Tuesday, May 18, 2004

My Dad shared some stories of his childhood with me a few days ago, brief recollections of the simple pleasures of U.S. depression era fun and hijinks. Dad was born in 1920, and as a young boy would visit his cousins in Greenwood Lake, NJ during the summer. Dad's cousins were two brothers nicknamed Bud and Babe, and renowned for their mischievous plots. Their father (married to Dad's aunt Trina), Bill Connolly, owned a silk mill in Paterson, NJ, and the family was relatively affluent. Dad remembered they drove a snappy LeSalle sedan. One night while he was visiting, Bud and Babe asked him if he would like to get some sweet corn with them. When he responded yes, they let him in on their plan to steal the corn from a local farmer. They set out into the night, sneaking into the corn rows and stuffing ears of corn into a sack while the farmer's dogs bayed across the fields at them. After making their escape, the three built a bonfire in the woods to roast the ears of corn and feasted like a band of pirates fresh from the plunder.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

The new MIT center for Computer Science and AI Studies , designed by Frank Gehry, strongly demonstrates key Situationist architectural objectives. Gehry's intent and/or the reported effect of the center on its current occupants, as reported by the NY Times article referenced above, is to foment creativity/interaction/free play and allow modification by its occupants. The following are quotes:

"Charles M. Vest, the institute's president, sees it as "a toy box at dawn," ready for the kids to play with." (The article also describes the building as similar to a medieval hill town.)

"The lack of an interior grid....is part of Mr. Gehry's and the institute's plan to spark creative combustion by encouraging the building's occupants to bump into one another."

And in response to one detractor...."This is the sort of thing Mr. Gehry said he was hoping would happen: that the occupants would adapt the building to their needs. He has even supplied movable plywood partitions."

The central concepts -- an architecture that encourages its inhabitants to interact, to bump into one another, that includes movable partitions so that its interior is dynamic and its ambiances ever-changing, that is evocative of a medieval town (medieval towns were built to accommodate humans that travel on foot, interacting and conversing, as opposed to modern developments built around automobile traffic) comport totally with Situationist proposals embodied in the writings of Constant and others. I hope that some follow-up reporting is undertaken to investigate the outcome of this experiment.

Friday, May 07, 2004

May 2004 is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Salvador Dali, and I've been coincidentally immersed in books written and illustrated by Dali. A few months ago, my attention was ensnared by two Dali first editions at a preview for an art and antiques auction. They were copies of The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, a Dali autobiography, and Fantastic Memories by Maurice Sandoz, an edition illustrated by Dali. The dust jackets and illustrations were hypnotic and hallucinatory, and the summary of Sandoz's book promised that it was a collection of "true" tales of the supernatural, macabre experiences, overpowering deja vu, and so on. I didn't feel like ponying up the cash for the first editions (each book sold for well over $100) but I was set on obtaining some reading copies. I found that Dover publishes a neat little trade paperback facsimile edition of The Secret Life and I've almost completed it. This autobiography of Dali's first 40 or so years of life is a complete gem - a well-described slice of a truly idiosyncratic existence, narrated in a manner that is simultaneously tongue-in-cheek, self-aware, roguish, and megalomaniacal. Dali's recollections are vivid, confessional, and often hilarious - I had no idea I would enjoy the book so much. I only wish Dali had shared a little more about his early association with other surrealists, but I suspect that he tells us what we need to know most in describing their multi-day art college "benders." The book also suggests to me that Dali never forgot how to play, never lost touch with his mad, inner boy monarch, and that is a delight.