Tag Archives: Quinn Latimer

Experimental Education Protocol

This piece appeared on artforum.com:

Participants in the Experimental Education Protocol. (Except where noted, all photos: Agnieszka Gratza)

CAN EDUCATION BE SEXY? I didn’t used to think so. Twelve days in the company of twelve near-strangers on the volcanic Dodecanese island of Nisyros made me reconsider.

What brought us there—from Athens, Stockholm, Berlin, Brussels, Kassel, Hamburg, and Vancouver—was the Experimental Education Protocol, admittedly not the sexiest of banners. Drafted by artist Angelo Plessas, EEP or #exedupro—in its snappier, Instagrammable version—proposes “an alternative educational model” based on “experiential and communal learning.” For Plessas, whose Eternal Internet Brotherhood has been meeting every year since 2012 in far-flung places around the world, you stand a better chance to learn something from people you’ve not met before, particularly if you’re gathering in “extreme places.”

Sepake Angiama led the way with her flag project. “Desire lines” or “desire paths,” we learned, are shortcuts made in defiance of urban planning. “One person may forge it but others follow it,” Angiama told me as we pored over the “lines of desire” others had drawn onto a piece of cloth for her to embroider with threads of their choosing. Each came with a story, told and retold. (In time, the sewing became a collective endeavor as Angiama struggled to keep up with our storytelling.) Nisyros-devotee Greg Haji Joannides, who has been coming to the island since he was a child and was our point of contact with the islanders, related how he first paddled there with his father from the nearby island of Kos after the engine of their boat went off.

Left: Artists Garrett Nelson and Oliver Laric. Right: Artists Andreas Angelidakis, Sepake Angiama, and Arvo Leo.

For the third summer running, Joannides’s Sterna Art Project set up camp in an old-fashioned spa hotel located next to the crumbling Baths of Mandraki in Loutra, which were to house the exhibition at the outcome of our residency. These twin buildings, facing a small fishing harbor and backing onto a whitewashed former desalination factory, became the center of our activities.

Poet Quinn Latimer used the thermal baths, fueled by hot springs, for daily, twenty-minute one-on-one reading sessions staged in adjoining cubicles. That way the reading partners could (just about) hear without seeing one another “taking the waters” in their respective bathtubs. The acoustic or acousmatic potential of the baths was not lost on her partner, sound artist Paolo Thorsen-Nagel. “It’s like the Pythagorean veil,” he noted, alluding to pupils of Pythagoras who absorbed the philosopher’s teachings in silence from behind a veil-like partition.

By day three we had settled into something of a routine, if not exactly a schedule. Before the daily 11 AM meetings, everyone occupied themselves as they pleased. Angiama was busy embroidering the flag at the crack of dawn. Led by Andreas Angelidakis, toenail-painting “workshops” were on offer. The Greek island seemed to bring out the athletes in us. There were those who ran or swam a mile first thing. Watching topless artists Oliver Laric and Garrett Nelson doing their pushups in the baking sun one morning, Angiama sighed: “I’m just so glad I wasn’t born a boy.”

Left: Urbanist Mia Lundstrom and writer Quinn Latimer. Right: Artist Paolo Thorsen-Nagel.

More structured learning activities, such as Plessas’s own talisman-making workshop or Angelidakis’s anger-release exercises drawing on educational toy volcano molds, took place in a common room overlooking the Kos caldera with the volcanic islet of Strongili—the Round One—in its midst. This was as close to a classroom as it came.

On Bastille Day, the room was transformed as if by magic into a banqueting hall in one of the more spontaneous and enjoyable events the first week held in store for us. Orchestrated by Nelson, the evening began with cocktails and dakos (the Greek take on bruschetta) inspired by Pierre Balmain’s Vent Vert salad from Alice B. Toklas’s Cook Book. Following Nelson’s readings of Mary Oliver’s poems as well as one of his own, we feasted on Oliver’s July 14 salad, stuffed cucumbers, Greek eggplant gazpacho, and fried fish that Nelson had spent much of the day preparing with the artist Dora Economou.

Then came the party inside the ruined Baths lit up at night with sepia-colored street light, which melded beautifully with the designer gold suits Nelson (and some of us) sported for the catwalk for which we had been collectively recruited. And the group night skinny dip under the stars, once we were exhausted from dancing and Laric’s DJing.

Much of the learning from one another happened at the beach. Although opinions were divided as to which is the best on the island, Pachia Ammos, a nude beach with a fine stretch of dark brown volcanic sand—too hot to walk on barefoot—was the default option for afternoon outings. It was there that Thorsen-Nagel got us to listen to the sea with a hydrophone by sticking two microphones into the wet sand.

The beach is also where we were all, one by one, initiated into the art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu by Laric, who sees its mechanics as the perfect antidote to the “ambivalence” (or did he mean ambiguity?) of his life as an artist. “I’ve seen him do it so many times I don’t even find it erotic any more,” Latimer pronounced as we saw from a little distance Laric teaching moves that could easily be mistaken for sex positions to Swedish urbanist Mia Lundstrom.

Left: Writer Tess Edmonson and artist Angelo Plessas. Right: Garrett Nelson, Sepake Angiama, and Oliver Laric.

At the Bastille Day–themed dinner, Plessas reminisced about how he and Angelidakis—aka Pale Blue—met online and then, that very same day, IRL. This was on July 17, almost exactly seventeen years ago. A numerology workshop seemed in order. Instead, we marked the anniversary date with uncoordinated yet strangely consonant efforts, from flower garlands and bracelets to custom-made T-shirts and ice cream flavors named after Angelo (watermelon) and Andreas (Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups) at our favorite ice cream place—an inspired idea by Arvo Leo, who was full of them.

The Experimental Educational Protocol evinced “the desire for broader regional feedback” from local residents and tourists alike. In some ways we got more than we’d bargained for. Just as we were getting ready for the opening at the Baths of Mandraki—bringing together material and immaterial traces of our activities—a spoof poster came to our attention. Modeled on the Sterna Art Project 2016 announcement posted around the island, the mock “Manifest of Abstract Engagement” listed Martin Kippenberger, Cheese Burger, and Anish Kapoor among the participants.

That taught us.

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14th Venice Architecture Biennale

This report from the German, Austrian and Swiss pavilions at the Venice Architecture Biennale was posted on the frieze d/e blog:

German Pavilion, all images courtesy: la Biennale di Venezia; photographs: Andrea Avezzù
 

In an unprecedented move, the director of this year’s Venice architecture biennale, Rem Koolhaas, proposed a single, admittedly capacious theme for all 65 national pavilions to grapple with: ‘Absorbing Modernity 1914-2014’. The thesis behind this – with the fraught concept of ‘modernity’ at its heart – seemed to be the contention that over the last century the distinctions between national architectural styles, once pronounced, have given way to a universal and generic modern aesthetic. While some commissioners proved willing to use their pavilions as a testing ground for this supposition, others chose to address it obliquely or not at all – if the German, Swiss and Austrian pavilions are anything to go by.

German Pavilion
 

Of the three, the German contribution bore the closest relation to the theme. Zurich-based architects Alex Lehnerer and Savvas Ciricadis responded to Koolhaas’ suggestion by grafting modernist architect Sep Ruf’s glass ‘Kanzlerbungalow’ – built in 1964 as the German chancellor’s official residence in Bonn – onto the German Pavilion in Venice. The monumental neo-classical building, which dates to 1909, though renovated in 1938 at the behest of the Nazi government of the time, represents another, tainted face of modernity.

German Pavilion
 

The pavilion literally absorbs the partial but life-size replica of the bungalow temporarily lodged inside it. This superimposition produces a ‘third’ entity, a curious crossbreed of the two buildings, as reflected in the name ‘Bungalow Germania’, the homely connotations of the one deflating the nationalist rhetoric and pretensions of the other. The horizontality and asymmetrical layout of the bungalow, made of glass, steel and brick, offset the vertical thrust and the rigid symmetry of the stone pavilion.

Beautifully uncluttered, the skeletal interior of the Kanzlerbungalow – with its succession of ‘rooms’ framed by glass-and-steel partitions, wooden ceilings, bare walls and a monumental brick fireplace dominating the main, atrium-like space – relates to the ‘elements of architecture’ theme staged in the central pavilion as part of Koolhaas’ Fundamentals exhibition. Assigned no clear function or order the rooms mirror the structure of the accompanying essay by Quinn Latimer, ‘Your Bungalow Is My Pavilion (This Room Is An Island)’, like so many thought units or bubbles, teasing out parallels between the two historically and geographically remote buildings.

Swiss Pavilion
 

The single-storey Swiss Pavilion, designed by Bruno Giacometti in 1952, could almost exemplify the modernist theme proposed by Koolhaas. But the catch-all title of ‘absorbing modernism’ was quietly side-stepped in favour of the pavilion’s own agenda – to investigate time-based display formats, centered on people rather than objects – articulated by art historian Dorothea von Hantelmann in a series of compelling mini-lectures styled as ‘vignettes’. These punctuated the breathless two-day Marathon coinciding with the biennale’s opening. Modelled on the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion’s own Marathon event series organized by Hans Ulrich Obrist, the event boasted a stellar line-up of speakers, in addition to the not inconsiderable number of artists and architects who had collaborated to the Swiss Pavilion’s presentation.

Swiss Pavilion
 

Titled A stroll through a fun Palace with reference to British architect Cedric Price’s best-known though unrealized project and the science of ‘strollology’ or walk-taking advocated by the Swiss sociologist and urban planner Lucius Burckhardt, the Swiss Pavilion pays homage to two revered figures whose playfully anarchical take on architecture, if anything, challenged the pretensions of modernism. Projects such as Price’s 1999 ‘A Lung for Midtown Manhattan’ – whose plans were presented to me by a student from the gta (Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture) at the ETH Zürich – emphasized the potential of non-built urban space.

Austrian Pavilion
 

For the duration of the International Architecture Exhibition, extended from three to six months in line with the sister art biennial, architecture students will be on call to communicate the ideas of Price and Burckhardt to visitors in a ‘living archive’ of sorts, conceived by Tino Sehgal and Asad Raza, jointly with architects Herzog & de Meuron, who designed the archive room and the trolleys on which the facsimiled materials were wheeled out and displayed. Students from the Vienna University of Technology have likewise been co-opted to compile information needed to develop the 3D models (on a scale of 1: 500) of the 196 national parliament buildings mounted on the walls of the Austrian Pavilion’s main room.

Austrian Pavilion
 

On the face of it, the focus of the Austrian contribution to the architecture biennale, called ‘Plenum. Places of Power’, is only tenuously linked to the general theme set by Rem Koolhaas for national pavilions. ‘Absorbing modernity’, according to the project description, is seen through the prism of ‘absorbing democracy’ – two processes that come together in parliamentary architecture. Some of the masterpieces of modernist architecture indeed happen to be parliamentary buildings, from Oscar Niemeyer’s National Congress Building in Brasília to Louis Khan’s Jatiyo Sangsad Bhaban in Dhaka, Bangladesh (without it saying much about their peoples’ access to democracy).

Yet, despite having been built in the last 50 years, the bulk of the parliaments confronted in ‘Plenum. Places of Power’ speak the language of classicism and deploy its elements: columns, cupolas, porticos, and the like. The pavilion’s centerpiece has affinities with David Mulder’s and Max Cohen’s ‘Theatres of democracy’ section in Koolhaas’ Monditalia show spanning the length of the Arsenale, which traces the semi-circular architecture of contemporary assembly halls back to ancient Greek theatres and the theatre of Siracusa, Sicily in particular. Protruding from the walls and painted a matching white, the architectural models arranged into grids and facing each other like so many cenotaphs, recalled the national pavilions themselves. Beneath the national variations on the parliament theme, their pleasing uniformity seemed to bear out Koolhaas’ thesis.