Posts Tagged ‘yale’

In the Mood for Love

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

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In the Mood for Love
2000, 98 minutes
directed by:  Wong Kar-wai

Well, this was the last film I  screened at Yale before I graduated with my M.Arch, and I suppose it was fitting that I showed the film that got me interested about the exploration between film and architecture in the first place. Several years ago, a good friend of mine who was working on a PhD on “atmosphere” at the GSD showed this film to me, and seeing it was a small revelation. First of all, the film is a profoundly beautiful film (it remains one of my favorite films of all time from one of my favorite directors). Secondly, I had no idea that there was scholarship on something as seemingly disparate as cinema and architecture. In the Mood for Love is a beautiful document of love, urbanism, and cultural identity. It’s about space, atmosphere, and time; the beautiful actors Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung are the players. For more on Wong Kar-Wai, read my post about his other movie, Chungking Express.

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When I first started the film society at Yale, it was mainly as a means for creating a debate about the relationship between architecture and media within the school. Specifically, the focus would be films, but broadly, about all of technology in general. Film is technology, and both architecture and technology share the same etymological root (tech: from Gk. tekhne-, “art, skill, craft, method, system”). The moving picture, invented at the beginning of the 20th century, contemporaneously accompanied a sequence and succession of technological changes that have fundamentally altered the world around us and architecture to no lesser degree. Le Corbusier changed the way we put buildings together at the same time, but he changed it in part because he was inspired by the technology of film. To understand these changes is to understand why our built environment is the way it is. In short, architecture is, like film, an expression of humanity.

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On this topic of cultural technologies, humanities, and digital media, there is nobody more eloquent and erudite as Mario Carpo. Having initially come across him in the first semester while writing a paper for Alan Plattus’ urbanism class, it was incredible to have him come and teach a graduate seminar in my final year. Much of what had only begun to approximate in thinking I found had already been expounded upon at length by the world’s most prominent architectural media theorist. In terms of thinking about media and architecture, Mario Carpo is, so far, the last word. His lecture at Yale in the spring of ’08 was an exciting reminder of how contentious the fields of history, historiography, philosophy, media and technology are when they come together in the study of architecture. Earlier in that same day, Steven Holl, Peter Eisenman, Mario Carpo, and Bob Stern sat and debated the changing paradigms of architecture, urbanism, and landscape, and reminisced about their shared background as young architects in New York. They were seated next to about twenty students. In one room. Such is the power of the place of Yale and its community of individuals. I miss it dearly.

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The format of the Yale Architecture Film Society wasn’t really well thought out; it was simply a matter of cobbling together something that I thought was sufficiently time manageable—screen a movie once a week or so and argue a position about the movie and its relation to architecture in a distributable format for the Yale community. However, at the time, I was simply printing out sheets of paper and posting them around the school. Looking back, it was a laughably low-tech way of going about it. I should have created a website or blog, posted links, film clips, and the written portions as well. This blog is an attempt to redistribute that information and reanimate those discussions. All the struggling I did each week over the years with how much to write, what images to include, or different ways to advertise the screenings and communicate with those who were interested would have been elegantly solved by the Web 2.0. It would have been an exploration of a modern medium using the new forms of media that are starting to influence architecture irreversibly. This blog is a continuation of that goal.

in-the-mood-for-loveThis marks the end of the series of films I began discussing under the theme of “The Future is Asian.” The next theme I will blog about will be “American Landscapes.”

-    quang truong

Afterparty

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

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In other “architectural” news, the firm of MOS (based out of Yale and Harvard) recently opened their installation for the PS1 Warm-Up parties, titled “Afterparty.” The photos above and below are via Flickr: downtownblue.

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End of Evangelion

Monday, April 20th, 2009

evangelion

新世紀エヴァンゲリオン
End of Evangelion
1997, 87 minutes
directed by:  Hideaki Anno

Some people have pinned it on religion as the reason why the Japanese are so much more quick to adapt to and be comfortable with technology; because their native religion, Shinto, attributes a living spirit to all objects in the world. This is as opposed to Judeo-Christians, who believe that humans are distinct from and fundamentally different from everything else. Whatever the reason, it may be the first impression upon a visit to certain places in Asia that their culture offers a more sophisticated and mature exploration into the complex relationship of mankind with technology. It is on display on every street corner, window display, technical and artistic endeavor, and adorned all over the youth of certain Asian cities. Japan makes movies like End of Evangelion, we make movies like The Terminator and Robocop.

What Japan seems to understand intuitively is that technology is simply an extension of human nature. It is not an alien thing, diametrically opposed to nature in that binary way Euro-centric societies tend to view everything. This “man-versus-machine” perspective can be seen in European films as early as Metropolis by Fritz Lang. Later on, certain films such as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner explored a much more subtle and meaningful theme, which wasn’t whether human would prevail over machine, but instead where the line was between the two. Much in the way that everything that happens in nature is by definition, natural, such it is that everything humans create, including technology, is an extension of human nature.

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End of Evangelion was a film that culminated twenty-six television episodes of an anime series called Neon Genesis Evangelion, an extraordinarily popular and critically successful series that still supports a huge sub-industry involving manga (Japanese comic-books), action figures, video games, and, uh, hentai based around the characters of Eva, as the series is known for short. In fact, the image of an Evangelion can be still be considered the iconic image of Japanese anime and was the de facto subject of a Greg Lynn studio here at Yale two years ago titled “Giant Robot.”

The imagery in this movie is stunning. As one can probably infer from the convoluted and indecipherable title alone (Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion), this movie fuses biological, religious, military, and scientific themes into a dense mix filled with cultural allusions that are ambitiously diverse. The story involves a military project that may or may not be trying to fuse humans and robots to usher in a new theological era. This results in some of the most startling, imaginative, and just plain weird visual sequences I have ever seen, juxtaposed with an equally diverse soundtrack (Frank Sinatra plus Pachabel plus J-pop, anyone?), on top of some of the most refined and beautifully drawn anime ever done.

On another note, the director, Hideako Anno, spent several years of his life essentially isolated in his room reading comic books and playing video games in a particularly Japanese affliction known as “otaku.” Otakus are defined by William Gibson as, “the passionate obsessive, the information age’s embodiment of the connoisseur, more concerned with the accumulation of data than of objects. . . Understanding otaku -hood, I think, is one of the keys to understanding the culture of the web. There is something profoundly post-national about it, extra-geographic. We are all curators, in the post-modern world, whether we want to be or not.”

-    quang truong (originally written February 11, 2008)

Materiality

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

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My friend Elijah Porter has a beautiful set of photographs of some material studies (water jet and plasma cut steel) he’s done for a class at the Yale School of Architecture. Check out all of his photos here. Via BLDGBLOG.

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Memories of Murder

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

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Memories of Murder
2003, 130 minutes
directed by:  Bong Joon-ho

A friend and I recently had a conversation about the contemporary artist John Currin. He has had feature articles written about him for several years now, including one in the New Yorker, which is no small feat for an American painter alive and working today. He’s a graduate of Yale’s MFA program (Mafia of Art) and a critical darling. In short, he’s received no small amount of critical and professional success.

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However, there’s something palpably underwhelming about his work. It sometimes feels like what he’s doing is the art world equivalent of a PhD thesis. It’s intelligent and it represents diligent, hard work, but there’s no energy or fire. There’s no brashness. There’s no urgency. There’s nothing in them that really represents a real risk of failure. I don’t mean to single out John Currin for this, for I certainly like and respect his work. I think what is unsettling is the issue of risk. I think the Spanish have a word for it: cojones.

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In a way, the architects we reference the most were almost unpalatably punk in their youth—the competition-rule-breaking entries of early Rem Koolhaas, the suburban house by Frank Gehry, the distressed drawings of Thom Mayne, the paintings of Zaha Hadid, or the art and dance installations of Diller & Scofidio. They gained attention because they were desperately searching for a way around the established methods to get towards something more honest and expressive. That in the end is what creativity is, and that is why we know them today.

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Several years ago, when Jackie Chan made his first American production movie, several interviewers asked Jackie what the difference was between making a movie in America versus making a movie in Hong Kong. Well, Jackie said, the difference was that in America, the movie-makers actually think about things like safety, preparation, planning, and insurance. There is a whole industry that revolves around making sure people don’t get hurt. Apparently, in contrast, back in Hong Kong, somebody would dream up a stunt, no matter how insane, and whoever had the balls would just get up and try to do it on film. If that person got hurt, they would just get another guy. If, after a few maimed guys, they decided the stunt was probably impossible, they would just think of another stunt. And so a movie got made. In short, that was the path to success for Jackie Chan, who literally started his career as a stuntman, and apparently was the guy who survived all the stunts.

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It seems there is no shortage of Asian people willing to do stupid things at a moment’s notice—which is precisely why it’s so exciting. Asia is producing so much: not only in terms of products, but most importantly, in terms of ideas. As I’ve written before, this is why Asia warrants attention; not only because new stuff is being done in Asia, but also because new ways of interpreting and expressing that stuff are being formulated. Asia is just so punk.

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The director Bong Joon-ho became famous most recently for his film, The Host, the highest grossing film of all time in South Korea, which the New York Times called a “feverishly imaginative genre hybrid.” This film, Memories of Murder, is arguably a better, more inventive and surprising film. That’s why, comparatively, the artist John Currin just feels like reading a good academic paper. He just went through all the established, formulaic steps to become a good considerate, professional artist. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Modern Palladio

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

Tala Gharagozlou attended the Yale School of Architecture Symposium this past weekend, and this is what she had to say about it.

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“Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn”

Rhett Butler’s line in Gone with the wind was not only voted as the most famous one movie line by the American Film Institute in 2005, but it seems to have been the motto of some of the most famous 20th c. architectural figures.

Architects definitely care about ideas, but what about “function”?

I was struck by a comment made by Kurt Forster this week-end at a symposium dedicated to Palladio at YSOA. In response to the concluding presentations by Peter Eisenman and Rafael Moneo, Kurt said that Palladio was the first real modern architect because he did not “care how his buildings were meant to be used”. Have a look at Villa Rotonda. Not exactly a place to live in. But oh the beauty of minimalism, of art for art’s sake…

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Beyond the fact that Kurt was the one making that statement, it seemed to ring shockingly true. How many times have I wondered what the point of architecture was anyway?

And if you omit a few “hygienist” architects of the turn of the century –think Bruno Taut or Margarethe Schütte-Lihotzky and the design of the Frankfurt kitchen, use has really been one of the last things on architects’ mind.

The statement was also perfect in the company of someone like Peter Eisenman, whose entire project has been to define the autonomy of architecture by dealing with its “pure” syntax. And there it was, the perfect ending to the symposium, Peter Eisenman, Rafael Moneo, Greg Lynn, Robert A. M. Stern and all the others, all smiling at each other contently. Yes, Architecture is still here to stay…

On a side note, the poster to the symposium (at the top of the post) was designed by Michael Bierut’s Pentagram and I just love it. I also happen to be in a class he is co-teaching with William Drenttel at Yale. The hot topic has been, what if we designed as if we gave a damn?

The book that came out a few years ago was a pretty big success, part of that whole environmental/let’s save the world with buildings frenzy.

Drenttel’s own project though should be a very exciting one to keep track of.

– Tala Gharagozlou

Bataille’s Dreams Come True

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Today’s post comes from Tala Gharagozlou, currently a graduate student of architecture at Yale.

Via Gizmodo

Via Gizmodo

i fell in love with the first cute girl that i met/
who could appreciate georges bataille/
standing at swedish festival discussing the ‘story of the eye’

–of Montreal

Bataille’s Dreams Come True

This was the subject heading of an e-mail from a friend of mine, a couple of days ago, Feb. 9th, 2009.

And of course, there were links to the photos of the CCTV’s unloved sibling immolating.

I was working in the architecture studio and the entire studio was of course abuzz within a few minutes of the event. But the pun on Bataille stuck with me for most of the day. This is after all, Yale University, and nerdy jokes take a strange life of their own.

Photos have been streaming in of this eerily “beautiful” spectacle. Jokes have been flying about what sort of fabulously bombastic manifesto Rem might make of this event, while others are about Ole Scheeren crying in Maggie Cheung’s arms.

Such a hubristic project is easy to mock, especially in the current times of economic gloom.

Yales A&A Building after the fire

Yale's A&A Building after the fire

But after all, the Yale School of Architecture is housed in one of the most emblematic buildings possible: Paul Rudolph’s A&A (I will never get used to the “Paul Rudolph Hall” name, btw. Will anyone ever call the CCTV the Rem Koolhaas Tower?? I doubt it, but Yale is a whole other type of totalitarian regime, thanks to a certain R.A.M.S…).

The burning of the A&A occurred at one of the most intense moments of social turmoil in America and on university campuses. The 1969 fire left the A&A battered, and it only survived due to a series of structural additions. Much has been made of the recent renovation project by Gwathmey/Siegel, but the fire itself remains a small source of fascination, especially because of what some students secretly felt was a justified sign to move on from a certain generation of patriarchs…

In a similar way, people have been wondering out loud if anybody even cared to “save” the CCTV? But as Bataille would put it, what would there be to save? CCTV was there to exist as the only voice. OMA’s pair of buildings has epitomized a certain architecture’s refusal to “serve” society. The CCTV is known as the building that has used the greatest amount of steel ever in history, for example. Its foundations are the size of several football fields (ask Cecil Balmond for the details here).

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Architecture can be interpreted as the image society would like to see of itself. But Bataille is fascinated with the Aztec temples [see “Extinct America”]. Fearless of this relation between society and the death of the individual, Aztec architecture is purely dedicated to the immolation of individuals as well. The Aztecs “neglected to put in place the infrastructures that would have secured its future” and their architecture represented that. In many ways, CCTV’s is the symbol of China’s disregard for any idea of progressive institutions and a capacity to heedlessly build its own Capitalist guillotine.

So after all, could Beijing’s inhabitants feel slightly bad about this fire? The spectacle of architecture burning always holds the anxious sign that we can do little to go beyond death.

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On a side note, thanks to Sasha Frere-Jones of the New Yorker for making “critical theory a little easier to use on dates.”

–Tala Gharagozlou

2 down, 3 to go

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

The third semester that I ran the Yale Architecture Film Society, something fairly serendipidous happened: our department hired a visiting professor, Dietrich Neumann from Brown University, to teach a course called specifically, 761b Film Architecture. I corresponded with Professor Neumann before he came, and spoke to him a couple of times about coordinating the class along with the Film Society. We selected the screening list for the semester over lunch one day, and I got to serve as the teaching assistant for the course. Although we have our differences on what are the specific lessons that a study of film can have on the understanding of architecture, it was great to work with someone so accomplished and knowledgable in the (nascent? niche?) study. Not only was he a great source of information, he was a great source of hard to find DVDs. Below is the poster I designed for that semester, and the following posts will be the film notes that I wrote for that semester. Oh, and Professor Neumann’s books can be found here.

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The Art of Fame

Saturday, December 27th, 2008

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Basquiat (1996) 108 minutes

Full disclosure: this is my favorite movie of all time, forever and ever. It is on an elevated plane of cinematic glory that it shares with only two other films: Moulin Rouge by Baz Luhrmann and Groundhog Day by Harold Ramis. To me, Moulin Rouge is about love and postmodernism, Groundhog Day is about laughter and existentialism, and Basquiat is about fame and ambition.

Basquiat is a biopic on the life of the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, a painter from New York in the 1980s, as told through the direction of his friend and fellow painter Julian Schnabel. Julian Schnabel himself leveraged a relatively large degree of art-world success during the 80’s; he was most famous for his broken plates and bondo paintings and then later for simply being savvy about maintaining his fame. This movie is a testament to Schnabel’s media charisma—it may be the most star-studded directorial debut ever. Moreover, it is an incredibly sensitive and poetic filmic rendering of an intensely difficult topic (art about art; try renting other films about painters to see how miserably they fall short, or for that matter, other films by painters). Julian Schnabel’s next film, Before Night Falls, about the Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas, proved that his touch with the medium of film was no fluke [his most recent film is the similarly heralded The Diving Bell & the Butterfly].

Jean-Michel Basquiat was a painter of inestimable significance, in one flash of a life bookending the Warholian end of art history as theorized by Arthur C. Danto on one side and presaging the New York productionism that would come to define the 90’s on the other (see Damien Hirst, et al). Embodied within any discussion of his work come the first postmodern intimations of meta-art; Basquiat stands as the figurehead for the first generation of artists who were ironically aware of the machinations of the art world. In short, he was a middle-class raised Brooklyn boy who became famous in an instant for his “graffiti art,” playing upon issues of race, class, commerce and urbanity to wrestle his way into the art history books.

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There are many memorable scenes in this movie, and I could talk about it for longer than anyone would have patience. One of them has to do with Benicio Del Toro and the prescription for fame (i.e., four years for fame, six for wealth). Another has to do with Christopher Walken’s eerie and penetrating interview with Basquiat. Or any scene with David Bowie’s preternaturally uncanny portrayal of Andy Warhol. Or when Courtney Love saunters into her cameo appearance to the Rolling Stone’s best song, “Beast of Burden.”

This movie has one of those rare soundtracks that captures the spirit and time of the story exactly (the zeitgeist, if you will), an eclectic mix that offers insights into both the subject (Basquiat was a huge fan of the jazz of Miles Davis and Charlie Parker) and New York in the gritty and urbane 80s. Songs by the Pogues, the Modern Lovers, the Rolling Stones, Joy Division, Grandmaster Flash, Charlie Parker, Dizzie Gillespie, Tom Waits, PJ Harvey, John Cale, Iggy Pop, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen all weave their way in and out of the staccato vignette narrative of the movie about a painter whose work was so often described as musical.

But what makes this movie invaluable is that it is the only film I know of that deals with the issues of ambition and fame in a post-Warholian media milieu. In the movie, the visual leitmotif of a surfer riding the waves intermittently cuts in, a lone surfer riding a gigantic wave collaged over the weary brownstones of downtown Manhattan. The analogy of the arc of our lives being compared to a surfer riding a wave may seem a little tired, but it feels fresh and unexpectedly apt when it is collaged over the decidedly unnatural environment of lower New York and the drug-laden art world. If our time here at Yale is something similar, a large rush of information, experience, and opportunities, I guess I should end this paper with something like: so let us enjoy the ride.

(originally written 10/9/2006)

Simulacra and Simul-Action!

Friday, December 26th, 2008

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The Matrix Reloaded (2003) 138 minutes

The Matrix Trilogy is one of those series of movies within which there resides a host of possible thematic explorations germane to an architectural film series. First of all, and maybe most pretentiously, there is the discussion of the Baudrillardian metaphysics of image and reality; it is no secret that the Wachowski brothers planted numerous references within the movie to his book Simulacra and Simulation (even though Baudrillard himself has said that movie “stemmed mostly from misunderstandings” of his work). Secondly, one could discuss the philosophical problem that has come to be known as the “brain in a vat” problem, which perhaps found its initial formulation in Descartes as the “deceiving” or “malicious demon” problem (to which his solution was, famously, cogito ergo sum). The discussion, in its most simplified, has to do with the ineluctable synaptic distance between our five senses and the known anatomic locus of our cognition; the problem and its fundamentally inescapable insolvability is the universe within which the premise of the entire trilogy traverses. All of which has to do with the reconciliation of vision and architecture, that being the primary subject of an ocularcentrically critical architectural space which has remained the dominant episteme since the Renaissance, and which may or may not have been superseded by McLuhanian electro-acoustic space in the 20th century. Or maybe more tectonically, one could discuss the various scenescapes and digital-apocalyptico architectures the film visualizes, most notably of which may be the 8 mile loop of California highway that was built entirely for one really awesome car-chase scene in this movie. Perhaps then the discussion could segue into an exposition of the fairly recent concepts of the technosublime or technorococo, two catchy-sounding concepts made possible primarily by advancements in digital modeling technologies (sublime as defined in the most antiquated Burkean-derived-from-terror sense, not in the more po-mo sense of elevated beauty). Discussion of various versions of Maya and their respective impacts upon the architectural profession would undoubtedly ensue.

This is all fine and well. But I think I’ll leave those topics for more appropriate venues, this one-page film notes handout not being one of them. Instead, I’ll talk about how the mastermind behind the Matrix (to those who have been living under a rock for the past decade: the Matrix, in the jargon of the eponymous movie trilogy, is essentially a souped-up computer program used to simulate reality) is a guy named, “the Architect.” We even are introduced to “the Architect” character in his room of infinite TV screens, like a 21st Century re-imagining of the panopticon that Foucault wrote about in Discipline & Punish.

How did it come to be that the man who enslaves all of humanity to generate electricity is named “the Architect?” Why couldn’t he be called, “the Structural Engineer?” Or, “the Contractor?” Aren’t they also capable of enslaving humanity in the service of their egos? No? At this point I can hear Keanu Reeves saying, “Dude, no way.” Why not?

Why does the title of architect have slight malignant undertones? Our fellow Yalie George W. Bush, in all his unknowing subtlety, even dubbed Karl Rove, his most trusted cabinet member and campaign director, “the Architect.” It makes him sound so scheming, like he’s behind a big desk somewhere rubbing his fingers together and saying, “Eh-xcellent,” like Montgomery Burns in the Simpsons (who, coincidentally, is another Yalie). It seems like hubris, architecture, and Yale all go together.

Well, who knows. Anyway, there are some really sublime action scenes in this movie.

(originally written 10/5/2006)