Saturday, June 27

Once on this island

I visited the Schindler House this afternoon, which is part of the MAK Center for Art and Architecture. With the goal of offering programming that "challenges conventional notions of space," this satellite of the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art in Vienna is a unique international experiment.

A little history: Rudolph Schindler was an avant-garde Viennese architect who was deeply inspired by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and the California landscape. Schindler, his wife Pauline and another couple decided to establish themselves in Los Angeles. The house was designed as "an expression of the independent but common goals of each of the individuals in the house, delineated with materials such as wood, canvas and poured concrete." The house is now used as an exhibition space for programming of the MAK Center, which presents to the public new ways of looking at and thinking about space.

The current exhibition, "The Isle," is an examination the "placelessness" of Kish, an Iranian Island in the Persian Gulf with status as a free trade zone. It is impossible to avoid the discomfiting amateur news footage of Iran right now. As the internet's floodgates open onto cellphone camera images and twitter updates, it is difficult to digest the minute-by-minute information coming from all sides. I feel like I need to immediately play catch-up in what brought us to this moment: the political history that preceded the election, the psychological state of the people at this time, the role that the United States has played and may play as we replay the cold war tensions of the past with Iran, North Korea and Pakistan. It never ceases to amaze me how the visual can present an easily navigable way to come to the same conclusions as an intense online reading session. Nasrin Tabatabai and Babak Afrassiabi use the history of non-development of Kish to make plain historical struggles in contemporary Iranian culture. Kish was positioned to be the next tourist destination in the east. Yet the unrealized attempts at modernization become "representations of (unfulfilled) desires." The artists use the experiences of these developers (architects interviews, magazine spreads, models, etc.) working with a client (in this case, an Islamic country) to make real an imposed identity of Kish. The exhibition shows how "geopolitical indecisiveness" has thwarted Kish's sense of place for the past 20 some years. As described in Pages Magazine (the related publication,) "the almost schizoid nature of the island is manifested through its designs and displays."

This is a elegant and thoughtful exhibition, examining architecture's role of planning space as it pertains to conflicting ideas of a country's idea of self. Its good to consider that the current protests are not a reactionary moment, but more likely a catalyzed event stemming from a longer history.

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