The Villa Savoye – September 2013
Not as pristine as I imagine!
EPICUREAN MAGAZINE 1966-1979
30 SEPTEMBER – 14 NOVEMBER 2010
Review: Glenn Walls Published in Un Magazine Issue 5.1 – June 2011
Les Mason. Installation view, The Narrows. 2010. Photo credit: Tobias Titz
Les Mason, an American graphic designer who moved to Melbourne in the early 1960s, spent thirteen years designing, photographing and illustrating Epicurean magazine, Australia’s first magazine devoted to food and wine. In September 2010, contemporary art and design gallery The Narrows exhibited a survey of all seventy-seven covers, the last exhibition in its Flinders Lane location. Exhibited in purpose-built display cabinets, Masons’ covers were presented in chronological order from 1966 to 1979. This retrospective approach highlighted Masons’ employment, over several years, of the signature styles of a variety of twentieth century art movements, to create complex and innovative cover art.
In 1974, an exhibition of Mason’s paintings from Epicurean was held at Realities Gallery in Melbourne. According to Dominic Hofstede, the curator of the exhibition at The Narrows, ‘by placing the ephemeral and marginalised world of magazine graphics within the context of the art gallery Mason had blurred the lines between art and design.’[i] Hofstede continued this practice by exhibiting a small selection of Mason’s 1974 artworks alongside the covers at The Narrows. Each of these artworks had been published, either on the cover of the magazine, or as a spread.
The exhibition highlighted Mason’s most notable reference to the art movements of Dada and Surrealism. Mason utilised these movement’s irrational visual juxtapositions for maximum visual impact. In Epicurean 51 October-November 1974, he evoked Salvador Dali’s dream state imagery with a bottle cut in half leaving the top section balanced precariously. A multi-coloured egg replaces the brain on a drawing of a face similar in style to the animation used in the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine film of the late 60s. In Epicurean 71 February-March 1978, Mason continued to incorporate the style of Surrealism. Here, the bottom sections of a bottle are strategically cut away and balanced against sections of a pear and egg. These were the days long before PhotoShop, leaving one to wonder how a bottle such as this could balance. The success of Mason’s Epicurean covers lays in his ability to employ the visual styles of Dada and Surrealism to challenge the general public’s perception of how a magazine cover should look, while still promoting the ideals and products of the magazine.
In later covers, Mason moves through a variety of art movements, such as Arte Povera, spatial art, colour field painting, geometric abstraction, abstraction, pop art and op art, to name a few. Such referencing kept Epicurean fresh and unhindered by a particular corporate style guide that is often applied to well-known publications such as the fashion tome Vogue. As demonstrated in the layout of the exhibition, the overall effect suggests that no two covers are alike. Utilising various font styles for the masthead, Mason was able to inject a sense of playfulness creating an element of intrigue as to the magazine’s content.
The visual effectiveness of the covers indicates that Mason was willing to take risks offered to him by the magazine owner and publisher, Alan Holsworth. In order to produce a magazine that reflected Australia’s developing food and wine industry Holsworth afforded Mason complete creative freedom. With little or no budget, Mason was able to incorporate his many interests in a variety of art and design styles to produce a body of work rarely seen in Australian publishing. A similar comparison can be made to the creative freedom that photographer and creative director Oliviero Toscani enjoyed while at the helm of global clothing brand, Benetton, in the late 1980s and ’90s that resulted in thought provoking and sometimes controversial advertising campaigns.
The exhibition was a rare opportunity to view a comprehensive body of work from an eminent designer. Mason’s covers are landmarks in the development of graphic design both nationally and internationally. Through Epicurean Mason indulged his passion for experimentation and a comprehensive knowledge of twentieth century art styles to formulate what may be considered a defining moment in the evolution of design in this country.
Glenn Walls is an artist, writer and curator based in Melbourne.
Epicurean 44 (August-September 1973)
45 x 45 cms
Image courtesy the designer & The Narrows
Photo credit: Tobias Titz
Epicurean 36 (April-May 1972)
Image courtesy the designer & The Narrows
Photo credit: Tobias Titz
AGideas design conference is held each year to inspire students, teachers and designers working in the creative fields of communication design, film, animation, games design, dance, public sculpture, interior design, photography, architecture and a number of other creative industries. Attending the conference was an opportunity to see and listen to a number of creative professionals. Their talks ranged from stimulating to confusing, however for most their visuals were enough to translate a passion to their chosen creative discipline.
A highlight of the conference was French communication designer Fanette Mellier. Although Mellier claimed her English was not good at the beginning of the talk she demonstrated a clear understanding of the nuances of the English language to convey the main points of her practice. Mellier’s father was a printer and it was here that her love of the printed word developed.
Mellier’s practice blurs the line between visual artist and designer. This is a complex area when discussing the validity of design as art. However Mellier navigated through theoretical examples of her practice that explores the power of text (or font) as image. Through the print media Mellier employs text from literature, most notably poems and formulates each letter from a word into geometrical shapes. Colour forms an integral part. At times these works, which appear on the street in the form of posters or as installations in galleries, could be viewed as geometrical abstractions, yet in many examples the text is easy to read.
Mellier use of colour is vital to the integrity of the works. Relying mainly on primary colours Mellier uses their emotive power to form images that seem striking in their simplicity. However as Mellier demonstrated in the work Specimen they are complex in their making. Utilising the process of silk screening enables Mellier to individually alter prints thus removing the mass production element in her work.
Specimen, 2009 (Left)
Fontenew, 2007 (Right)
Mellier theoretical approach to her practice inspired me to contemplate a means of incorporating some of her ideals into lectures on the meaning of text and how we visualise the written word. Her approach to methods of production and innovative exhibitions will hopefully inspire students to think of ways to approach there own practice and what its means to be a designer in the twenty first century.
Lecturing in design history and contemporary design practice. I am always searching for designers/artists who have a theoretical based practice that they adhere too. Japan’s Ken Miki is such a designer. Miki practice fosters the idea that language through design can be universally understood. Hence design can ‘cross cultural boarders and create shared feelings. He likes to employ emotion in his designs and greatly enjoys incorporating witty tricks, such as skillful visual illusions, into his posters, packaging, building signs and other projects.’
Miki spoke in Japanese, occasionally crossing over into English. Through the use of subtitles it was easy to follow Miki’s argument. Miki design work follows in the tradition of Japanese minimalism. However his work goes beyond the visual by incorporating tactile elements to ‘inspire our five senses like rhythmic lyrics and extend beyond time and dimensions to reveal the possibility of communication with the subconscious’.
Miki is a designer that students can learn a great deal from. His practice reinforces the notion that visual clutter is poor for the mind and soul. His work Money does not make you happy is an exceptional example of his minimalist approach to thinking and practice. These ideals I will be incorporating into a type project next semester.
Ken Miki/Stefan Sagmeister
Money does not make you happy
AGIdeas eclectic mix of presentations over the three days provided some thought provoking ideas. Some reflected on the cynicism within the advertising industry, as Adam Hunt talk demonstrated, whilst most preferred to focus on the power of design to change the way we think and operate. The positive nature of these talks is what design is about. It is also an attitude that needs to be fostered if we are going to keep our students and grow our design courses.
Based in Florence, Superstudio were a group of young Italian architects who came together in 1966 and were disillusioned with the modernist ideal that had dominated design and architectural discourse since the early twentieth century. When Superstudio suggested in the late 1960s that ‘architecture served to indoctrinate society into an irrelevant culture of consumption, and therefore sought to extract out of architecture all encumbered on man’s ability to live a free life’ (Lang and Menking 2003, p. 13), they proposed a series of ‘histograms of architecture with reference to a grid transportable in diverse areas or scales for the edification of a nature both serene and immobile in which we might finally recognize (re-know) ourselves’ (Lang and Menking 2003, p. 19). Superstudio’s theory for the application of the grid to objects and architecture was to subvert the very notion of design. After all, how can you keep contributing to the proliferation of superfluous objects if everything looks the same?
Left: Superstudio The Continuous Monument. Never constructed. 1969–71
Right: Superstudio. Misura Furniture. 1970
Superstudio saw the grid as a form of anti-design. For them it was about rediscovering oneself. By homogenising the surface, Superstudio claimed ‘every problem of space and every problem of sensibility’ (Lang and Menking 2003, p. 19) had been removed. I saw this grid as an extension of the early modernists’ application of the white wall in their domestic structures. As discussed in previous posts, the white wall homogenised the surfaces of modernist domestic dwellings, maintaining the coded masculine dominance of the buildings. The application of Superstudio’s grid replaced the white wall in continuing the authority of the masculine surfaces of the structure. This dominance continued the repression of the individual and prevented the expression of identity in or on the structure.
What fascinated me about this grid was that it could be applied to chairs, tables, buildings – anything that would remove the notion of elitism through the branding of objects. According to Superstudio, by removing the branding, or commercialization, of that object the notion of status relating to it is also removed. However, I apply the grid to objects such as baseball bats that are repeatedly used in bashings, removing the branding of the object.
Glenn Walls. The dual meaning of things. 2009
baseball bats, mirrored tiles, wood
What Superstudio and the grid fail to take into account is our need to differentiate ourselves from each other. What I intended to show in my work was that this need to differentiate ourselves from others by coding objects and spaces with personal significance allows us to indicate to others our preferences, our desires and our status. However, as one of the members of Superstudio, Toraldo di Francia, later admitted, the application of the grid onto objects actually ‘initiated a new level of consumerism, and consequently another level of poverty’ (Lang and Menking 2003, p. 19).
Superstudio believed that the grid could provide us with ‘auto pilot’ design. The grid’s application was quick, easy and functional. By using and applying the grid we would have more time to pursue the pleasures of life. The works I created using Superstudio’s grid show that the grid could be manipulated into various forms. This reverses Superstudio’s intentions of creating one item for all by converting mass-produced objects into individual collectables that indicate status and can be attached to narrative and memory.
‘Superlost’ (exhibition title)
Glenn Walls. Prototype for Sophisticated Living 1, 2007
Mirror tiles, wood, skate wheels.
Glenn Walls. I am one of God’s mistakes, 2007
Mirror perspex, wood.
Seventh Gallery, 13 – 24 November 2007
Superstudio: The Continuous Monument: An Architectural Model for Total Urbanization project, 1969–71 (never constructed)
Superstudio’s core ideas relating to the application of the grid that could provide us with ‘auto pilot’ design became the basis for the works for the exhibition ‘Superlost’ held at Seventh Gallery in November 2007. The title refers to our current level of consumer-driven consumption and the idea of being lost in our super houses filled with super things. The intention of the work in the show was that all objects exhibited would have some connection to the period in which Superstudio was active (1966–78) but would be placed in a contemporary context.
The work I am one of God’s mistakes (2007) was made from a standard sheet of flexible construction plywood and mirror perspex. The plywood was chosen because it is a material used in the construction of buildings. On the plywood was placed the positive and negative mirror perspex of the text I am one of God’s mistakes. The text is taken from American photographer/filmmaker Larry Clark’s (1943– ) photograph of a girl holding a book titled I am one of God’s mistakes. The image appeared in his book Tulsa, which was released in 1971. The mirror surface was used in Superstudio’s The Continuous Monument: an Architectural Model for Total Urbanization project in 1969–71, blending their monumental building with the natural environment. However, the intention of using a reflective mirror was to give back a distorted image of ourselves. Many of us are fundamentally concerned with the image we give to others. By looking into the small cut mirrored text we are unable to see an image of ourselves. Our reflection is broken, indicating that we may indeed be ‘one of God’s mistakes’.
Basement Jaxx. Album cover, 2009 Larry Clark, Tulsa Series C print, 1971
By using the mirror surface you are looking at yourself while reading I am one of God’s mistakes. I wanted to create a sense that we are all creating a mistake by consuming the amount of stuff we do. I discovered the font used in this work when looking at the website of critically acclaimed UK electronic dance music duo Basement Jaxx. The font is called New Zelek and has been used on virtually all their CD releases and promotional material in recent years. What attracted me to this typeface was that the font had a 1960s and early 1970’s feel about it – a sci-fi feel. This was similar to the feeling l get when looking at images of Superstudio’s The Continuous Monument and its connection to the rise of sci-fi films in the late 1960s, particularly Stanley Kubrick’s, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Although Alexey Kustov developed the font at TypeMarket in 1993 on the basis of artworks by Viktor Kharyk and Lidia Kolesnichenko from the 1970s, the font’s adaptation here fitted the criterion I was seeking to apply. That is, the font must have been used in the promotion of mass-produced objects, and either be from or have some connection to the 1970s. The intention was to show that since the development of the font, it has continually been used in the promotion and selling of products in the music/club world.
By placing the mirrored text on construction plywood, the idea was that while you were seeing a reflection of yourself on a building material, the viewer was confronted with the notion of literally being or committing a mistake. My intention was to make the viewers uncomfortable about what we are doing to ourselves and to the planet.
Within the right wing religious world, homosexuality or child birth outside of marriage is viewed as a ‘mistake’ – that homosexuality or sex outside of wedlock is not a normal human function or a sin. What l wanted to do was to reclaim the text, ‘I am one of God’s mistakes’ from Clark’s original intention and, using the materials that Superstudio offered, place the quote firmly back in the public domain reflecting straight back at us; that we are here, and we are part of this space. What I found intriguing about Superstudio’s concept and presentation for the The Continuous Monument was that their reflective surfaces did not allow for mistakes to take place. It seemed that subcultures, minorities or cultural differences were to be ignored in Superstudio’s utopian world. My intention was to use the iconography of Superstudio and to infuse it with not only imagery and objects of subcultures and minorities, but also to apply Superstudio’s grid to various objects that would create one off collectable artworks.
In the gallery space at Seventh, the work I am one of God’s mistakes was placed leaning against the back wall. As you entered the gallery space it was the first piece you saw, with your image reflected in the mirrored perspex. Placed in this position the work and term I am one of God’s mistakes holds a sense of power. Mistakes are what make this world interesting – random or deliberate acts that can claim certain spaces and give a group a voice and an identity.
For many, to seek status through the accumulation of things is what drives us, and to a certain degree drove the members of the radical architectural movement of the 1960s. Structures such as Superstudio’s The Continuous Monument were devised as a way of counteracting the need to consume. Nevertheless these structures’ presence in the landscape created a sense of dominance and power. The fact that they are termed ‘monuments’ by Superstudio connects them to a tradition of publicly visible memorials ranging from the pyramids of Giza on the outskirts of Cairo to the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. Although there is much merit in Superstudio’s theories, I found their failure to acknowledge cultural, social and moral differences in their concepts for architectural change opens up the possibility of re-evaluating their concepts and objects as another consumer product, ready for consumption.
Placed to the left of the entrance of the gallery space at Seventh was the work Prototype for Sophisticated Living 1 (2007). Based on Superstudio’s The Continuous Monument, which was devised by the group to relieve society of its superfluous objects, I have taken their iconic structure and reduced its scale. Superstudio intended their rectangular mirrored grided structures to be monumental in the landscape, however, my intention was to reduce this monumental building to the scale of a consumable, collectable object. There were two reasons for attempting this. First, the idea was to see whether the structure still maintained the same visual impact as the monumental structure in the landscape when reduced in size. Second, the work shows that the grid can be applied to objects of any scale.
Using glass grid mirrors adhered to a wooden frame, I reduced the scale of Superstudio’s rectangular Continuous Monument structure. I then added skate wheels to the bottom of the structure. The work was then placed onto a plinth that measured half a metre square. The structure thus becomes a consumer object that, just like architecture, is to be desired. However, the inclusion of the wheels renders it directionless: the very point that Superstudio claimed architecture had reached.
The walls in the gallery were painted with the racing strips taken from a custom-painted 1970s Ford Cortina. The racing strip links the installation to consumer and status-driven products such as cars. Cars were chosen as they are a highly visible symbol used to promote status to others.
Beneath the painted racing strip, the lower half of the gallery walls and the plinth for the work Prototype for Sophisticated Living No 1 was painted light blue. As mentioned the purpose here was to connect the works to the coded masculinity the colour blue implies. The light blue is also the same colour artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres employs in his work Untitled (Go-Go Dancing Platform), 1991, in which the plinth that the male go-go dancer performs on is light blue. The use of blue links the works in the installation, such as l am one of God’s mistakes, which is a comment on queer identity, to the implied masculinity of Superstudio’s structures. Superstudio’s mirrored ‘one size fits all’ flat geometric-grided surfaces ignore the diversity that abounds within a community.
Andrea Zittel. Rendition of A–Z Pit Bed. Wood, carpet. 1995
The title Prototype for Sophisticated Living is derived from two sources. American artist Andrea Zittel (1965– ) used the title Prototypes to describe the works she created in her Brooklyn showroom/testing-ground called A–Z East. Here she created many of her A–Z Prototypes from the A–Z Pit Bed to the A–Z Food Group Processing Unit in the early 1990s.
Zittel’s collapsible, portable living units, aptly titled A–Z Comfort Units, are based on the module provided by early modernist architecture, but the difference is that once her clients take over their portable domestic environments they are free to improve or alter their space to suit their needs. Zittel states:
I had to come to terms with the idea that once a product departed from my own possession, it would need to be claimed by its new owner. What we forget is that there are at least two authors of every object: One is the designer, the other is the owner. (Zittel cited in Connelly 2000, p. 88–91)
Superstudio failed to acknowledge this process in the development of their grid that would be applied to all their objects and structures. To develop the works for this series, this process involved taking ownership of objects or buildings and reconfiguring them in order to reflect a more personal image to others.
The works are titled prototype as the word implies the object or structure is a one-off or experiment that may go into mass production. These works are about utilising objects that are already mass produced and reconfiguring their meaning or form to create another object that then becomes a prototype that can also be mass produced. The idea would be that the next person to obtain the object or structure would then individualise that object, returning it to prototype form, ready to be mass produced again. And the cycle goes on. Eventually the object will look nothing like its original form.
Second, the work of Canadian artist Brian Jungen (1970– ), who uses mass-produced objects and ‘well-known materials borrowed from consumer culture of the Western World’ (Schouwenberg 2007, p. 243), and reshapes them to make comment on contemporary and ancient cultures such as the First Nations of North America. These masks entitled Prototype for a New Understanding (1998–2005), combine well-known, mass-produced brands, such as Nike shoes that are re-formed to represent ancient masks, particularly that of the First Nations of North America. But these masks can be equally attributed to indigenous people from many countries such as Africa. These works, at once familiar for their cultural connection to the ancient rituals and cultural identity of certain indigenous people, thrust us into a contemporary reality once the Nike logo and synthetic materials are viewed. Jungen prototypes ask for a new understanding in the way we homogenise cultures through the expansion of global companies and the effects their products on indigenous cultures throughout the world. As Schouwenberg states:
The word Prototype in the title can be defined as ‘model,’ ‘first example,’ the ‘original’ on which all duplicates are based. The masks and their titles ask the observer: how can we call this ‘original’ if it’s made from a mass-produced article? What is ‘identity’ in this postmodern, postcolonial world? What determines identity? Our roots? Our birthplace? Our ancestors? Or is our identity the result of the life we lead, the food we eat, the car we drive and the shoes we wear? (Schouwenberg 2007, p. 244)
Jungen’s work is primarily concerned with cultural identity, focusing on the displacement of native people’s customs and traditions through the blanding of culture by mass advertising and mass production. My works centre on mass-produced objects, however, the focus is on individual concerns, an individual identity. These works show how we can individualise an object to suit our own agenda and separate ourselves from the masses. Like Jungen’s works that ask for a ‘new understanding’ of the impact global branding and consumerism has on homogenising cultures, my works engage with similar issues of how these prototypes might contribute to the promotion of an image of identity to others.
Brian Jungen. Prototypes for New Understanding. Re-stitched Air Jordans. 1998–2005
 Clark, L 1971, Tulsa, L Clark, New York.
 ParaType Shop 2007, ParaType Inc, viewed 16 September 2007,
 First Nations people, the indigenous inhabitants of North America, are sometimes called Native Canadians/Americans or Indians.
Alison, J (ed.) 2006, Future City: Experiment and Utopia in Architecture, Thames and Hudson: London.
Audas, J Brittain-Catlin, T Stuckey, C. 2006. The Cutting Edge of Wallpaper. Black Dog Publishing: London.
Byvanck, V (ed.) 2005, Superstudio-The Middelburg Lectures, De Vleeshal = Zeeuws Museum, Middelburg.
Clark, L 1971, Tulsa, L Clark, New York.
Lang, P and Menking, W 2003, Superstudio, Life without Objects, Skira: New York.
Schmidt, P, Tietenberg & A, Wollheim, R (eds.) 2005, Patterns in Design, Art and Architecture, Birkhauser, Basel, Switzerland.
ParaType Shop 2007, ParaType Inc, viewed 16 September 2007, www.paratype.ru/pstore/fonts/New-Zelek.htm
Felix Gonzalez-Torres 2008, The Museum of Modern Art: The Collection, viewed 25 December 2008, http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=61825
Connelly, J 2000, ‘Andrea Zittell’, Surface Magazine, Summer 2000, pp. 88–91.
Schouwenberg, L 2007, ‘Cultural Encounters’, Frame, no. 56, May–June 2007, pp. 242–246.
Books referenced in the production of artworks
Hoskins, L (ed.) 2005, The papered wall: the history, patterns and techniques of wallpaper, Thames & Hudson: New York.
Kurrent, F (ed.) 1999, Scale models: houses of the 20th Century, Birkhäuser: Berlin.
Mixed media, DVDs: Smashing door, 6.50 mins, looped. Smashing car, 8.50 mins, looped
Exhibited: Westspace Inc, Melbourne, May 2005
Le Corbusier & Pierre Jeanneret. Villa Savoye. Poissy-sur-Seine, near Paris, France, 1928–31
Video installation, wood, plastic, lights
Queer space is not always safe space. To illustrate this I created the work Men (2005) that was exhibited at Westspace Inc, Melbourne, in May of that year. The installation consists of a scaled-down version of the left-hand side of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye (1928–31). The work was constructed out of wood and painted white. The pillars were constructed out of PVC piping. Contained in the front-first floor window was a monitor displaying a DVD of a male attacking an interior door with an axe. At the rear, on the ground floor where the garage would be, was placed another monitor displaying a DVD of a male smashing up a car.
The two videos contained in this work were filmed at separate locations. The car smashing video consists of a car sourced from a car dealership for the purpose of destroying it for the installation. Filmed in a private garage and using a professional actor, this video was shot in one sequence. The camera was placed on a tripod and did not move during filming. The footage originally running for 3 minutes and 20 seconds was slowed down to run for 8 minutes and 35 seconds. The purpose of this was to emphasise the destruction taking place in the interior. The footage was then looped in video-editing program Final Cut Pro, enabling it to be on constant repeat while the work was on exhibition.
The door-smashing video was filmed on location in my studio in Melbourne. A set was constructed to give the appearance of a minimal white interior, similar to the interior of the Villa Savoye. Again using a professional actor, the video was shot in one sequence with the camera located in one position. The footage was slowed down to run for 6 minutes and 50 seconds, again emphasising the destruction taking place, looped and on constant repeat during the exhibition.
In this work I sought to create an aspect of queer life relating to same-sex domestic violence that is hidden in the built environment. Same-sex domestic violence has only recently become a focus of the gay and lesbian community of Australia. Lee Vickers cites Island and Letellier’s definition: ‘any unwanted physical force, psychological abuse, material or property damage inflicted by one man on another’ (Vickers 1996). Vickers estimates that 15–20 per cent of gay and lesbian couples are affected by domestic violence.
Wayne Myslik in his article ‘Renegotiating the Social/Sexual Identities of Places’ explains: ‘By exhibiting a degree of social control by the gay community, queer spaces create the perception of being “safe spaces”’ (Myslik 1996, p. 157). The reason to construct a concept of a ‘safe space’, Myslik argues, ‘is an important one for gay men, who are at risk of prejudice, discrimination and physical and verbal violence throughout their daily lives. Queer spaces are generally perceived as safe havens from this discrimination and violence’ (Myslik 1996, p. 157). Nevertheless these are usually public queer spaces such as a club or park. The hidden nature of queer space in the domestic setting allows domestic violence to occur out of public view.
Research conducted by the AIDS Council of NSW found ‘that many people within the gay and lesbian communities held beliefs that precluded an understanding of the power issues within domestic violence, ‘e.g. that women don’t perpetrate violence and men aren’t victims of domestic violence or that same sex domestic violence is a fight between equals’ (Gray 2005). The same research also found that many gays and lesbians had limited understanding of what was happening to them and terminology to describe it. This was partly due to the belief that domestic violence only happened in the heterosexual world and that the advertising campaigns in the media used language and images unrelated to their circumstances.
This lack of acknowledgement of gay domestic violence in the media became the basis for using Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye for the work Men. Designed for a couple and located around thirty kilometres from Paris, the structure’s white walls, controlled symmetrical geometrical forms and clean lines give it a clinical masculine/heterosexual appearance. My work provides an ironic twist to the Le Corbusier building whose structure offered an opportunity to exhibit a contemporary image of queer space by depicting queer males as ‘masculine’ through their actions and dress. The intention was to display a non-stereotyped image of queer life.
Within the structure Le Corbusier had designed a number of windows and viewing holes that were strategically placed in positions such as the top of ramps that gave viewers, as they ascended the ramp, a framed picture of the surrounding landscape. Le Corbusier states:
As one walks along, one can see how the architectural arrangement unfolds … a real promenade architecture which continuously opens up changing, unexpected and sometimes astonishing views. (Sydney eScholarship Repository: University of Sydney Library 2008)
The concept behind the design for Villa Savoye was that upon entering the structure the viewer would be pushed to peripheral, specialised locations to take in the view. Internal walls aided in the movement of the individual to these locations. To highlight the impact of same-sex domestic violence, videos were placed in the picture windows of this structure that was designed for contemplative viewing. The purpose was to emphasise this structure’s capacity to display same- sex domestic violence to the outside world. If the idea behind Le Corbusier’ picture window was to give a sense of the landscape always being in motion, then the idea behind this video installation was to reverse that notion by allowing the viewer of the work to view domestic violence normally conducted away from public view.
Le Corbusier’s publicity shots for the Villa Savoye are not presented with images of occupancy. Many of these images only show traces of human activity with items left casually about. However, these items were always male, a coat, a hat, a pair of glasses. The public presentation of these images maintained the masculine/heterosexual hierarchy of the structure. Through the placement of videos related to same-sex domestic violence the masculinity of the structure is not called into question, however, the sexuality of the structure is reconfigured.
The use of the white wall and large flat symmetrical surfaces presented in the Villa Savoye gives it an air of calmness, logic and masculine superiority. I believe this environment is intended to project a structured life. My project was to break the heterosexuality presented in this building and bring forth an issue rarely mentioned in either the straight or the gay media. The violence portrayed is intended to contradict not only the calmness of the building, but also the belief that gay men are not violent. The violent acts not only destroy the objects in this structure, but also destroy the contemplative space of this building for the pursuit of rational, ordered living. The windows in this case are not used to frame a calming landscape in which one sees, but are used to frame the destruction that is being seen.
In the work of artist Mark Robbins the notion of creating a view of the landscape through window frames is evident. In his work Utopian Prospect (1988) Robbins produces a structure that is not enclosed, but provides viewing holes in which one sees the activities on the other side. The outdoor work is situated in Woodstock, New York, on the grounds of the Byrdcliffe Art Colony. Unlike Villa Savoye, which is an enclosed space, Robbins’ work is an open space consisting of one brick wall with window frames that intersects with the sloping site. A small brick tower supporting a swinging vane is situated metres from the wall. Robbin uses the wall and its viewing holes to implicate the activity of seeing without creating an enclosed space. Patricia C. Phillips states:
Robbins’ ‘Utopian Prospect’ constructs the quixotic time of vision rather than an unyielding space of the view. The wall is an implication of – rather than an obstruction to – the experience of active seeing. Unlike the controlled space of the traditional viewing pavilion, the open space of Robbins’ project is about watching others see so that the landscape is experienced fully through one’s own eyes and the imaginative references of others’ encounters. (Phillips 1992, p. 10)
In the video installation Men, the spectator is located in the landscape viewing the activities through the window frames of the wall. The Le Corbusier building, Villa Savoye and Robbins’ Utopian Prospect provide architecture with the potential of seeing and the creation of a narrative. Both use materials in their construction, such as concrete and bricks that are typically associated with control, regularity and power linked to gender stereotypes. The difference between the two works is that Robbins’ installation places the viewer in the landscape viewing through the framed window back into the landscape. The viewer does not enter the interior of the structure. As Robbins’ work is not an enclosed space, it is much more difficult to control and manipulate what the spectator sees. As Phillips states, ‘Robbins’ eloquent, oppositional work is an optimistic prospect for the potential of vision for seeing what it is we really desire and require from architecture’ (Phillips 1992, p. 10). By choosing architecture that allows an element of the voyeuristic I was able to publicly display aspects of life to others.
Mark Robbiins Mark Robbins
Utopian Prospect Utopian Prospect
Installation, bricks, wood, steel Installation, bricks, wood, steel
Betsky, A 1997, Queer space: architecture and same-sex desire, William Morrow & Co: New York.
Colomina, B 1996, Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture as Mass Media, MIT Press: Cambridge, Mass.
Friedman, TA 1996, ‘Domestic Differences: Edith Farnsworth, Mies van der Rohe, and the Gendered Body’, in Reed, C (ed.) 1996, Not At Home: The Suppression of Domesticity in Modern Architecture, Thames & Hudson: London.
Friedman, TA 2006, Women and the Making of the Modern Home; A Social and Architectural History, Harry N. Abrams, Inc, New York.
Isenstadt, S 2006, The Modern American House: Spaciousness and Middle Class Identity, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge; New York.
Island, D and Letellier, P 1991, Men Who Beat the Men Who Love Them: Battered Gay Men and Domestic Violence, Harrington Park Press, New York.
Reed, C (ed.) 1996, Not at Home: The Suppression of Domesticity in Modern Architecture, Thames & Hudson: London.
Robbins, M 1992, Angles of Incidence, Princeton Architectural Press Inc: New York.
Sanders, J 2004, Joel Sanders: Writings and Projects, Monacelli Press: New York.
Spector, N 1995, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Guggenheim Museum: New York.
Vandenberg, M 2003, Farnsworth House: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Phaidon Press: London.
Chapters of books
Myslik, DW 1996, ‘Renegotiating the Social/Sexual Identities of Places: Gay communities as safe havens or sites of resistance?’, in Duncan, N (ed.), Bodyspace, Destabilizing geographies of gender and sexuality, Routledge.,
Phillips, PC 1992, ‘Prospect for Architecture,’ in Robbins, M (ed.), Angles of Incidence, Princeton Architectural Press Inc.
Collins, G 1990, Portraitist’s Romp Through Art History, New York Times, viewed 2 March 2009, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE6D6113AF932A35751C0A966958260
Sydney eScholarship Repository 2008, University of Sydney Library, viewed 16 December 2008, http://ses.library.usyd.edu.au/handle/2123/3815
Gray, B 2005, There’s no Pride in Domestic Violence: Gay and Lesbian Community Awareness Campaign, viewed 28 May 2008, http://www.glhv.org.au/node/199
Philip Johnson 2005, Telegraph.com.uk, viewed 16 December 2008, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1482161/Philip-Johnson.html
Vickers, L 1996, The Second Closet: Domestic Violence in Lesbian and Gay Relationships: A Western Australian Perspective, E LAW: Murdoch University Electronic Journal of Law, viewed 28 May 2008, http://www.murdoch.edu.au/elaw/issues/v3n4/vickers.html
The Picture Window. Privacy Vs Publicity
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Philip Johnson proposed buildings intended for an ordered, structured life and a site for contemplative viewing. To achieve this large picture windows were designed and constructed that enabled their interiors to be placed on public display.
1. Le Cobusier 2. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
Villa Savoye Farnsworth House
Poissy-sur-Seine, France. 1928–31 Plano, Illinois, USA. 1945-51
3. Philip Johnson
New Canaan, Connecticut, USA
The use of the picture window in Farnsworth House, Villa Savoye and Glass House changed the way one operates in these domestic spaces. In Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture and the Mass Media, Colomina argues that:
Le Corbusier’s basic definition of the primordial idea of the house – ‘the house is a shelter, an enclosed space, which affords protection against cold, heat and outside observation’ – would have been common-place if it had not included the question of view. Seeing, for Le Corbusier, is the primordial activity in the house. The house is a device to see the world, a mechanism of viewing. Shelter, separation from the outside, is provided by the window’s ability to turn the threatening world outside the house into a reassuring picture. The inhabitant is enveloped, wrapped, protected by the pictures. (Colomina 1996, p. 7)
This reconfiguration of the house went hand in hand with changes in construction. Before the development of new building technologies and construction materials in the early twentieth-century the wall was integral in supporting the bearing load of a building. With the development of steel and the availability of large sheets of glass, the material used to construct a wall changed. Steel frames could now take the bearing load of ceilings and upper floors. Architects began to make use of large sheets of glass that opened up the outside world to the inside of the structure and in turn this created large picture windows where one could view the ever changing outside world from the safety of the interior.
The term ‘picture window’ gradually developed in the early twentieth century along with the advances in glass production. According to Isenstadt:
Defined as both a window and a view beyond it, and latent for ages before, the modern form of the picture window emerged in the 1930s from the intersection of nineteenth-century discussions of spatial perception in the home, visual relations with landscape, commercial interests of window makers, class ambitions of homeowners, and formal traits and explicit tenets of modern architecture. (Isenstadt 2006, p. 179)
Repeated use of the term ‘picture window’ in advertising campaigns by the Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass Company in the 1930s placed it in the American public consciousness. The picture window ‘signalled a modest domestic pastoralism: a humble home, a welcoming landscape, and a cosy fellowship between them’ (Isenstadt 2006, p. 179). The potential the picture window had to frame the outside view also allowed it to frame the activities of the interior.
Libbey Owens Ford Glass Co. Architect and Engineer. 1939
The vision that architects such as Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Johnson held in maintaining the importance of the picture window to frame the beauty of the landscape also allowed the publicity of ‘all that was banal, repressive, and self-deceptive’ (Isenstadt 2006, p. 180) in the interior of the domestic building.
Buildings such as Farnsworth House, Villa Savoye and Glass House employed the picture window to create interiors and exteriors that are never static. For the observer they are in constant motion. These architects wanted their structures to be part of nature, not separate from it. Mies stated in conversation with Christian Norberg-Schulz in 1958:
Nature, too, shall have its own life. We must beware not to disrupt it with the colour of our houses and interior fittings. Yet we should attempt to bring nature, houses and human beings together into a higher unity. If you view nature through the glass walls of Farnsworth House, it gains a more profound significance than if viewed from outside. This way more is said about nature – it becomes a part of the larger whole. (Mies cited in Friedman 1996)
The idea of the interior being seen while the occupant is observing that nature was not a consideration for Mies. This is due to the rural location of Farnsworth House and although these buildings were not located in urban settings the concepts relating to seeing and being seen not only altered the way we occupy these structures, but also altered the way we represent ourselves publicly in such structures.
In these architects’ transformation of the house, the picture window became the point through which the interior was on display to the outside world and the outside world viewed the interior. These windows created a frame for a series of images, or moving pictures that allowed access to the public world from the interior. As Colomina explains:
The window is not just a hole in the wall, it is the wall. The window is no longer a hole in a wall, it has taken over the wall … the modern transformation of the house produces a space defined by walls of (moving) images. This is the space of the media, of publicity. To be ‘inside’ this space is only to see. To be ‘outside’ is to be in the image, to be seen, whether in the press photograph, a magazine, a movie, on television, or at your window. (Colomina 1996, pp. 6-7)
The walls in these structures are no longer solid dividers between the outside and the inside. There is no sense of permanence about them. Hence the picture window becomes a series of pictures, a moving image that can change at any moment. It opens out to a world full of life that counteracts the immobile, ‘frozen’ interior.
 A Libbey-Owens-Ford advertisement in the January 1933 issue of Town and Country stated: ‘There is no sense of confinement in a room that has a Picture Window. Four walls no longer hem in the individual or the group that gathers there’.
Colomina, B 1996, Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture as Mass Media, MIT Press: Cambridge, Mass.
Colomina, B (ed.) 1992, Sexuality & Space, Princeton Architectural Press: New York.
Isenstadt, S 2006, The Modern American House: Spaciousness and Middle Class Identity, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge; New York.
Loos, A 1908, Ornament and Crime, Innsbruck, reprint Vienna, 1930.
Reed, C (ed.) 1996, Not at Home: The Suppression of Domesticity in Modern Architecture,Thames & Hudson: London.
Vandenberg, M 2003, Farnsworth House: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Phaidon Press: London.
Wigley, M 1995, White Walls, Designer Dresses: The Fashioning of Modern Architecture. MIT Press: Cambridge, Mass.
Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture as Mass Media2008, MIT Press, viewed 2 May 2008, http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?tid=6615&ttype=2