had to change its name due to legal pressure) staged an exhibition inside apartments rented on Airbnb, and more recently, in their 2015 project Comfort Zone for Frieze London, they installed a sequence of Ikea-like bedrooms inside the fair. For the forthcoming 9th Berlin Biennale åyr plan to make an installation mimicking the aesthetics of a ‘feature wall’, entangling confinement and intimacy, addressing the way personal (even intimate) items are forced to operate as financial assets.

Within the biopolitical organization of the modern era, the domestic space functioned as a buffer zone against the violence of industrial regimentation. But this secluded domesticity also promoted social isolation, universalizing bourgeois protocols and thus curtailing working class solidarity networks and collective agency. In Living and Working: How To Live Together, 2015, the architectural office Dogma (co-founded by Pier Vittorio Aureli and Martino Tattara) examine alternative models of communal living, such as monasteries, Charles Fourier’s Phalanx, or early Soviet experiments, in order to reconfigure the notion of ‘family’. Recognizing how affective labour has been captured by the post-Fordist economy, Dogma’s forms of communal living and facility sharing aim to create a form of architectural commons which would bypass the trapping of the public-vs.-private space space debate, thus making identity less pliable to industry.

In Venice, ‘Home Economics’ (curated by Shumi Bose, Jack Self and Finn Williams), in which Dogma is included, also aims to recover the social mandate of architecture, by decoupling the notion of the home from the imperatives of real estate value. To tackle the shortage of available housing, the curators argue, novel living arrangements need to be created, ideally arrangements that can prove impervious to financial speculation. In this, the curators echo Le Corbusier’s famous statement ‘it is the question of building which lies at the root of the social unrest of today’, and the solution must be either ‘architecture or revolution.’ But within a fully financialized economy, the housing crisis might prove more difficult to solve by means of architecture alone.

The current media ecology doesn’t simply do away with any reasonable expectation of privacy: it also erodes traditional forms of ownership. Millennials are priced out of the housing market not because there is a housing shortage but because the economy is geared towards asset inflation and rent extraction. General Motors and John Deere, for instance, have argued that copyright law cannot conflate ownership of a vehicle with ownership of the underlying computer software, denying owners the right to repair electronic equipment they’ve purchased. Under the twin pressures of financialization and what is called the ‘sharing economy’, capital has also overcome the need to pay formal salaries: the digital economy replaces formal benefits, like salaries, pensions, and social safety nets, with informal ones, like the ability to lease your apartment, spare time or even your appliances. Dogma’s project for Venice relates to temporary, precarious forms of labour: from student visas to internships and zero-hour contracts. From this perspective economical exploitation is intimately linked with political oppression. The question of privacy versus surveillance pales in comparison to the question of privatization versus public property. As McKenzie Wark noted in his essay Renotopia (2015) (a portmanteau combining ‘renovation’ and ‘utopia’) the great socialist utopia that actually got built is service infrastructure; having private companies as the sole providers of publicly needed services implies a fundamental social division between a digital plutocracy and its ‘dumb’ users.

Evgeny Morozov recently argued in The Guardian that whereas the struggles for post-colonial emancipation were fought over the ownership of land, the defining struggle of our times will be fought over the ownership of the digital infrastructure. But the battle will be uphill, as Seb Franklin suggests in Control (2015), digital technologies provide us not simply with the tools but also with the body of metaphors we use to describe today’s challenges. Bill Gates talks about the digital nervous system; we tend to describe the internet as if it were a sentient being, endowed with agency; our material objects are permeated by information flows, from the DNA code to financial algorithms. And we fantasize about immersive environments in which our neural activities would be directly linked onto networks. Artist Melanie Gilligan fictionalized these epistemic materials in her miniseries, The Common Sense (2014): through the usage of an oral prosthesis called ‘the Patch’, users are able to tap into each other’s emotions. In order to stave off her mounting debt, a young mother-to-be decides to monetize the experience of her unborn child, which is seemingly soothing to other users. Tawdry as it may sound, ‘the Patch’ is a logical extension of our current modalities of mediated experience; rather than a prospective future, it provides us with a magnified picture of our present.

Ana Teixeira Pinto Frieze D/E No. 24 Summer 2016

 

 


2 Jun 2016

åyr :: When Harry Met Sally

Interview with Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Rem Koolhaas

åyr We wanted to have this conversation to revisit an interview that you did together in 1998 for the 1st Berlin Biennale catalogue. Back then you talked about your projects in Berlin at a time when the city was undergoing a dramatic transformation. The interview started with your research from the early 1970s, “The Berlin Wall as Architecture.” In some ways the installation that we are doing for the 9th Berlin Biennale at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art is a response to a number of the ideas you discussed. We want to address the ways in which access, separation, and protection are structured beyond the archetypal architectural element of the wall; we are shifting its classical utilization as a divider and nuancing that legacy by looking at the wall as a technology also providing protection and intimacy. These different ideas about walls seem to follow an evolution from your research in early 1970s to some of your most recent projects in Berlin, such as the Axel Springer Campus. Do you remember what you talked about in the interview for the catalogue in 1998?

It’s one of these cases in which a situation with a theory is by definition better than a situation without a theory.

HANS ULRICH OBRIST The catalogue of the first edition of the Berlin Biennale, which Klaus Biesenbach, Nancy Spector, and I curated, was a subverted city guide. We wanted to have Rem’s view on what was and wasn’t happening in Berlin at the time. Back then you were comparing Berlin to a Chinese city, claiming the master plans had failed and that Berlin had produced too much building volume in too short a time for any sort of traditional sedimentation to occur. Eighteen years later, the obvious question is whether Berlin really has become a Chinese city!

REM KOOLHAAS I would say yes and no. Yes, in the case of the extremely rapid production at Potsdamer Platz. The accumulation and assembly of building volumes results from a situation in which architects barely communicate with one another— because they are all driven by commercial interests. This has lead to similar results almost everywhere. But I have to admit, my opinion about Hans Stimmann, who was Berlin’s Secretary of Planning and subsequently Building Commissioner from 1991 to 2006, has completely changed since then. I no longer think that he frustrated creativity, and I actually think that by being so conservative and intolerant he actually saved the city from a lot of garbage. It’s one of these cases in which a situation with a theory is by definition better than a situation without a theory. Or to put it in other words, to a certain extent a strong and dogmatic regime is better than a free-for-all.

åyr Do you think it is possible to draw a parallel between the Berlin Wall and contemporary digital platforms, both being apparatuses or technologies that intensify communication while creating spatial obstacles?

RK The Wall obviously intensified the meaning of the two sides—by creating a reason to communicate.

åyr Your current project, the Axel Springer Campus, is defined by an absence of walls and an immense atrium running across an area on the property once occupied by the Berlin Wall. Openness and communication are achieved through visual connection but not through separation, not through walls.

RK What you are saying just implies that if you had a wall in an office, people would be desperate to know what the people on the other side are doing, but that is not the case. This is not an ideological situation; this is a post-ideological
situation. Within an office space, walls wouldn’t have the slightest impact on people’s eagerness to communicate.

åyr When we first proposed our project to the 9th Berlin Biennale curatorial team, we started talking about the Wall as an architectural archetype and as something that is part of Berlin’s DNA. In a way, they actually got a bit scared.

RK I think that the art scene is one of the most conservative at this point in time, and the Wall is one of the few elements that everyone agrees should really not have been where it was.

There’s hardly any loyalty to a place in digital culture.

åyr For us, focusing on the element of the Wall was a paradoxical situation, and I’m wondering if it was the same for you in terms of the Axel Springer Campus, even though your client chose the site. In a way, you did choose to work with that context, because you took the Wall’s original path into account when designing the building. Perhaps this was a pragmatic choice.

RK I’m not saying it’s pragmatic. It really just deals with the consequences of deterritorialization.

HUO When we did our interview in 1998 it was just when the Netherlands had commissioned you to build the Dutch Embassy in Berlin, a major public commission. Now you have more private commissions, such as the Axel Springer Campus with its focus on what you call “digital bohemia.” It would be great to hear more about this new subject.

RK Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Axel Springer SE, explicitly requested us to find a way in which the building could be inviting and make the case for the digital elite of what he calls “bohemia.” This is interesting, because there’s hardly any loyalty to a place in digital culture. Place is always shifting. He thought he needed a building that articulated this shift, and that its deliberateness would act as a tool for mobilizing the brightest people from that context.

åyr We see the Springer project as embodying the transformation of Berlin into a kind of European Silicon Valley, a place where there is a strong start-up culture. Is this project trying to address that condition in terms of office design?

RK What I really appreciate about Mathias Döpfner is that although he is totally European, he has steered the company towards the digital, almost without hesitation, which is extremely rare. They are clearly fascinated by Silicon Valley, almost to the point of caricature. Yet they didn’t import Silicon Valley culture wholesale. I think they are really at the forefront of wanting to define a European opposition to the imperialistic dimension of Silicon Valley. Start-up culture is by definition a culture that can invade any environment and feels most at home in buildings that are not new. Our building has a European approach. Informality and domestic pampering are not present in this building at all. In a sense, it’s a Prussian building of the digital era.

åyr The Springer project is one of the very few contemporary projects that tries to deal with the digital, not in purely aesthetic or technological terms but as a “form of life.” There is a strong emphasis on this building as conceived for people who are constantly connected. We’d be interested to hear how this has affected your design. Orientation, communication, experience— all these things are transformed by devices, whereby architecture often seems to stay the same.

RK That issue is totally unconnected to Springer. Maybe it is relevant to a series of projects that started with the Universal Studios headquarters in Los Angeles. We are addressing two questions here: How does a very complex organization function as a whole without suffering from total fragmentation? And how can one address the danger of fragmentation present in any digital office? Today fragmentation is not dependent on physical isolation. For example, in OMA’s recent project for the G-Star Raw Headquarters we created a quite complicated split-level situation. In the end, they told us that the entire company sent 60 percent less emails. For me this is the greatest compliment, but it also points to the greatest potential achievement for architecture now—reintroducing physicality into this endless flow of information, which is not only so incredibly redundant, incredibly irritating, incredibly exhausting but also gives everyone a false sense of real productivity.

åyr So how do you think the administrative or organizational role of architecture has moved onto digital platforms? Is architecture now able to be a bit freer, more liberated? Now that digital platforms have become more mature, one can observe a return of materiality—or, more precisely, the possibility of a return of the wall, but a wall which is friendlier, stripped for some of its modernist violence. In the 1990s architecture was dominated by parametric dreams and the rhetoric of openness, unpredictability, and newness. All of a sudden we don’t want this so much anymore. There is a greater interest in small rooms, a booth, a nook— more legibility, more intimacy, another materiality. This is the genealogy we are showing—from “The Berlin Wall as Architecture” to the pierced cozy wall of contemporary office design.

Our building has a European approach.

RK It’s not simply that architecture is becoming digital or that we can use the digital to make interesting architecture. The digital world is a world of totally different adventures, of conceptual, mental spaces. So maybe architecture can focus on exactly what you’re describing—physical and material experiences and the various emotions generated or offered by those experiences and not available in cyberspace.

åyr We are skeptical of chaos as a means of creating the unexpected—and causing people to shop more, talk more, and communicate more. We would speculate that maybe now we have enough solicitation coming from our devices, and therefore what is somehow desired are quiet spaces. I was just reading this morning on Facebook that most video adverts on Facebook are played without sound. This is a new approach that could be applied to architecture. Not to the degree of Peter Zumthor though ... [Laughs]

We guess this comes from a certain frustration of our generation, which has grown up in the architectural discourse of the mid-nineties and the early two-thousands, when the canonical architectural values of institutions and collective spaces were guided by the intention to smooth boundaries, open up, and enhance communication and visibility.

RK Well, larger obstacles keep arising, of which security is one. This presents some very serious contradictions: the aesthetic of continuity and the security- thinking of enclosure and protection.

HUO I have one last question: In our conversation in 1998 you said that Berlin was very scary in the way its modernism was performing an exorcism on the city. So, is Berlin still scary eighteen years later?

RK I’m surprisingly indifferent to it. I’m not outraged by it.

åyr What about your own relation to technology. Do you have daily experiences with Uber, Airbnb, these kinds of things. In terms of your identity, is this part of your experience?

RK Not really, because I have no real need for it. Well of course in terms of getting tickets, in terms of making reservations, of course. OK, next question.

åyr On a more general level, what is your relationship to contemporary art? Are you interested in it?

RK Your question is really crazy. Why are you asking this? This is just gossip: But anyway, I think your projects are really interesting, but as I said earlier, I feel more like a participant than a subject.

This conversation is the edited and condensed version of two conversations between Rem Koolhaas, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and the members of åyr on February 12, 2016, at the OMA offices in Rotterdam and on February 21, 2016, at the Ambassade Hotel in Amsterdam. åyr (formerly AIRBNB-Pavilion) is an art collective based in London whose work focuses on contemporary forms of domesticity.

åyr was founded in 2014 by Fabrizio Ballabio, Alessandro Bava, Luis Ortega Govela, and Octave Perrault. The collective was formed in occasion of an exhibition inaugurated during the opening days of the 14th International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, which took place in apartments rented on a flat sharing website. Through performances, installations, and writing, åyr investigates the relationship between objects and their environments and the effects of the internet on the city. åyr is not connected to or endorsed by Airbnb, Inc. or any other Airbnb group, company, or affiliate.

REM KOOLHAAS founded OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture) in 1975 together with Elia and Zoe Zenghelis, and Madelon Vriesendorp. He graduated from the Architectural Association in London and in 1978 published Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan. In 1995 his book S,M,L,XL summarized the work of OMA in “a novel about architecture.” He heads the work of both OMA and AMO, the research branch of OMA, operating in areas beyond the realm of architecture such as media, politics, renewable energy, and fashion. Koolhaas is a professor at Harvard University where he conducts the Project on the City. In 2014, he was the director of the 14th International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, entitled Fundamentals.

HANS ULRICH OBRIST (born 1968) is a curator, critic, and art historian. He is Codirector of Exhibitions and Programs and Director of International Projects at the Serpentine Gallery, London. Obrist is the author of The Interview Project, an extensive ongoing series of interviews. He is also coeditor of the Cahiers d’art revue.


2 Jun 2016

åyr :: Philipp Ekardt in conversation with åyr

Philipp Ekardt What’s your relationship with contemporary art?

Alessandro Bava I think that our relationship to contemporary art is, at least initially, almost parasitical. Since our backgrounds are in architecture, our interest in contemporary art was a very deliberate move towards another field and another way of operating. We were interested in the type of agency you have as an artist rather than as an architect. So I think our interest in contemporary art has to do with opportunity and opportunism.

Octave Perrault Also when we were architecture students a few years ago, we found that artists were addressing questions that were being ignored within architecture education.

PE Would you have an example for how an artist would approach these questions?

OP I’m thinking mainly about things related to the Internet. I remember the first time I saw a Ryan Trecartin video. I was in L.A. and I was just mind-blown. I thought “wow, that is exactly what I would like to see,” but I just didn’t know where to start in architecture.

AB I think we started working at a time in which there was a vacuum in architecture, it was very conservative and obsessed with the canon. So I think we all drifted towards this other realm.

PE As an outsider I find it really interesting to hear you say that it’s an alternative in terms of the agency you might have had within the architect/client relationship. There was a moment when there was a very strong interest in architecture in other realms, in film or in media theory, and now it seems to be that architecture is also falling for what I like to call “the promise of art.” For some reason the art system at this point really draws in all these discourses, it seems to be very accommodating. It’s also from within the art system that there’s an interest in architecture. It’s mutual.

AB Absolutely. I think, beyond us and what we do, maybe you see a problem in art being too accommodating, but at the same time it’s also a matter of architecture being in crisis. So people are looking for other outputs.

PE Looking at your show at Project Native Informant I thought “this is really interesting, and I can see where they’re coming from and also that this emerges out of an engagement with the digital which they’re probably aware of through their own skill, through architecture.” There’s probably a difference now vis-à-vis the art system where a lot of people are interested in the digital as a phenomenon but it’s not really part of their training.

AB This is actually for me a big part of why we decided to work as an art collective, because there was this gap that I perceived while I was studying architecture, acquiring this set of skills, and being interested in the digital, certain technologies, certain approaches from a purely pragmatic point of view. Then I saw artists being interested in the same things from this different metaphorical or symbolic angle. There was an urgency to investigate what was happening and try to address it critically rather than just acquiring the skills.

Fabrizio Ballabio Whereas it seems to me that within art practices digital technologies are often conceived of as instruments through which a work is then produced which might convey a completely different meaning, we actually work with the instrument as a piece in itself. For our works in the Newcomers show at Project Native Informant, we didn’t just use the renders as an art form; the rendering as a medium and our collaboration with the renders was also part of the work.

PE Which is really interesting because all of you guys probably have a much more thorough and practical understanding of rendering as a tool. But the art system also allows you to thematize that tool. You were using the art system to investigate the instrumentality of the digital. Which is really different from a lot of post-Internet art which often just builds a rhetoric around digitality.

AB There’s a big fascination with what was almost a big uncovering of this whole set of approaches that in architecture were completely unquestioned. Things that for architects are just technical.

PE How does your collaboration function? Are there rules? How do you collaborate?

AB We try to structure it in a way that is a hallucination of how an architectural office works. It’s almost a parody of that. The structure is horizontal, an exchange that has very few rules. It’s very flexible.

Luis Ortega Govela Everyone has their own process and it comes in in this very schizophrenic way. So everyone respects each other’s process, but then at the same time it is like ‘baby’s first architecture office’ somehow, this imagination of how it would work.

FB I would say now that we’re two years in, we’re starting to find more consolidated ways in which each one of us contributes. So, it is becoming more structured, even though how things happen is still very much a mystery.

AB The most interesting thing in our process is the idea of the project, actually. We approach an artwork as a project, a sculpture as a project, and that has a completely different set of rules and dynamics from another type of process.

PE One specific aspect I wanted to ask you about relates to the translation of the digital, implementing something in analog spaces that exists also in the digital realm. Looking at your work in situ it’s very clear to me that this is a pictorial type that emerges really from digital technologies, but then you have to think about how you get that into the analog. Do you have rules for that?

AB I think we also exploit the absurdity of the render as a tool. When the render is the work we always also produce renders of the exhibitions beforehand, because it’s pushing the fictional aspect of the render and doing something that will never end up looking like the exhibition. We translate the digital image into the reality of the installation.

PE This is really interesting to me because it situates your practice as an in-between system, but also within the architectural system. You were saying there’s always this divide between the render and the built house, which used to be the model and the built house... but an analog model can never be as striking or as sexy as a digital render. Also, you operate in a sort of meta-office, which is also a subject per se within the architectural discourse. OMA for instance used to be an office that communicated very strongly “we are an office, we have researchers...,” you seem to be also drawing on that experience.

AB I think we definitely situate ourselves in that lineage of people and the evolution of the architectural office. But there is this idea of multidisciplinarity and the office as something that is part of the architectural discourse, as you say, and I think maybe we are the extreme consequence of that kind of evolution.

FB At the same time I think what really distinguishes us on the one hand from the art collective and on the other from the architecture office is that somehow there is a really strong tension within the way we work together between radical individualism and complete subjection to the collective force. So it starts to become almost a second character through which I can express independently of taste, of identity, of self-definition. It’s very liberating and it also gives you something to work against.

PE I imagine it’s a way of exploring that way of working which is also liberated from the client/office relationship, where you would always have to take into consideration certain conditions of realization.

OP I was wondering if the installations we make are not model in themselves, or experiments for things that would be. They are some kind of tests with the ghost ideas of maybe building a building at some point. It’s probably never going to happen, but it’s been a driving force for our thinking.

PE The interesting thing is that within the history of art there are various practices that talk of that real life or actual-to-size model. Think of Thomas Demand’s practice: photograph something, then rebuild it in paper to size and re-photograph it. Even in contemporary discourse there is the idea of the generic. Laruelle provides one version of it.

AB We deal with the generic in terms of decoration, in patterns. We wrote a lot about Airbnb and this new generic image of the interior and the new international style which is emerging.

LOG The generic as a normative thing, as a way to construct a norm and a habit somehow. I’m really interested in that, in how that image of the generic also creates a normative attitude towards space.

PE One could think of a phenomenon that I’d like to call “aesthetic normalism” responding to this new taste for the normal. The idea is how can I influence this by making it modular for instance, whereas we’re dealing with something which is like a new normal now.

FB Well, it’s a different way also of understanding flexibility as a concept. It’s something which is easily adaptable and which you can easily adapt to. I guess that’s also interesting in relation to the normal, the norm.

AB But to me the new normal as it presents itself today is also tied to identity and in a way lifestyle. The idea of the generic in modernism is trying to take away identity and present itself as flexible and adaptable.

PE I first encountered you online, when you were still “that other Pavilion.” I was wondering if that makes a difference to you or if also your experience was that suddenly something you were doing for some reason generated that immense response online.

LOG Totally, but I think it was also a very conscious decision for the first pavilion to have a digital existence. It was almost never considered to be an actual physical space.

AB It was actually constructed as a performance, as an event played out online. Not in a corny way of being an online thing, but it generated this wave online that had to do with a certain fascination or unlocking of a certain idea. 

PE It’s probably the case with your entire practice: as you say it’s “not the corny online thing,” it’s not digital art, it’s not an online practice, but it used online as a tool.

LOG I think that’s how we conceptualize most of our work: you can operate within the digital and the physical but they don’t need to be the same. They can be different strategies that try to subvert the same thing we’re trying to deal with.

OP We try not to separate them, we don’t see them as different. The digital is just a thing of the world that we are trying to reconcile with what is ‘really’ there.

AB The installations we’re doing for the two Biennales we’re participating in, the Architecture Biennale in Venice and the Art Biennale in Berlin, have essentially to do with these ideas.

CURA NO. 22 2016

 


15 Jul 2015

åyr :: My Flip Phone Brought Me Here

The Modern subject is usually defined by its epistemological capacity. Enlightened at heart, it is composed of a body and a mind evolving in an homogeneous space and time; it is mostly conscious, aware of the world to the extent of his/her knowledge. This model for subjectivity continues to produce the city both formally and as an abstraction. If this model has been under criticism since it emerged, today, the lived experience of space is being transformed more directly than before through the devices, software and networks that affect the sensing capacity of the subject. As it is possible to access quantities of information at a distance, through deserts and walls, it is also possible to be governed in the same manner. This aspect of the contemporary urban experience has notably exposed the inadequacy of the dialectical separation between spheres that have produced the modern subject and its habitat: the modern city. How to think the city when the domestic is public, the personal is political, and reproduction is production? How is the city transformed by the digital quantification of space which indexes both the living and nonliving and allows it to be managed in almost real-time? These are only partial formulations of the actual challenges brought by the heterogeneous dynamics at work today with the evolution of labor, technologies and subjectivity. A contemporary analysis of the city needs to account for the destabilization of the dichotomies that still constitute the subject at large, whether they are body or mind, human or nonhuman, and material or immaterial. In this regard, there is something actually fascinating in the fact that objects or cities are now wished with a particular personality trait, and be called smart.

The image of the smart city made of an endless assemblage of automated connected machines is impressive and daunting. Whether it one sees it as exploiting or liberating, it is problematic to reduce the smart city to a perfectly oiled system constantly monitoring and optimizing everything and every one’s behavior. Techno-utopian enthusiasm and the total hopelessness of usual critique are mirror images of each other. Both views bear many traits of that fin de siecle feeling that was generated by the industrial city: the anxious fascination for the machines that dehumanize, for the labor that individualizes and for the spectacle that depoliticizes. Yet, the industrial city hasn’t produced only evils, or eradicated the political altogether. The technological has a sublime and it is ambivalent: machines do not serve or enslave, they do both and neither simultaneously. This is an important premise for a conceptualization of the interplay between subjectivity, technology and the city that doesn’t essentialize burdensome humanisms.

In the project of the smart city, it is the smart home that raises the most concerns. The infiltration of sensing and connected machines within the domestic unit disturbs. Not even the home is safe ; there is no place to go, no room to hide as surveillance appears to be ubiquitous and commodification is subsuming the unconscious. Faced with these observations that imperil the precious separations of spheres, some architects turn to Ray Kurzweil (the inventor of the ‘singularity’) or opt for an exodus from technology, while others attempt to reincarnate the past home by building Faraday cages like they used to build atomic bunkers. It is not that the techs of the smart home are innocent but that it only seems difficult to analyze a condition based on the uncertain effects of objects and gadgets that are still at the stage of prototypes. It is more productive to analyze the infrastructure and the habits that are already in operation and have allowed the imagination of the smart thermostats and fridges that are threatening to invade our homes. Technology isn’t reducible to machines and techniques. It is an immersive presence that hardly leaves anything spare, especially in this so-called information age. From the street to the home, from the self to the world, the city as a whole has already been transformed by portable personal devices, the internet, and the oligopoly of online platforms.

The home points somewhere, to a place which doesn’t need to be described too precisely. It is diffuse, but it has a permanence which confers comfort and belonging. It brings psychic appeasement and physical protection. It is the space of personal intimacy and of the ‘family’, that inalienable and natural-ized datum of the community, the one that continues to condition all futurity. In spite of the generalized precarity that is hitting our cities and turning our houses into temporary places of occupation that are most often impersonal, dysfunctional and constantly subject to the landlord’s or the state’s invitation to leave, the home doesn’t show much wear. The home is a (idealized) feeling rather than a typology. Renting, short-term jobs and serial monogamy are destroying the house-home, yet the home can exist quite autonomously from its architectural concretization. Even the homey aesthetics – an image, an ambience, a feeling – is seemingly strengthened by the very processes that are destroying its typology. The abundant flux of images that are produced and shared online show the home clearly and coherently even if its actual access is increasingly hazardous. One only has to compare the domestic reality glimpsed on a Skype catch-up with the CG imagery of the IKEA catalogue to see the gap between reality and representation. This tension is certainly unsettling yet it doesn’t only lead to somber conclusions. The widening distance between image and reality may very well be a heightened form of alienation with techno-fascist undertones, but we should prevent ourselves from this modernist masculine idealism that believes in actual reality and fears illusions. We should also avoid regretting the home as a safe haven of peacefulness. That would blatantly disregard the invaluable feminist critiques and only demonstrates a conservative empathy for one of the keystone of the bourgeois project and its rampant forms of oppressions. Without belittling the violence of the neoliberal dynamics that are currently at work, it is politically more promising to see the tension between the reality and the image of the home as the chance to liberate hominess from certain power relations. There might be opportunity in crisis, even for emancipatory politics. Thus, could we disentangle these questions by considering that it is not a disappearance of the home, but a displacement? What if the home was able to detach itself from the house as a consequence of the devices and platforms accommodating some of its qualities, or rather providing aspects of its presence?

It is frightening to know that the companies of the smart city are now developing ridiculously small and cheap sensing devices powered by the electromagnetic wave of surrounding WiFi signals and communicating with their headquarters on 3G. Even if there are Smart TVs that have already been busted recording all our living room conversations, it is still unlikely that the appliances of the smart home have more potential for evil than the portable devices that centralize our sociability and have already become extension of our memories. Even as an undeniable instrument of surveillance, the smartphone still confers a feeling which is more comforting than threatening. With it, it is hard to be alone or to be lost as a map or a contact are always at hand. It possesses an affective presence which is particularly palpable when the battery runs out. The smart devices that are currently in use extend the mind in such a way that they have become a part of the body. The subject of contemporary metropolises can hardly be thought without her devices, and the contemporary city has to be understood as populated by smart bodies made of flesh and smartphones. In addition to this, the smart objects and the smart city originate from what the smart bodies are already performing together. It is this body who is able to bring the exterior inside the house and to bring that homey presence to the exterior. It is the smart body that allows the home to be partially autonomous from the materiality of what is still thought as domestic space. This extended model of subjectivity goes beyond the irreducible fleshiness of the modern subject. The devices, networks and platforms produce the materiality and the spatiality through which the contemporary subject comes to being. They cannot be seen as external to its constitution. They are the infrastructure within which bodies bathe and through which they develop. They structure contemporary subjectivity, and they provide are strange combination of comfort and control that isn’t dissimilar to the one of the bourgeois home.

It is important to insist that this detachment of the home from its architecture isn’t an apology for homelessness or the transfiguration of dispossession into nomadism. This frame of thought does not disregard the vital necessity of shelter. On the contrary, the ambition behind this conception of the smart home is to find means to produce architecture that remedies the urgency of the contemporary housing question, both conceptually and materially. It isn’t that the materiality of the house has been replaced by networks and devices, but that the typology of the house is being separated from the feeling of the home partly because of network and devices. One still needs a place to sleep, a place to cook, a place to be alone, a place to wash, a place to be comfortable, but it may not be owned, or designed for a family or a bachelor. Who and what to design it for? Access to this type of place is essential to feeling home and the challenge is to figure an architectural rationale in tune with contemporary hominess. The typology of the house may not be completely outdated but it drags with it a burdened history regarding ownership, permanence, labour and gender. Disentangling the home from the house is an attempt to retain the political, communal and collective concepts associated to the home while discharging it from some of its problematic elements. And by analogy, the ubiquitous presence of the new technology suggests that there is much to learn from the subjectivities that have historically existed in the home and the ones that have managed to construct themselves within and against the oppression of the norms. The home needs to be queered as a whole, as a set of social relations, a series of aesthetic codes, and as an architectural typology.

In the same way that the nuclear family, the home and the factory were the paradigmatic models of the modern city and its subject, the contemporary city needs the smart subject, the devices, the network and the platforms. Production is increasingly mediated and managed directly through them. Online profiles are becoming forms of identification that condition the access to certain production platforms to a greater extent than National identification systems. This is operative on many websites like Airbnb for instance, but there is also TaskRabbit who directly discriminates bodies that aren’t smart: one is asked to possess a smartphone in order to open an account on the platform and begin exchanging his/her labour power. There is also a strange parallel between the platforms of the (sharing) economy and the stock market as both places allow incorporated individuals to exchange shares depending on their reputations. Not to mention Ethereum, the latest project of extreme technoliberals who wish to establish this form of management of life to virtually everything. The emergence of this form of administration coincides with the post-Fordist inclination towards human capital as the dominant form of capitalist accumulation. Indeed, the profile is a proof of identity that defines individuality less by its mere existence as a living person than by its activity in a variety of existential domains. By archiving habits, friendships, diets, professional or religious practices, the subject is directly associated to a portfolio of conducts specifically related to his or her own behaviour with the world. In this manner, the profile becomes a medium that monitors the investments made by a person in its own self, and therefore its value. Human capital is so intrinsically embedded in the subject and its history that labor power can only be rented out or invested in through education programs, lifestyle choices, reputations and social associations. In this sense, the profile is the currency of the (sharing) economy to which individuals have to comply in order to be intelligible on the market. This new form of identification and valuation is intrinsically linked to informatics, computation and networks. Capitalist exchange and governance has relied on the the description of things – including bodies and ideas – into administrable data, which today is computable data. By creating and compiling its profiles, the contemporary subject makes its own self, its possessions and its experience of the world amenable to informatics, and therefore subject to being managed in this manner. The difficulty to resist this system comes from the fact that withdrawal excludes from work, and thus, excludes from life. It is what regulates the access to work and thus the capacity to live. It is an apparatus for the administration of life itself, i.e biopolitics.

We are at a moment when production is less about manufacture than the referencing of everything that exists into a format that suits this administration paradigm. Contemporary production is a metaproduction that operates through the seizing of unused resources, assets and talents with informatics. Architecture wasn’t spared from this process, and understanding the primacy of the packaging of things into computable information is crucial to the understanding of the contemporary city and its subjects.

Google Maps and Airbnb are archetypal to the current making of the world into computable and cognizable data. They are both platforms that map, archive and reference things according to a set of criteria that are intelligible to both computers and subjects so that they can be managed, administered and potentially monetized, either directly or indirectly. On Airbnb, what is exchanged between users on the platform is the temporary access to spaces. In order to make its platform functional, Airbnb had to build a database of both users and spaces according to a set of computable indexes that made their exchange possible. The profile requirements of the users and the ‘Certified by Airbnb’ flanked over the pictures of homes are parts of the formatting process that is required by the platform economy. These standards allow for such things to be cognizable by humans, manageable by computers and networks and ultimately to make them comparable according to the abstract system of universal equivalence i.e. money. Adorno illustrates this necessary process through the invention of the phonograph and the record. Together, the phonograph and the record allowed the resistant immateriality and ephemerality of music to be transformed into a commodity that can be desired and exchanged as such. He doesn’t fail to insist on the instrumental role that advertising and “the private arty home” plays to crystallize these into habits, lifestyles and needs. Without them, the commodity doesn’t come to life. Transposing this example to architecture in the age of platforms, the immediate questions are: Are certain architectural forms more intelligible to computer than others? What are the criteria that make a space more fit to its indexation? How to measure the indexability of architecture by platforms? Could a spatial taxonomy be constructed from this measure? What makes a space resistant to that form of biopolitical management?

To approach these new architectural challenges, a starting point is to look at the reasons why the only spaces that have been widely incorporated by platforms until now are the street and the home. On the one hand, the street is a continuous, public and accessible space along which punctual and rather fixed events are located. Google Maps could index this data and render it usable in a relatively straightforward manner by drawing on existing mapping technologies and orientation practices. On the other hand, the typical Western home was ripe to be exploited by platforms for a variety of reasons. First, a home is clearly identifiable due to its long history and the distinctness of its codes, norms and aesthetics. Because the image and the feeling of the home is globally shared (at least amongst the groups using these platforms), the signifiers of the home can perform like a currency. On a more architectonic register, the typology of the house is also adequate to its exchange on platforms because it is a precisely delineated spatial unit which possesses a specific set of describable functions, and which access to is regulated by one single individual (or a limited group i.e. the family, the couple, the roommate). These architectonic and aesthetic attributes of houses have allowed them to be referenced and made exchangeable with minimal logistics on platforms like Airbnb for instance. When the phonograph required the construction of an appreciation of music as recordings before being turned into a commodity, the typology of the house/home already possessed a heterogeneous set of qualities (representability, accessibility, materiality, price, usage, security, … ) that made it suited to the platforms of contemporary societies of control and its subjects. Apart from the domestic typology, the analysis of space according to their capacity to be assimilated by platforms questions other spaces: Why does the open-plan office seem to be a resistant typology to platforms? Being the archetypal typology for the most neoliberal forms of lives where there are no separation between production and reproduction, is the white cube gallery the prototype of platform architecture? It is also worth wondering if the curvaceous and continuous objects and spaces of parametric architecture are actually suited to this evolution of neoliberalism. How to index a chair when it also morphs into a table and a shelf? How to reference out a room when it is separated from the lobby and the café with a glass panel or a tilted plane? Is it a sort of cryptographic design practice, or what would be one? The delineation of spaces and objects is essential for their indexation and their assimilation on platforms. Nonetheless, the parametricists may have touched upon something by focusing on the envelope: it is easier to index a building that distinctly stands out from the rest of the city fabric.

If these interrogations are only sketches for a possible angle of analysis of the contemporary city, they nonetheless challenge architecture to develop a model of the city that overcomes the current limitations of the modern triad of the house/home, the factory and the street that have structured the city both materially and as an abstraction. However, what is proposed here isn’t calling for the complete rejection of the previous models. The uneven and antagonistic nature of capitalism asks for models that represent the contemporary condition not only more productively but chiefly, more strategically. In the same way that the house/home was never a purely reproductive unit or a place for inevitable love, framing the separation between the house and the home through devices, networks and platforms isn’t a perfect representation of the contemporary city. Today, it seems urgent to produce an image of the city that integrates the ways in which power operates through the emergent material and affective infrastructures that manage bodies, objects, rooms, streets, sociality and capital.

Volume #44 ‘On Display’ 15 July 2015

 


2 May 2016

åyr :: From Line to Sphere

On August 15, 1971, on the day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Richard Nixon untied the US dollar from the gold standard. Being a good Christian, in God he trusted; and I wonder whether the decision to dematerialize the world’s currency on the day of the dematerialization of the Virgin’s holy body from earth to heaven was a deliberate one. What makes this coincidence even more interesting is that at this very same time the grounds were laid for a third case of dematerialization to occur, this time within the realm of architecture. It was mostly due to Nixon’s economic measures, in fact, that the “wall,” arguably the discipline’s enduring primordial element, was transposed to isotropic spheres and thus suddenly invested with quasi-divine powers reaching far beyond its materiality.

The revocation of the direct convertibility of the US dollar to gold was intended to untether value from any material equivalent. This transformed the nature of the dollar and, consequently, all currencies exchanged on the market, making them fluctuate solely according to each other as reference, allowing money to exist in relation to itself, groundless and immaterial. Curiously, even though the effects of this maneuver registered early on in the built environment, a dispersed movement of so-called radical architects and designers was at the same time envisioning a liberated society by way of the complete dissolution of architecture through a progressive sublimation from solid to gas. Superstudio’s Continuous Monument (1969); Hans Hollein’s Mobile Office (1969); Archigram’s Plug-in City (1964); the pneumatic experiments of Ant Farm, Quasar Kahn and the like; Reyner Banham and François Dallegret’s “A Home is Not a House” (1965)with nuanced differences, these all emerged to counter “traditional bourgeois values such as permanence, material assets, and solidity” [www.design-museum.de/en/collection/100-masterpieces/detailseiten/blow-de-pas-durbino-lomazziscolari.html] with new modes of inhabitation based on transience, flexibility and the kind of cornerless epidermo-platonic techno-chic aesthetic that makes them popular still. Like Nixon, they too agreed that society was to be liberated by the power of electronic systems and communication technologies, and that the key to this condition was a shared global infrastructure adapted to the exchange of all things.

But just as Nixon revoked the gold standard — meanwhile Steve Jobs was being introduced to Steve Wozniak and MoMA was preparing the seminal exhibition “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape” — a yet-to-graduate Rem Koolhaas embarked on a study trip to Berlin with the peculiar objective of architecturally documenting the GDR-built barrier. During this trip, Koolhaas reframed the nature of walls as devices of division, verifying the Eastern Bloc’s assertion that the wall was actually built to protect the “will of people” in building a socialist state. Noticing that the “free” side of the city was in truth the enclosed one, Koolhaas witnessed the power of the wall, which had, by itself, through the most archaic and crude architectural intervention, reconfigured the entire city and become a symbolic image for the state of the world. The effects of the Berlin Wall reached, in fact, far beyond its mere architectural presence, while the scale and scope of such ripples rendered the wall immaterial by comparison. Consequently, the Wall, speaking for all walls and architecture itself, was less about the concrete than the void, less about its thin edge than the real differences it actively produced.

The implications of Koolhaas’s argument reinforced architecture’s ties with production in the largest and most abstract sense. It showed that regardless what was divided, the division of a thing inevitably produced two things that could be weighed against each other by opposition. It was then evident that technologies of separation — whether walls, membranes or barriers — instrumentalized division to produce more difference; subsequently, they proved how separation was essential to the production of new meanings and values by giving reasons to communicate and exchange. Framed in this way, the immateriality of electronic systems based on the translation of all things into bits and digits was certainly less about emancipation than production.

In this light, Koolhaas’s early work is much closer to that of his techno-hippy and liberal contemporaries than he would like to admit. In both instances, the “immaterial” digital system was envisioned in opposition to the material limitations of architecture. His work on the Berlin Wall concluded that the physicality of architecture was powerless against abstract and immaterial systems. When he returned from Berlin, he declared: “For me, it was a first demonstration of the capacity of the void — of nothingness — to ‘function’ with more efficiency, subtlety, and flexibility than any object you could imagine in its place. It was a warning that — in the built environment — absence would always win in a contest with presence.” [Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau, SMLXL, The Moncelli Press, New York, 1995, p. 228] Like Marx had understood a century before, the melting of all things solid into air was a matter of realizing the promise of capitalist production, thus making it more real, more functional, more adaptable and more efficient. As the Virgin Mary left her earthly incarnation for the holy heavens, capitalism consecrated the global stock market as the holy referent. From then on, monetary, aesthetic, cultural and moral values started feeling less like this –___–”””—__—-”””—____— and more like this *%&ª¶§^)&^•º∞(^$*^€¢∞¶∞£%(&^)(*&.

This patchy genealogy shows that walls, boundaries and membranes, being some of the most rudimentary types of interfaces, can be considered at once a paradigm of separation, of production and of communication. Their parasitic presence in the world is the fuel that keeps the machine productive. It also shows that an immaterial network of exchange was imagined simultaneously throughout the liberal spectrum, whether in aesthetics, politics or science. There was a general conviction that the only way out of the dead end of modernist politics was to divest materiality by overlaying immaterial systems of division onto the world. The shared ambition was to unleash the production of values, whether monetary or symbolic, which were believed to guarantee that liberty would become other. Divided and connected, plural and unique, immaterial and material, abstract and real: the contradictions of postmodernity might have been much more consciously constructed than it is usually believed. And yet, however progressive and liberatory these solutions may have felt at the time, they were all inspired by and consequent to the necessity to improve and expand the already global technology of exchange that is money.

The power of this realization about materiality spiraled modernism toward its total sublimation. In some ways we are still coming to terms with all the postmodern bubbles spun by an architectural discourse that, since then, has desperately attempted to hold onto something tangible (the regionalists, the historicists, the Pop artists and the technologists). Today, the global system of immaterial division, progressively overlaid on the existing world, has absorbed a large portion of the city. It reached a symbolic point in September of 2007 with the release of the first iPhone — as if announcing the subprime bubble and the socioeconomic era’s shift from postmodern to post-internet.

We might discuss smart devices in relation to the housing crisis, noting that the internet had at that point become an essential infrastructure for inhabitation similar to what architecture always was. Such devices allowed one to visualize the digital as a space that isn’t open but is made of immaterial walls and buffers, not unlike scrims whose borders annexed and overrode much of the existing architecture of the city, transfiguring it in the process. Indeed, the dominant technology of division of the modern city is repurposed by the new flexibility, adaptability and functionality of digital separations. However, this does not imply that material separations have lost their capacity to exclude and that all thresholds will one day be replaced by immaterial ones. This would be to forget the dramatic proliferation of border walls occurring proportionally to the expansion of the digital, which shows the inadequacy of the digital to administer bodies and things as such, especially when they don’t have the “luxury” of being included in the system. Moreover, it shows the absurdity of wishing for a totally virtual, “smart” lifestyle.

It has already been a few decades since the era of architecture’s dominance was declared over by the figurehead of the architectural avant-garde, Superstudio, as they foresaw the inevitable expansion of immaterial infrastructures. Was the city transformed, and in what way? Have there been any notable changes? The potential of the immaterial led to a series of new urban and architectural typologies, the first notable effects being the appearance of a rhetoric of liquidity and liquefaction in the architectural discourse. The impossibility of the total dematerialization advocated in the 1970s initiated a progressive search for a softer and smoother architecture, one that was deformed to accommodate flows when it wasn’t being deformed according to flows.

The guiding light of this transformation of the city from without was Zaha Hadid (this past tense is particularly heavy with her tragic passing a month ago). Hadid’s career offers a good summary of the progressive infiltration and recomposition of the urban totality by the digital. Her work seems driven toward ever-higher fragmentations and resolutions. The recourse to a liquid architecture was deeper than the literal and superficial application of the rhetoric of management that suddenly fetishized networking and interactions at the forefront of production. The appeal of sleek, curvaceous spaceships mobilized the entire spectrum of the digital beyond the mere object. Her buildings are not simply walls or even spaces made of borderless rooms organically flowing into one another with the lightness of air, but they were created with a deliberate irreverence toward any medium of existence, as the architectural presence cannot ignore its “immaterial” life as rendered projections, technical exploits and high-value images.

The conflation of all mediums into one is visible in Hadid’s paintings. The city fabric becomes a myriad of fragments, as if buildings, roads and the landscape were one identical material. The whole is exploded into atoms to reveal its unity, analogous to the unity through division promised by the digital. Like the pixels of a screen or the bits of a file, Hadid saw that our experience of the world was being abstracted into segments in order to flow better, yet without actually changing shape in the physical sense. Unlike the gridding of Koolhaas’s captive globes, which managed to freeze architecture in time but failed to represent the totalizing process of uniformization wrought by the digital, Hadid sensed that the immaterial structure could very well contain all there was, without ever producing any architecture “at its image.” Her architectural quest was to give form to the formless.

She insisted on breaking the dualism between public and private, on upholding the singular ground of modernism while mitigating it by degrees, and considered the whole discretely, because it was already underway. She introduced the gradient as a valid architectural typology because the limits of rooms had faded as much as paintings had become pixelated. Hadid’s architecture characteristically evolved from angular to curvaceous as it wrestled with the sophistication of the abstracting force of the digital. It is unlikely that her architecture of infinite dissolution was ever meant to be applied to entire cities. She was building glitches into the urban fabric, or rather mirrors that let the rest of the city see its real face.

Thus, the material separations of architecture do not fall in the presence of smart devices, which make bodies and cities smart by incorporating them in a global structure of immaterial separations. The crisis of enclosure that the philosophers of plurality and individuality had identified is not the irrelevance of architectural knowledge that Koolhaas also sees in the smart city. [Rem Koolhaas, “The Smart Landscape: Intellligent Architecture,” Artforum, April 2016] Architecture is not dead; it’s just different. The walls, the membranes, the rooms, the windows and the passages of the smart city do not perform in the same way, but these elements remain the core repertoire of architecture. The way they used to mediate relations are indeed queered by the addition of other kinds of frames and other means of emotional administration, but the way forward is certainly not the re-establishment of their classical nature through other forms of technical artifice. This evolution isn’t necessarily more profound than past historical movements, either. As usual, when the historical constellation shifts, a relevant relationality to built forms will naturally come through the sensible aspiration toward another “sentimental education.”

Nevertheless, if architecture wasn’t made irrelevant by digital technologies, it is clear that the organizational capacities of the digital, the internet and smart devices have notably impeded on architecture’s territory — that of a knowledge that orders and divides space — and has arguably emptied architecture of some of its original raison d’être. This is one of the reasons why some of the borders of the age of access can afford to become less evident in certain cases, less rigid, less present; or why lost typologies of space and décor are able to be brought to life now that the puritan rationalism of the bourgeois days has faded (or has been assumed into heaven). It is also why it is necessary to dissect material and immaterial divisions upon the same table. The digital has also established itself as an essential tool for orientation through which the world appears both spatially and affectively, thus stepping on architecture’s significance as an emotional infrastructure. It has enabled new patterns of movement, a state of permanent nomadism in space made possible by the permanence of the connections that matters, to relatives or to work, for instance. One can live swiping and surfing from one space to the next because one dwells, like the Virgin Mary, in orbit.

When living in this way, the experience of physical divisions is mostly temporary. One goes from space to space more or less voluntarily, navigating a subjective map of the city that is being constantly reconfigured. The architecture remains the same, but occupations change and fast-forward, from room to room, from neighborhood to neighborhood, from city to city. It is a state of zombie dérive wherein being lost isn’t an option, nor is being in control. But gone is the modernist aversion to materiality, which peaked with the radicals’ abolition of architecture. The relationship to walls and buffers, and to matter and media in general, is still violent, but can afford to be more intimate now that control and escape are both the result of days spent stroking a glass screen. Or perhaps it is because the comprehension of the subject has evolved toward a more ambivalent and unresolved relationship to the violence of power, that of resistance. The subject forms against forces rather than through their abolition. It needs to oppose walls and feel borders in order not only to become, but simply to be. These borders are what makes room for the Self by holding the Other back. After all, these separations, whether physical or abstract, are the only realities that the subject has to present and represent herself, the only realities that she can inhabit.

The contemporary relationship to boundaries and interfaces isn’t only more intimate; some of these thresholds are sacralized, some fairly, others less so. Think of the many incantations pronounced to perform your personal sphere: “I am a straight German vegan blond middle-class black homo with two sisters and a degree.” The performance of the self happens through the temporary identification with real abstract thresholds and, although they are not really yours, their combinatory appropriation reinforces individuality. Entertaining a good relationship with borders seems vital, but it remains nonetheless power’s ambit to impose its definitions on space, things and bodies, making the whole valuable in its own terms. Digital devices, profiles and platforms instrumentalize individuation by dividing into ever more parameters, more criteria, more elements. The more criteria that define a thing, the more it is amenable to the market since it has more degrees of comparison and exchange. Rendering life in high-resolution expands the range of life that can be potentially productive.

The wall as womb — a metamorphosis offered by the crisis of physicality, which opened up a whole new geometrical cosmos questioning the pure binary value of the line as it translates to spherical orbit. Immaterial divisions, 360° horizons, HDRI extravaganzas, a world without end, one who cares without reason.

FlashArt No. 308 May 2016


15 Oct 2015

åyr :: åyr go through the keyhole

Ever wondered what Cy Twombly's house looked like? Or Rick Owens'? Or MoMA curator Klaus Bisenbach's? Åyr's exhibition, Newcomers, at Project Native Informant, peels back and reveals the home lives of the rich of the famous.

Although, of course, it doesn't quite. In a series of lightbox renders of these interiors, the UK-based collective instead critique the aspirational perfection of people who open their homes to interior photographers to document them, and who seek to place a certain image of themselves in the perfectly arranged world of their. A window frames each image, we're directly looking in like voyeurs, and repeats, infinitely and uncannily, into the distance of a window too. Each image is punctured and interrupted by a incongruous element; a sombrero, a portrait of Portia and Ellen, a Michael Kors bag, a Dyptique candle, a satire on their perfection, but also revealing the break in the construction of self. The images are hyperreal and hypnotic, but also violent and dystopian in the way they reach for perfection. The renders' power comes from the fact they are both unnaturally real though obviously constructed and fake; they seem at first glance attainable and beautiful but then reveal their falsity and darkness.

They also were part of Frieze Projects this year, with Comfort Zone, which like Newcomers relies on the optical illusion of repetition, and the symbolism of the home and bed, to critique the domestic environment. One of the fair's stand out booths, Comfort Zone is part chill out zone, part critique of the hyper connectivity of the smart home, whilst exploring the gap between art and play.

Can you describe a little about the history and idea behind ÅYR?

The four of us came together a little over a year ago when we worked on the AIRBNB Pavilion, an independent pavilion that happened over the opening weekend of the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale. We continued to operate under that name until spring this year, when, after a long summer of legal back and forth (after receiving a cease and desist letter by lawyers representing AIRBNB), we settled on this new name, which we see as transitory, a temporary name to the now nameless pavilion.

We are obsessed with the idea of how our name can be constantly changing, in an age when branding and the value attach to this is so important , we want to explore this continuous untraceable body of work. It's not anonymous, just eternally confusing.

You mainly come from architectural backgrounds, how does this affect your place within the "art world"?
its funny because both architecture and art always function with some sort of gate- keeper figure deciding who or what can be considered part of the discipline. so for us to fully prescribe to either is just reinforcing very outdated forms of control. i think as individuals the four of us look at this from different perspectives as a collective we conceived of ourselves as an art project that works with an architectural vocabulary. But given the nature of ÅYR as a constantly transitioning project, maybe in the future we might think of it as an architectural project in an art context.

Architecture is always affirmative and never critical that's its inherent limit, so we could never imagine ÅYR's work to be perceived as architecture...

The first projects were critiques and investigations into the sharing economy, these last projects are more concerned with a critique and investigation into the luxury industry (interiors, hipster aesthetics, contemporary art, etc, etc) -- how do you see these two strands being related in your work?

The sharing economy has this drive towards the accessibility of luxury but with a twist in models of ownership. We don't see them as being two distinct things but rather the same. Luxury and its accessibility has a certain allure but deep down there is a violence there. For example Interior Illusions Lounge, from which the works at

Project Native Informant stem from are so sexy because of their hyperreal and hyper aspirational representation of luxury. It becomes so attainable, but that's just the surface, deep down we see these pieces as dark and violent.

What attracted you to each of the people whose interiors you've reimagined.

The reasons for each one vary, some are arbitrary if we like what the interior communicates (like Klaus Biesenbach's all white interior) or because of the history of Cy Twombly's house, but they all look into the artist interior as the mythical birthplace of aesthetic tendencies, urban demeanours, and incubators of metropolitan subjectivity.

 
 

To what extent can we think of interiors as self-portraits?

The construction of the renders starts with existing photographs of these spaces. These photographs could only have happened by inviting photographers to come into their houses and photograph their intimate spaces. There is a certain ritual of inviting people over, where you prepare the house so it represents a different reality to the actual lived one. The construction of an interior is one that is charged with self- portraiture, you construct it to construct yourself.

How much of the critique comes through the small interventions in these images (the Doritos, the sombrero, the portrait of Ellen and Portia, the dog) that puncture that ideal of ourselves?
I like how you talk about these as punctures, because that's exactly how we conceptualise them, they are the cracks of the pristine rendering and the control embedded in the interior as portrait. They come naturally once the image has been fully constructed and comes from a desire to present these as archetypes and autonomous images that go beyond the subject. In a sense, more than the trompe- l'oeil quality of the images these bear a certain discomfort to the image. They fuck the househole up.

What, if anything, do you think we can understand about the people who "live" within these interiors through viewing them?

We've been looking at Warhol's portraits, the ones in which he would photograph collectors and personalities on a polaroid with the idea to construct a collective portrait of society at the time by only displaying a surface representation of identity. That's how we think about the Interior Illusions Lounge.

 

The bed is a recurring motif in many of the renders, and in your Frieze Projects installation too. What attracts you to the symbolism of the bed?
The bed has always been there for us. We see it as the object that condenses a lot the affect we deal with. There is a long history of looking at the bed as biographical and emotional, as a space for comfort and love, as the space of the couple, and the only space where physical intimacy is allowed and encouraged. Its very coded. But at the same time we also look at it as really boring piece of designed technology: it's just a padded cube that nonetheless manages to regulate so much of our interactions. In this sense, it epitomises the idea of a domestic signifier: it is simple and global, it defines the function of its room and the action of bodies. It is a condition of productivity and it shows that even the most vertical bodies need full horizontality vis a vis productive laziness.

Can you explain a bit about your Frieze Project?

It uses the bed to construct an anachronism around notions of comfort, privacy and display within a seemingly domestic environment. It is firstly an enfilade—a baroque architectural typology that anticipated the corridor in modulating degrees of intimacy and publicness. The suite of six rooms cuts throughout the central tent at the moment in which it meets its neighbouring one so that, while walking by, it almost appears as a hallucination. The rooms are the size of a standard master bedroom, differently coloured according to global domestic palettes we found researching for "calming neutrals", and furnished with the most comfortable beds available on the market and pendant ceiling lights augmented with smart technology. It draws upon the recent emergence of cosiness, chilling and entertainment in entrepreneurial rhetoric, caricatured in start up and freelancing cultures. This shift is visible in the design of these spaces that freely employ domestic signifiers like fireplaces and hot tubs to transform the sterile corporate lounges into homey interiors. We see that as embodying a shift from having a job to having an occupation. Nonchalance, laziness, happiness has become a mainstream cachet of professional success; probably helped by the fact that it is still a form of production. Conversely, the rhetoric of efficiency and production drive the products of the smart home, not to say that watching a movie in bed or texting your mum already generates data that has some sort of value. We are interested in the ways these dynamics are transforming the home as an aesthetic, as a concept and as a feeling.

Felix Petty åyr go through the keyhole I.D. Magazine 15 October 2015

Can you describe a little about the history and idea behind ÅYR?
The four of us came together a little over a year ago when we worked on the AIRBNB Pavilion, an independent pavilion that happened over the opening weekend of the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale. We continued to operate under that name until spring this year, when, after a long summer of legal back and forth (after receiving a cease and desist letter by lawyers representing AIRBNB), we settled on this new name, which we see as transitory, a temporary name to the now nameless pavilion.

We are obsessed with the idea of how our name can be constantly changing, in an age when branding and the value attach to this is so important , we want to explore this continuous untraceable body of work. It's not anonymous, just eternally confusing. 

You mainly come from architectural backgrounds, how does this affect your place within the "art world"?
its funny because both architecture and art always function with some sort of gate-keeper figure deciding who or what can be considered part of the discipline. so for us to fully prescribe to either is just reinforcing very outdated forms of control. i think as individuals the four of us look at this from different perspectives as a collective we conceived of ourselves as an art project that works with an architectural vocabulary. But given the nature of ÅYR as a constantly transitioning project, maybe in the future we might think of it as an architectural project in an art context.

Architecture is always affirmative and never critical that's its inherent limit, so we could never imagine ÅYR's work to be perceived as architecture…

The first projects were critiques and investigations into the sharing economy, these last projects are more concerned with a critique and investigation into the luxury industry (interiors, hipster aesthetics, contemporary art, etc, etc) -- how do you see these two strands being related in your work?
The sharing economy has this drive towards the accessibility of luxury but with a twist in models of ownership. We don't see them as being two distinct things but rather the same. Luxury and its accessibility has a certain allure but deep down there is a violence there. For example Interior Illusions Lounge, from which the works at Project Native Informant stem from are so sexy because of their hyperreal and hyper aspirational representation of luxury. It becomes so attainable, but that's just the surface, deep down we see these pieces as dark and violent.

What attracted you to each of the people whose interiors you've reimagined.
The reasons for each one vary, some are arbitrary if we like what the interior communicates (like Klaus Biesenbach's all white interior) or because of the history of Cy Twombly's house, but they all look into the artist interior as the mythical birthplace of aesthetic tendencies, urban demeanours, and incubators of metropolitan subjectivity.

To what extent can we think of interiors as self-portraits?
The construction of the renders starts with existing photographs of these spaces. These photographs could only have happened by inviting photographers to come into their houses and photograph their intimate spaces. There is a certain ritual of inviting people over, where you prepare the house so it represents a different reality to the actual lived one. The construction of an interior is one that is charged with self-portraiture, you construct it to construct yourself. 

How much of the critique comes through the small interventions in these images (the Doritos, the sombrero, the portrait of Ellen and Portia, the dog) that puncture that ideal of ourselves?
I like how you talk about these as punctures, because that's exactly how we conceptualise them, they are the cracks of the pristine rendering and the control embedded in the interior as portrait. They come naturally once the image has been fully constructed and comes from a desire to present these as archetypes and autonomous images that go beyond the subject. In a sense, more than the trompe-l'oeil quality of the images these bear a certain discomfort to the image. They fuck the househole up.

What, if anything, do you think we can understand about the people who "live" within these interiors through viewing them?
We've been looking at Warhol's portraits, the ones in which he would photograph collectors and personalities on a polaroid with the idea to construct a collective portrait of society at the time by only displaying a surface representation of identity. That's how we think about the Interior Illusions Lounge.

The bed is a recurring motif in many of the renders, and in your Frieze Projects installation too. What attracts you to the symbolism of the bed?
The bed has always been there for us. We see it as the object that condenses a lot the affect we deal with. There is a long history of looking at the bed as biographical and emotional, as a space for comfort and love, as the space of the couple, and the only space where physical intimacy is allowed and encouraged. Its very coded. But at the same time we also look at it as really boring piece of designed technology: it's just a padded cube that nonetheless manages to regulate so much of our interactions. In this sense, it epitomises the idea of a domestic signifier: it is simple and global, it defines the function of its room and the action of bodies. It is a condition of productivity and it shows that even the most vertical bodies need full horizontality vis a vis productive laziness.

Can you explain a bit about your Frieze Project?
It uses the bed to construct an anachronism around notions of comfort, privacy and display within a seemingly domestic environment. It is firstly an enfilade—a baroque architectural typology that anticipated the corridor in modulating degrees of intimacy and publicness. The suite of six rooms cuts throughout the central tent at the moment in which it meets its neighbouring one so that, while walking by, it almost appears as a hallucination. The rooms are the size of a standard master bedroom, differently coloured according to global domestic palettes we found researching for "calming neutrals", and furnished with the most comfortable beds available on the market and pendant ceiling lights augmented with smart technology. It draws upon the recent emergence of cosiness, chilling and entertainment in entrepreneurial rhetoric, caricatured in start up and freelancing cultures. This shift is visible in the design of these spaces that freely employ domestic signifiers like fireplaces and hot tubs to transform the sterile corporate lounges into homey interiors. We see that as embodying a shift from having a job to having an occupation. Nonchalance, laziness, happiness has become a mainstream cachet of professional success; probably helped by the fact that it is still a form of production. Conversely, the rhetoric of efficiency and production drive the products of the smart home, not to say that watching a movie in bed or texting your mum already generates data that has some sort of value. We are interested in the ways these dynamics are transforming the home as an aesthetic, as a concept and as a feeling.


21 Sep 2015

åyr :: Famili

Proxy Paranoia or Technological Camaraderie

åyr, Untitled, 2015.

 

“Will it replace me?”

The question is posed innocently, yet the stakes are clear. The context of the query is home automation (#it) and its potential “side effects” on members of the nuclear family (#me). 

Already in 1966, home economist Ruth Sutherland raised this question and other concerns about the development of ECHO IV (Electronic Computer Home Operator), an ur-version of what we might today call a smart object. ECHO IV, which was born in her and her husband Jim’s basement as a bricolage of obsolete computer parts, soon grew into a sophisticated machine. In years to come, using meticulous flowcharts translated into computer-coded language, they would program ECHO IV to administer basic domestic tasks such as budget tabulations and accounting. The machine’s early capacities were perhaps modest, but the couple’s speculations on its future potential were not: temperature regulation, nutritional value intakes, parental control, educational programs for children—back then, all these computer functions still seemed like fiction. Today, they are standard offerings from the tech industry. 

As for the question, Ruth was swift to realize that her chunky piece of machinery raised fundamental issues for the family and technology. To an extent, her concern seems to have anticipated many contemporary debates around smart technologies and their pervasiveness within the domestic sphere—an angst that has been reformulated time and again over the last few decades. One need only look at how this anxiety has manifested as a daunting cinematic subject, where the smart house goes from best friend to threat (Disney Channel’s Smart House, 1999), where the mechanized girl-next-door becomes a manipulative assassin (Ex Machina, 2015), and where the family robot takes the human family hostage (BBC Channel 4’s Humans, 2015). Liberation, enslavement, emancipation, alienation—the confrontational relation between #it (technology) and #me (the individual) persists. Yet, it is only by acknowledging their interwoven histories can we start to think about potential households of the future.

ECHO IV marked the beginning of the digitization of domestic labor and its associated relations. It was a prototype of the contemporary project of smartness that now systemically applies itself to cities, buildings, and objects, so much so that we almost forget its bodily roots. Before cunning, elegance, or efficiency, “smart” was originally used to describe an object that caused a sharp pain to the body. There is an inherent violence in the cunning and elegant efficiency of modern smartness, and this smart violence is always said to be positively violent for the body, to augment the body. Examples abound: the corset or the waist trainer helps and forces the body into measurements that denote beauty and taste. It is a gendered technology that normalizes and regularizes deviant bodies, giving them value. The waist trainer literally molds or smarts the body into a specific form—a true biopolitical technique. Similarly, the corridor, familial love, private ownership, domestic appliances, the mortgage, the garage, and so forth are domestic technologies that have participated in making subjects fit for the specific behaviors and tasks demanded by capitalist modes of production. They have been adapting subjects to the permanently recomposing organization of production. In this sense, the smart home must be framed in continuity with a rich history of architectural techniques devoted to the production of subjectivities. So, when Sutherland asks if these technologies will replace her, she senses that her self-as-housewife is under threat; she wonders what type of subjectivity awaits her.

Full screen hdm41 ayr humans
Promotional scene from the first episode of Humans, 2015.
Full screen hdm41 ayr nestcam
Nest Labs, Nest Cam, 2015. 
Full screen hdm41 ayr amazon echo
 

To discuss the implications of the smart home for the family, one has to start by acknowledging that the nuclear family and the house-home have been historically co-constitutive. Reflecting on their correlation, the norms that define the subjects of the family can most often be traced to specific domestic inventions developed to optimize the family as a productive entity. One such invention is the modern kitchen, notoriously promoted as an instrument for the liberation of the housewife from housework. The story is well known: effectively, the kitchen allowed the housewife to manage domestic work without assistance, and it was instrumental in the diffusion of bourgeois domesticity beyond the wealthy bourgeoisie who could afford domestic workers. The modern kitchen is partly responsible for the fading of the bourgeoisie-proletariat dualism—it was part of an engine that produced a working class with bourgeois aspirations and patterns of consumption, a middle class. If this invention allowed many families to have access to some goods and (sort of) opened up wage labor to women, it also spread the rigidity of bourgeois gender identities throughout society. Further, it isolated the wife from collective spaces and practices that domestic work previously entailed, like the communal washhouse or intergenerational childcare. The paradigmatically modern revolution brought in by this “machine for living” is an important precedent to the politics that seek to liberate through mechanization. By the way, liberation from what? On this question, Endnotes journal recently said it best: “Even if the nourishing, washing of clothes, and so on, can be done more efficiently, the time for childcare is never reduced. You cannot look after children more quickly: they have to be attended to 24 hours a day.”

A similar tension resides in “smart home” rhetoric. Google’s Nest, Revolv, and Samsung’s SmartThings, among other devices and software, claim to radically expand the modernist domestic project by turning the house into an intelligent machine, intricately wired and integrated with communication facilities that will free family members from routine domestic work. And yet, one is left to wonder whose time is being saved, where it is being directed, and to what end. Yes: Nest Cams are designed to watch out for your family when you can’t; Nest’s Auto-Away function manages your energy usage while you’re rushing out the door; Echo (not Ruth’s ECHO, but Amazon’s) can help you with your shopping and to-do lists. But are smart technologies going to give you more time to cuddle your dog, or are they really just optimizing your availability on TaskRabbit?

Meanwhile, what is actually taking place is an unre-lenting erosion of what had been one of the fundamental aspects of modern politics: privacy, that 18th-century notion essential to the composition of the private individual and his or her private property. Think of how the corridor was instrumental in the making of the modern city. The corridor produced a city of rooms with a single doorway that regularized the intrusion of the other, and where one couldn’t help but compose him or herself as an individual. If domestic technologies such as the corridor and the kitchen have always been interfaces involved in the production of publicness and privacy, today, through the multiplication of Wi-Fi-enabled devices—from thermostats to washing machines, lightbulbs to cutlery, each with its own firmware and capacity to exchange data—the architectural membranes that used to mediate this boundary (walls, windows, and doors) have radically changed in their meanings.

In broad terms, two types of subjects bear the effects of this disruption. On the one hand, there’s the young, post-Fordist, ultra-connected entrepreneurial individual. Here, smart domestic appliances are yet more gadgets augmenting the self, linking to other apps, devices, profiles, platforms. On the other hand, there’s the main object of all this smartness: the pristine, archetypal nuclear family—the loving, heterosexual, married couple successfully raising two happy kids in the house they own. Here, smartness speaks to the traditional middle class, whose familiar existence is assaulted by the neoliberal condition (job insecurity, bad credit but full mortgage), threatened by social insecurities (the “poor,” the “homeless,” the “unemployed,” the “foreigner”) and the evils of the Internet. Technology presents itself as a remedy to the grave ills of the mid-20th-century family, the one now forced to rent, who divorces, whose kids love guns and porn, and who is still unable to blame capitalism. Obviously, the total control offered by smartness will not save this family, but its dramatizing rhetoric thrives on generalized paranoia and a perpetual state of exception. It exploits the real violence that the nuclear family experiences under neoliberalism. We could even argue that it reinforces the narrative of the perfect home under siege in order to induce family members to open their intimate relations to digital mediation, so that they can be measured, surveyed, and made valuable in the new data economy. The very fortress of the nuclear family built for the expansion of industrial capital must now be mined: it is a deposit of uncoded information that can only spew money when properly tapped and processed.

The development of this large-scale enterprise has required its own dedicated data-mining tools and machines, and the smartphone—a single body’s computer—remains the primordial device for the scaling of this smartness. This cyborg augmentation makes sound, sight, location, and thoughts available for datafication by channeling the interactions between bodies through devices and applications. User profiles and passwords authenticate information and actions that govern the myriad exchanges one has within the greater network. In the domestic realm, smart home products allow for smart biopolitics, recording the production of bodily information in a format suited to the control mechanisms of the network. In an age when so much value is derived from information, immaterial labor, and the surveying of everything and everyone, it is not surprising that new biopolitical technology aims to digitize as much of life as possible. This general measuring and quantification of the world is reminiscent of early cartographical endeavors and urban surveys, the crucial difference being that the information gathered is now made eminently profitable. While Google is expanding its reach beyond the mere mapping of territory to mapping interiors so that bodies and things are tracked in real time on one single map, smart wearables are becoming dangerously close to life itself: they monitor the activity, hygiene, and health of your profiled body in order to adjust its immediate market value by computing your reputation, friends, and likes as the stock options of your body-as-corporation.

The fate of the family in the midst of the smart project is unclear. We could claim that the family is becoming a sort of free association of individuals whose bind isn’t prescribed by a dubious idea of nature, with its genders and bloodlines, as was the case in the stereotypical modern family. The elemental community of modernity has in many ways lost its instrumentally naturalized purpose of reproducing the working class, relieving the family of its former defining attributes—heterosexuality, marriage, and children. Furthermore, the futurity that industrial capitalism conferred on the modern family and its children was intrinsically linked to its insatiable need for labor power. Now that the abundance and specificity of data is what generates value, blood relation and marital love appear to offer less futurity than the individual’s potential for securing affective relationships with other individuals: capital has taken over affect and sociality to the point that the most valuable good is no longer a young worker, but rather information—wherever it might come from. In Alexander R. Galloway’s words, “biomass [i.e life], not social relations, is today’s site of exploitation.”

This crisis of traditional familial futurity can be located within a larger crisis of futurity under neoliberalism and the financialization of capital. Contemporary forms of “immaterial” production, the debt economy, and the digitization of individuals and their environment have a point in common: they all require life to be turned into data to then be arranged by computerized protocols. Profiles and platforms keep track of the human capital of individual bodies, facilitating, for instance, their creditworthiness or locatability. Debt collapses modern futurity on itself through inhuman statistical predictions and estimates. The more measurements, the more information, and the faster purposes, positions, opinions, and meanings are multiplied and shuffled. Financial capital thrives on data, on pure information, and ignores actual lived realities. The notion of project cannot survive neoliberal governance and its ultra-rapid calculations toward the most immediate profit. The redefinition of power through this shift of knowledge obliterates the classical modern model based on the formulation of a project at the temporal scale of a human life. The integration of smartness throughout the city is the familiar tip of this shift from projection to codification. This might be why the family shatters as the slowness of its traditional reproductive project has become invisible to financial capital: unlike industrial capital that has to administer its workforce, algorithmic computation may be saying that there is a lot of quick money to be made by dismembering the family, even if the remaining subjects—the primary producers of information—decrease in number.

There is a widening gap between the reality of the domestic experience and the resistant image of the archetypal home found on real estate websites, Ikea, or Airbnb. This image resists because we do not know how to think of ourselves without belonging to a modern family, and because new homes are still built according to the modern family model. Nevertheless, these same architectural spaces have hosted other possibilities—to work, to be queer, to be a roommate, to have smart family relations. Typical domestic architectures, the activities/relationships in domestic spaces, and the domestic feeling of home have become very much autonomous from one another. Architecture no longer constructs domesticity the way it used to. The set of bodily relations constructed by the arrangement of rooms, walls, and doors of a house is being upset by the displacement of familial sociality over to the digital platforms of neoliberalism. The family, formed in dialectical opposition to publicness and production, now finds itself relating in the same digital language and network as the military and corporations. Because the digital realm and its platformed administration are centralizing all relationships between bodies and things in the world, the productive separation of spheres that structured the modern city are becoming obsolete; the modern city itself has a completely new topology.

The image of a city of ubiquitous production is reminiscent of Archizoom’s No-Stop City. However, considering the ways in which value is produced today, this condition will not take the architectural form of an open-plan office. And it won’t necessarily take an architectural form in the traditional, typological, sense. The translation into data of all-that-is—whether bodies, masses of bodies, objects, spaces, emotions, history, future, styles, and so forth—renders architecture instrumental as a vector of information that must be quantitatively mapped and rendered profitable to commercial operators by means of qualitative evaluation. This process takes the form of a feedback loop where the extraction of data becomes a source of pattern finding, which in turn feeds back into defining where, why, and most importantly how we live. In this context, where data is the brick and mortar of contemporary knowledge, it is by very definition impossible to make predictions on what the future family or home might end up looking like. We only know that it will not be immaterial and that increasingly, space-data correlations will be the new frontier of data-driven economies. Meanwhile, while algorithms draw our life patterns out of our likes and our memes, we, like the Addams Family, gladly feast upon those who would subdue us.

Published in Harvard Design Magazine No. 41 F/W 2015

 


12 Nov 2014

åyr :: Catfish Homes

Airbnb and the domestic interior photograph

(Welcome) Home: that daily practiced space and mental image which has accompanied mankind through centuries. Ever our shelter from the rain as much as the fortress of our dwelling selfs. The abode of our constructed identities and repository of our material treasures. Home is where the day begins, home is where it ends. Enduring with the clichés, home is where we belong; where we are safe from the daily struggles of the outside world. Home is among those universally accepted places which we refer to without specifying a geographical location or a defining activity. Where are you?—I'm home. It is as simple as it spells...

Like many other social constructs which have endured through centuries, though, the home is a concept in constant change: It varies in space and time according to personal experiences, to social models, to the political forces by which it is governed. And even more so, it varies in relation to the technologies in which it is enmeshed. At present, the internet falls into that long strand of innovations which, in one way or another, leave their mark on domesticity. Whether in its fostering of global mobility or in how it has blurred boundaries between public and private, the internet is progressively diluting those typically bourgeouis traits which have sedimented over the last few centuries and which still inform our current, westernized, understanding of the home as a stable entity.

Though much is being said about the effect of the internet on daily lives, a less visible topic is how the home appears on the WWW, and how this, in turn, shapes domestic architecture. The web has, in fact, allowed for new representations of the home to proliferate, and the effects of this effusion on the spaces we inhabit are far from obvious. If, on the one hand, the home's fetishized representations in commercial online practices such as real estate websites and IKEA catalogues are now deeply ingrained cultural conventions, an entirely different "way of seeing" the home is discreetly emerging in the less polished repertoire of amateur photography.

Here we can think of how the home makes its appearance in the casual selfie, the Snapchat, the Skype tour around the living room, leaked images of VIPs, amateur porn, Grindr profiles, and others— instances where home-ness is no longer performed for the capitalist mechanisms of property and exchange and is thus free from the pictorial conventions which ubiquitously characterise our epoch: wide angles, sleek surfaces and the highest possible resolutions. In these forms of representation the home is relegated to the background, is seen yet not appreciated as a home, even though its image is no way more spontaneous ("clean your room before you take your dick pic"); in these particular instances, the home amounts to the place in which another body stands and in this new, disguised position its connotative potential can be refreshingly disruptive.

Oscillating between the two, the website Airbnb proves to be a powerful case study in showing how particular modes of representation are forced upon its users as instrumental assets to global capital and its consumption-based economy. One need only to consider how its Photography Department came about to gauge the importance the medium has had in making the American company's experience-based enterprise financially productive:

One afternoon, the team was poring over their search results for New York City listings with Paul Graham, trying to figure out what wasn't working, why they weren't growing. After spending time on the site using the product, Gebbia had a realization. "We noticed a pattern. There's some similarity between all these 40 listings. The similarity is that the photos sucked. The photos were not great photos. People were using their camera phones or using their images from classified sites. It actually wasn't a surprise that people weren't booking rooms because you couldn't even really see what it is that you were paying for." …. The three-man team grabbed the next flight to New York and upgraded all the amateur photos to beautiful images... A week later, the results were in: improving the pictures doubled the weekly revenue to $400 per week. This was the first financial improvement that the company had seen in over eight months. They knew they were onto something. 

That "something" is what Pablo Larios describes as "the doxa of digital circulation and image saturation" in contemporary image culture—i.e. "recognizability, translatability, clarity." In a nutshell, the company had to equip its users with a fairly uniform set of pictorial norms to make their homes an appetible commodity for its international service buyers.

The response to this exigency was the 2008 founding of Airbnb Photography—a free service provided by the company which users can apply for gaining "more visibility" (like), "verified watermarks" (like), and "high quality" imagery (multiple likes) to better monetize their spaces. Ensuring higher rankings in search results and guaranteeing that an Airbnb representative has visited the property, a few years ago the company stated that hosts with professional photography would be "booked 2.5 times more frequently than those without," rendering it a vital component in Airbnb's business model.

Since its birth in 2010, Airbnb Photography has been performed by "experienced" freelance photographers from all around the globe hired on the basis of a portfolio and their capacity to match the standards required to be part of the company's iconographic stockpile. This is not to say that as photographers they have any degree of artistic license in the job—on the contrary, the images which are sent back to Airbnb's headquarters are heavily curated and subjected to a series of rather rigorous conventions involving make and lens of the camera used, brightness and contrast relations, lighting conditions and most strikingly a rather recurrent series of vantage points from which the photographs are taken. With the camera set up in one corner, Airbnb photographs often feature an expanse of floor in the foreground. Such photographs will make the apartment look at its most spacious when a room's furnishings are crowded in the far corner. Much has also been made of the website's predilection for photographs that are well-lit to the point of overexposure. Super-white walls always hold up best to overexposure.

In aligning to these doxas, the redundancy of Airbnb photography is characteristic of a series of conditions which are increasingly epitomic not only of how home-ness is represented in order to be commodified but even more of how our homes themselves are being affected by this imagery: most evidently, it highlights (and in so doing also fosters) the current homogenization of middle class households all around the world—something which is rendered in a similarly problematic way across the CGI renderings found in IKEA catalogues and other providers where particular room configurations and combinations of furnitures are applied unchanged to distinct hosting spaces. Of course there are exceptions to this norm which can be found in Airbnb listings such as the American trailer, the sailing boat, the tree house and other exotic venues, but if we limit our analysis to the general substratum (i.e. homes of middle class city dwellers on a relatively tight budget) the uniformity is very apparent. Airbnb sees such uniformity as an anomaly to correct, as a temporary impasse until every home on the website becomes highly individualized and "special," as acknowledged by Airbnb employees at the panel we organized at Swiss Institute. Given the aesthetic standards stringently imposed by the company, it is a highly circumscribed kind of individualism, one which "must be as special as possible, while remaining understandable as an image to an international audience of potential guests," as we wrote in a text for Fulcrum.

The sheer quantity of photographs Airbnb has collected since its Photography department was founded reinforces this condition while opening new perspectives on how the market operates. With over 3,000 photographers and more than a million photographs taken in the 192 countries the company operates in (2012), co-founder Gebbia unsurprisingly claims responsibility over the construction of what is "arguably one of the largest repositories of interior photography on the planet." If this momentous endeavour is reminiscent of early 20th century anthropological studies in which photography provided new descriptive means to show the world, Airbnb's agenda is of an entirely different sort. While that photographic genre was used to critique the miserable housing conditions of the working class, it also served a pedagogical function to teach us how to live (we can think of Walker Evans as much as post- war documentaries on the new middle-class households), Airbnb protects itself from the risk of being politically overt by certifying its pictures and ensuring that its merchandise remains morally decent. Its website, in this sense, can be termed as an interiorized cosmology where viewers can safely meander amidst a vast territory of verified (or, better, censored) material. In German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk's terms, a pampered space for contemporary globetrotters imbued with mainstream parochialism and "cosmopolitan romanticism."

The company's recent shift from a search-based model (you find what you need) to a browse-based one (you find as you wander) is not only symptomatic of how this new way of experiencing capitalist space operates; even more, it reflects the general diffusion across the whole of the WWW of a tumblr-ish modality based on immersive interfaces and erratic navigation. Think for example of how IKEA's interface has changed throughout the years to become more and more akin to a lifestyle magazine one skims through in a café rather than a furniture catalogue. Or of British Real Estate agency Foxtons' new Home Interior & Design Inspirations section where you can browse through listed properties according to the style in which they're built, the color on their walls or the features they present, independently of price and location.

But perhaps the determining factor which differentiates the image of the home on Airbnb from that on visually similar platforms is the enduring transience of the offers on display. The company's cofounder Brian Chesky (problematically) suggests that "today's generation sees ownership also as a burden. People still want to show off, but in the future I think what they're going to want to show off is their Instagram feed, their photos, the places they've gone, the experiences they've had. That has become the new bling." Analogous to how fashion and online shopping operate, the appreciation of the home or that of the objects which characterize it is freed from the burdens of property and immobility and now ventures into more volatile domains. What prevents Airbnb from building buildings is that its clients aren't interested in purchasing a house or its appliances, but the experience of an immediately disposable image which is nonetheless "authentic" and idiosyncratic. So that as much as you are renting a house or a room inside it, you are also renting an image of the host and their persona, their tastes, their biography. No wonder, then, the company's new policy is that of encouraging hosts to become even more "hospitable" attaching their own personality and habits to the trip experience, even as they (seemingly paradoxically) mandate a generic air of carefully censored "quality."

When Airbnb tells you "Belong everywhere," what it really reveals is that in our rarefied dwelling patterns, the contemporary urban dweller has long belonged Nowhere. If on the one hand this may be praised on the form of emancipation, on the other, mechanisms of expropriation - the primordial act at the origin of capitalism - have left us all in a state of permanent uprootedness, even when we are in our homes. It is as if man had finally inherited the properties of the commodities he's cherished: forever in flux and always present where they can be sold. To be able to feel home in any one's home, to be pleased when pseudo-appropriating the life of a stranger anywhere in the world shows what the home ever was: a myth, a dream. That theorist of the bourgeois interiors of the 19th century, Theodor Adorno, has less famously argued that being Modern was to be homeless, that Modern man was bound to be eternally looking for a home, a safer and more comfortable world to live in. If Adorno was using the home in a rather metaphorical way, the comparison adequately transposes to the homes we live in. It is disconcerting to realise that this "better world" which makes us wake up and work every day belongs to somebody else, or is computer generated. The artificiality and codification of the image of the home is the distracting safeguard which hides the real, carefully policed condition of housing. By producing its own home-image, one is tricked into the simulacra and becomes the catfish deceiving themselves into a more profound narcosis.

All that lies scattered in the brightness of the hall now bears

a single price,

each object enclosed in its soullessness.

Each thing cries out to us how young and important

it is, as wanton as cheapness feigning expense.

Oh the thing today no longer finds its

owner.

For to be buyable means: having forgotten how to belong

to the living,

and buying means lightly inviting things

home,

like guests for a single occasion whom one greets,

uses,

and never regards again.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Rhizome 12 November 2014


2 Jun 2014

åyr :: Art, Bed and Breakfast: The AIRBNB Pavilion

If Google had a pavilion at the Venice Biennale, who would they exhibit? How would their installation compete against the Artsy auction exhibition? Would a Young Incorporated Artist feel more comfortable representing Tumblr or the USA?

Biennales have long been recognised as vehicles of internationalization and globalization in the worlds of art and architecture. Founded in 1895, with its younger sibling the Architecture Biennale following in 1980, the Venice Biennale is perhaps the most well known of its ilk. Although structured around a thematic exhibition in the imperially-named Arsenale, a significant attraction is inevitably the soft state play that occurs between the national pavilions. But in a world where the certitude of nation states is increasingly coming up against a new dominance of multi-national business, it is perhaps surprising that outright corporate pavilions aren't more of a Biennale mainstay, beyond the aggressive sponsor interests that keep national pavilions afloat.

It is in these international waters that the organizers of the (insistently unofficial) AIRBNB Pavilion positioned their project during the opening weekend of this year's 14th International Architecture Exhibition. Programmed by four graduates of the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London–Alessandro Bava, Octave Perrault, Fabrizio Ballabio and Luis Ortega Govela–this "pavilion" consisted of three concurrent exhibitions held in rented Airbnb apartments across the city. These showed works by a large cast of international architects and artists, including Jon Rafman, Marlie Mul, Hayley Silverman and Some Women (Morag Keil) on the artist side, and m- a-u-s-e-r, Unu La Unu and Raphael Zuber amongst the architects. Most architects contributed drawings of built or under construction housing projects, whilst the artists were asked to produce imagined interiors, a winking indictment of the role of the artist in contemporary economies. These were mostly printed digitally, for ease of install, tacked like provisional building site notices in bathrooms and by bookshelves, although some artists chose to spill out into mini installation, with Martti Kalliala and Jenna Sutela producing a unique printed curtain for the main bedroom, and Ilya Smirnov sending a stuffed bird via Amazon Prime to accompany his somewhat abstract CAD sketch. The classical soundtrack for Rafman's video of his Jean Gris Dream House (2013)–which included Léo Delibes's "The Flower Duet" sequence from Lakmé, recently used in British Airways adverts–could be heard throughout the apartment.

Harry Burke Rhizome 11 June 2014