Review by Joseph Nechvatal for Thing.Net
R&Sie(n)’s exhibition “I’ve heard about…©” opened on the 6th of July at the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris‘s temporary space at the Couvent des Cordeliers - and I think it is one of the most relevant exhibitions to what is going on in art today that is of importance. R&Sie(n) is an investigational architectural firm consisting of Franćois Roche, Stéphanie Lavaux, and Jean Navarro; working here with BenoĒt Durandin. Together, they utilize generative heterogeneous mutations in the creation of proposed utopian city spaces. In fact what they propose at the Musee d’Art Moderne is the artificial growing of extruded urban housing (generative & robotic) - where new cities are constructed via robotic processes by feeding off the carcasses of older dying cities. Very viral. Envisioned is an approach to city planning based on growth scripts and open algorithmic procedures. Towards these ends the show itself includes some subtle audio tracts, model-sculptures, a fully immersive hypnosis chamber with video monitors, booking services, 3D movies and robotic drawings/plans that reveal the source code of the generative program at the heart of their work.
There is a definite tangled and intertwined approach to the city vector that reminds me of the dithyrambic visual hyper-logic which has manifested in all modes of decadent artistic periods; from the Hellenistic and Flamboyant Gothic, to the Mannerist, Rococo, and Fin-de-SiŹcle - as they all opposed dogmatically imposed ocular paradigms with hyper-engendering strategies of form. The multiplicity of its interwoven experiences challenges the now bogus idea of simplicity – a modernist-minimalist idea which has taken on the intensity of a righteous injunction in many cities where the implied equation between simplicity, surveillance and goodness obscures a less evident function: that of cognitive constraint. Such constraint runs counter to what Georges Bataille considered to be the non-hypocritical human condition, which he took as being roused non-productive expenditure (threshold excess) entangled with exhilaration. For the finest comprehensive overview of Bataille's thought in this regard, see his book Eroticism - but also Denis Hollier's book on Bataille's general postulates, Against Architecture.
Given the organic-like, biomorphic architectural forms R&Sie(n) spawn by their generative program, I could not avoid thinking about the Palais Idéal of Ferdinand Cheval (1836-1924) - which to my eyes appeared to be one huge budding edifice when I visited it a few years ago - as if the stupendous mannerist grotto-faćade at villa Borromeo had been left to grow untrimmed and run amok. However, the Palais Idéal was constructed by the postman Cheval alone and by hand in the Hauterives (Drôme) (near Lyon) between the years 1879 and 1912; the result of 93,000 man hours of hard labour. R&Sie(n) rightly prefers the work to be accomplished through a computer programmed emergence via artificial intelligence which directs robotic execution. Why should humans physically work when we might better be playing and dreaming?
The other inescapable reference for R&Sie(n)’s work is the visionary city-planning put forth by the Situationists. One thinks immediately of Guy Debord’s essay On Wild Architecture, for example. Like the Situationists, for R&Sie(n), the urban form no longer depends on the arbitrary decisions or control over its emergence exercised by the elite few. Ultimately R&Sie(n) leads us towards juicy Situationist-like complexities and engagements by way of immersion into an open-ended multiplex conceivable as a virtual environment: the Virtual Reality experience.
As R&Sie(n) say themselves, “Many different stimuli have contributed to the emergence of “I’ve heard about…©” and they are continually reloaded. Its existence is inextricably linked to the end of the grand narratives, the objective recognition of climatic changes, a suspicion of all morality (even ecological), to the vibration of social phenomena and the urgent need to renew the democratic mechanisms. Fiction is its reality principle…” Ahhhhh, the domain of decadent art, VR and artifice. Against Nature.
What has been somewhat poorly determined however is the degree a dweller feels totally immersed in an optically excessive space. And this depends to a large extent on personal psychological need and adaptability in accord with the proposed spatial depth cues. Cognitive-aesthetic space has to be coordinated phenomenologically with the proprioceptive space of the eye - and R&Sie(n)’s only failure is in maintaining the evident structural seams of the immersive faux-hypnotic chamber (the only enterable structure and the highlight of the show) because what the entire show is proposing is a seamless immersion into generative totality, and the visual seams take us out of that exquisite fantasy. So they are denied the loveliest of triumphs.
A pity, as one might otherwise imagine oneself totally immersed there somewhat like a 21st Century dandy. As at the birth of the 20th Century, this new hyper-dandy constantly might affirm his or her originality down to the decorative details of the home. In that the robots are doing the algorithmic planning and building, this work definitely proposes a new form of dandyism - if dandyism’s defining characteristic is remembered to be the making of one’s person a work of art while extolling laziness and displaying contempt for work. Evident here are the Baudelairean/Duchampian dandy ideals of impassivity, nonchalance elegance, and inscrutability. What matters are the triumphs of a radical contempt for one’s “hand”.
Indeed one can say that “I’ve heard about…©” favorably extolled artificiality, indifference, impassiveness - the reign of an ironic causality and knotted ambivalence, while staying open to all transactions. Most importantly, a-life forms are embedded within it and its growth is artificial and synthetic. So R&Sie(n) maintains a version of transcendental phenomenological idealism, but they do not disavow the extant actuality of the material sphere. Instead they seek to elucidate the sense of the world-as-is today - that is viractualized – by stressing the embodied nature of human and artificial consciousness and bodily existence as the original and originating material premise of sense and signification.
All told, the show is well done – as proposition. However this proposition inevitably turns the mind to the actualized imposing suavity of Antoni Gaudí’s fully realized wavy architectural shapes in Catalonia. Although he did not travel about Europe, Gaudí was aquatinted with fin-de-siŹcle Belgium/French avant-garde movements because of the intimate relationship between Barcelona and France and with the pre-modernistic movements of Arts and Crafts, Gothic Revival, and Impressionism which were discussed in the intellectual proto-modernist circle which he frequented. But it was Victor Horta's Art Nouveau movement that influenced Gaudí the most, stimulating him to experiment with new materials and new fluid shapes that appear grown. Gaudí's version of Art Nouveau is characterized by an overwhelming proclivity for the organic nature of women, beasts, and plants which he translated into immersive utility.
Antoni Gaudí is a chief exponent of R&Sie(n)-type open algorithmic building procedures precisely with his 1906 building Casa Batlló located at 43, Passeig de Grącia, Barcelona - noticeable for its organic tactility of bones and shells within, and its external cocked surf faćade and chimerical roof. With Casa Batlló, Gaudí accomplished an astute transformation of an existing building, transforming it into an enchanting immersive gesamtkunstwerk as Gaudí thoroughly undertook the design of every single element of the building, from the extravagantly protuberant faćade to all aspects of the interior, including the gracefully gnarled furniture. On the exterior Gaudí was able to combine a flamboyantly surging faćade (in an ingeniously cool-color orchestration) while maintaining a dialogue with the neighboring Casa Ametller (1900), built by Josep Puig i Cadafalch (1869-1956) four years earlier. Powerful pillars which resemble the substantiality of mammoth elephant legs accost the visitor at street level, protruding into the sidewalk, nigh tripping up an unaware pedestrian. These legs are bordered by a craggy vertebrae-like tier and the wavy faćade extends upward between these two biologically evoking forms, culminating at the roof in a gargoylesque humping crescendo. The faćade itself, coated in a layer of Montjuēc stone, shimmers seductively under the sun in multifarious chameleon-like colors; fraught with a scattering of small roundish plates resembling fish or reptilian scales. Affixed to this seething mass of swelling construction are a number of small, elegantly curved balconies with oval shaped portholes.
The entire structure feels unsharpened, flowing and smooth in opposition to the street itself on which the arrangement sits, with the exception of a few square windows up top. Even the walls are gently rounded in strained undulation and contraction, as if they too have entered into the oceanic female throws of a fluttering uteral orgasm. The walls appear to be made of a soft, smooth, supple, leathery material and this illusion of softness is carried through by the roundness of the inside forms of the building where one has the feeling of being pleasantly encased in an expanse of hardened dripped honey. Turning, lunging stair railings are met, engulfed and supplemented by softly heaving honey-colored walls and wooden biomorphicly shaped carved doors and irregularly shaped windows. There are no right angled corners or straight lines, which offers an impression of being wrapped up in one continuous fluid wave motion, complimentary with the exterior. By comparison, R&Sie(n) still has a ways to go in achieving a like sensuality of its avant-garde stance. But one only hopes for them an immediate success in doing so.
R&Sie(n) = Franćois Roche, Stéphanie Lavaux, and Jean Navarro
with BenoĒt Durandin
With the production and authorship of :
-Berokh Khoshnevis (Contour Crafting Process, USC, LA)
-Francois Roustang (Hypnosis specialist, Paris)
-Chris Delaporte (Film director, 3D effect, Paris)
-Christophe Berdaguer & Marie Pejus (Artist, Marseille)
-Mathieu Lehanneur (Designer, Paris)
-Laurent Genefort (Science Fiction writer, Paris)
-CNRS Grenoble, Laboratoire de Spectrometrie (Nano Particules)
-M/M (Graphic designer, Paris)
-Gilles Schaeffer (mathematicien, Paris)
-Michel Boulcourt (Landscape architect, Paris)
-Alexandra Midal (Author, Paris)
-Matthieu Kavyrchine (Video artist, Paris)
-Sebastien Szczyrk (Sound designer, Paris)
-Alexandre Merlet (Video producer, Paris)
-Stephan Henrich (Architect, Germany)
Prototype / installation / publishing
-Ufacto, David Toppani (prototype scale 1)
-One Star Press (neighbourhood protocole publishing)
-Christian Hubert Delisle (prototype)
-Thibaut Boyer (installation)
-Jean-Michel Castagné (electronic driver)
MAM Paris-Musée (F), MUDAM (L), De SINGEL (B), USC (USA), KANAZAWA 21st century museum (J), CNC / Dicream, (F), LAFARGE (F), Materialise (B), Next Limit Technologies (SP), DAPA (F), University of Architecture Innsbruck (OST), New-Territories (F)