R&Sie(n)’s Dandy & Mutant A-life Architecture: Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris * Paris, France

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. It is one of the most relevant exhibitions reflecting contemporary art today.

R&Sie(n) is an investigational architectural firm consisting of François Roche, Stéphanie Lavaux, and Jean Navarro; working here with Benoît Durandin. Together, they utilize generative heterogeneous mutations in the creation of proposed utopian city spaces. In fact, their show at the Musee d’Art Moderne proposes 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. They envision an approach to city planning based on growth scripts and open algorithmic procedures. Towards these ends the show itself includes a fully immersive hypnosis chamber with video monitors, some subtle audio tracts, model-sculptures, booking services, 3D movies and robotic drawings/plans that reveal the source code of the generative program at the heart of their work.

The tangled and intertwined approach to the city vector 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-Siècle, opposing 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 in many cities implies simplicity, surveillance, and goodness while obscuring a less evident effect: cognitive constraint. Such constraint runs counter to what Georges Bataille considered to be the non-hypocritical human condition—non-productive expenditure (threshold excess) entangled with exhilaration.

The organic-like, biomorphic architectural forms R&Sie(n)’s generative program spawns brought to mind 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-façade at villa Borromeo had been left to grow untrimmed and run amok. However, postman Cheval used 93,000 hours of hard labour, alone and by hand, to construct the Palais Idéal in the Hauterives (Drôme) (near Lyon) between the years 1879 and 1912. R&Sie(n) allows humans to play and dream while a computer program does the physical work.

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 R&Sie(n), the urban form no longer depends on arbitrary decisions made by the elite few. Ultimately R&Sie(n) leads us toward juicy Situationist-like complexities and engagements by way of immersion into an open-ended multiplex, 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.

However, the degree to which a dweller feels totally immersed in an optically excessive space has been somewhat poorly determined and depends on personal psychological need and adaptability in accord with the proposed spatial depth cues. Cognitive-aesthetic space has to be coordinated phenomenologically with proprioception—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 affirms 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 proposes a new form of dandyism—if dandyism’s defining characteristic is making 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, nonchalant elegance, and inscrutability. What matters are the triumphs of a radical contempt for one’s “hand”.

“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 does not disavow the extant actuality of the material sphere. Instead it seeks to elucidate the sense of the world-as-is today—virtualized—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 a proposition. However the proposition turns the mind to the suavity of Antoni Gaudí’s wavy architectural shapes in Catalonia. Although he did not travel about Europe, Gaudí was acquainted with fin-de-siècle Belgium/French avant-garde movement because of the intimate relationship between Barcelona and France and with the pre-modernistic movements of Arts and Crafts, Gothic Revival, and Impressionism, discussed in the intellectual proto-modernist circle that he frequented. But it was Victor Horta’s Art Nouveau movement that most influenced Gaudí, inspiring him to experiment with new materials and fluid shapes. Gaudí’s version of Art Nouveau is characterized by a proclivity for the organic nature of women, beasts, and plants translated into immersive utility. 

 

Antoni Gaudí’s 1906 building, Casa Batlló (located at 43, Passeig de Gràcia, Barcelona) is a chief exponent of the R&Sie(n)-type algorithmic building process with its organic tactility of bones and shells within, and its (external) cocked surf façade and chimerical roof. With Casa Batlló, Gaudí transformed an existing building into an enchanting immersive gesamtkunstwerk. He designed every element of the building: the protuberant façade, all aspects of the interior, the gracefully gnarled furniture. On the exterior, Gaudí combined a flamboyantly surging façade (in an ingenious, 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 resembling mammoth elephant legs accost the visitor at street level, protruding so as to nearly trip an unaware pedestrian. A craggy vertebrae-like tier borders the legs and the wavy façade extends upward between the two forms, culminating in a gargoylesque humping crescendo at the roof. The façade itself, coated in a layer of Montjuïc stone, shimmers seductively under the sun in multifarious chameleon-like colors. It is fraught with a scattering of small plates that resemble 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, flows in smooth opposition to the street, with the exception of a few square windows. Even the walls are gently rounded in strained undulation and contraction, as if they too have entered the oceanic throws of a fluttering female orgasm. The walls appear to be made of a soft, supple material and this softness is carried by the roundness of the inside forms; one has the feeling of being 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-carved doors and irregularly-shaped windows. The lack of right-angles and straight lines compliments the exterior while giving the impression of being wrapped up in a continuous wave of motion.

 

R&Sie(n) has not yet achieved the sensuality of Casa Batlló’s avant-garde stance, but success is at hand.