Interpretation – Architecture – e-flux
The desire to influence is at the heart of any exhibition.
—Bruce W. Ferguson
The making of culture relies on interpretation for its own validity. This seems to be more true today than ever before. The role interpretation (photograph, film, words, etc.) plays in testifying to the value, meaning or underlying intentions of a cultural event can sometimes be the only proof that it ever existed. Photographic documentation of an exhibition, for example, has its own linguistic character by functioning as a “true text”. Such forms of testimony do not only speak of the fact that a work has been done or that something has been performed; they reveal the fact that a curator chose to move these objects and actions into an institution or gallery and in doing so sanctioned their ability to compete in a circulation of goods, work, economy, spectator and historical significance.
There has been much discussion of the systems that determine how works on display acquire value through their transactional participation in museums, galleries, artist-run spaces and secondary markets. Advertising methods, press releases and catalog essays aim to convince new audiences of the value and meaning of the work, the creator and the exhibition presented. Despite their fundamental differences, these are additional works that support, but often survive, the first-person experience of exhibitions as material arrangements and events.
Let’s be clear: when I use the term “interpretation” I am referring to how it was used in Susan Sontag’s essay on the subject, which she describes as “the picking of a set of elements. (the X, the Y, the Z, and so on). forward) of the entire work. “The interpreter says,” she continues, “Look, can’t you see that X really is – or really means – A? What is Y really B? Is this Z really C? This type of interpretation is akin to myth-making and can be understood in the same way that Roland Barthes observed that a written text can have a way of naturalizing and neutralizing a thing as a “fact”. This can give the impression that something is falsely obvious, revealing a latency within a work.
More than art exhibitions, architectural exhibitions require different forms of translation. Since buildings do not function as circulating commodities in the same way as works of art, exhibits about them (and the ideas that inform their manufacture) rely on interpretation for their readability and cultural value. It is practically impossible to expose an entire building, even a room, with the conditions of lighting, temperatures, patinas, etc. that allow them to live on the site where they are. (And unfortunately, architects rarely use exhibitions as a testing ground for experimental approaches.) The opaque and discipline-specific conventions of architectural representation also make direct experience, as well as public knowledge and collection, prohibitive. . Perhaps this is why, in the midst of architecture’s curatorial turn and its growing global participation in successful biennials, design fairs and museum exhibitions, architectural exhibitions rely so heavily on the act of read to be understood.
Sylvia Lavin commented on this textual impulse seven years ago in her critique of the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale. Although the biennale claimed to emphasize the relationship of architecture to social realities – “the domain’s moral obligations to innumerable social, economic and political forces which shape the materializations and collective use of architecture ”- she did so ironically“ by presenting historical documents, material artefacts and statistical data as if they were not not publicized and simply “under a microscope”. which has already been attempted on this scale.
The fact that architectural exhibitions tend to depend on interpretation, even to the point where the text transcends the exhibits, testifies more to the relational anesthesia of the discipline than to a millennial penchant for literacy. We have seen such language dependencies before. Art historians Benjamin Buchloh and Alexander Alberro, for example, demonstrated that the dematerialization of conceptual art in the late 1960s and early 1970s was based on the aesthetics of information and the power of advertising to generate new audiences. One could argue that due to its overwhelming entanglement with neoliberal transformations and its rootedness in the reproduction of inequality, architecture has also undergone a similar dissolution through its neglect of the conditions of its production. The experiential limits of architectural exhibitions are a symptom of a disinterest in social realities, as well as the insufficiency of the discipline to cope with its failures.
Indeed, what this highlights is the story of how architects have depended on exhibitions and museums for the cultural capital they provide, which is actually enacted by a work force not of architects. per se, but discourse workers: curators, publicists, researchers, marketing departments, historians, cultural critics and journalists. (The use value of the exhibit for these stakeholders is also important.) Ultimately, however, the exhibit as a multisensory experience or space for alternative knowledge production is less useful and interesting for the field precisely because of the ineffectiveness of the discipline. When architectural exhibitions claim sensory engagement as points of focus, these efforts are often ocular and in service of the design of the experience to attract ticket sales and audiences, rather than as part of a broader haptic strategy to articulate political economy, political ecology, and the social impacts of architecture on communities, conditions, resources and modes of governance.
An architecture exhibition interested in experimenting with collective practices engaged in divergent forms of knowledge, such as feeling and lived experience, could instead rearrange exhibition platforms as opportunities to tear open architecture apart. , his ideas and his stories. It could do so by inviting embodied, tangible and real-time exchanges between a wide range of actors, while avoiding the canonization of architects and hierarchies of expertise. That is to say, it could bring alternative material and sensory commitments and, in particular, other voices in the fold: tenants and civic groups, community organizers, storytellers, historical actors, activists, sociologists, anthropologists, environmental experts. Thus, the act of interpretation could lead to a renewed understanding of how a domain can better respond to the uneven conditions of our world by implementing an intersectional framework of meaning and significance, rather than boiling down to exercises. rhetoric of promotion and heraldry. Until then, the rhetorical acts of architectural exhibitions will continue to generate myths and meanings that naturalize the discipline’s divorce from the state of affairs as it really exists.