I'll Just Lay Here And Decay Here

Pok­ing around through back issues of Log a while ago, I found out that there was a name for what the folks in archi­tec­ture have been doing for the last few years in Knowl­ton Hall. Back in 2017, Michael Mered­ith had described this gen­er­al ten­den­cy – Insta­gram-ready, dom­i­nat­ed by gra­di­ents, gifs, gags – as being char­ac­ter­ized by indif­fer­ence.” Mered­ith described his own work with Hilary Sam­ple as MOS, along with var­i­ous younger prac­tices car­ried on by assis­tant pro­fes­sors and vis­it­ing crit­ics, as work­ing in a vein that is fun­da­men­tal­ly not impor­tant, that does not solve prob­lems, that does not even real­ly push any­thing for­ward. Rather than giv­ing a TED Talk or estab­lish­ing a bespoke lab” on cli­mate change, for exam­ple, MOS wastes time cat­a­loging scale fig­ures and man­u­fac­tur­ing soap false­ly attrib­uted to Lil­ly Reich. At most, they rouse them­selves to craft­ing awk­ward lit­tle hous­es for clients to plunk on prop­er­ties in the mid­dle of nowhere.

Let’s be clear: with the time they save not wor­ry­ing about ethics, MOS and their cohort are able to make things that are tru­ly and deeply won­der­ful. They hap­pen to be things that seem to have the poten­tial to actu­al­ly excite young peo­ple about archi­tec­ture, since their weird­ness actu­al­ly con­vers­es with the mate­r­i­al and dig­i­tal weird­ness of the broad­er world of things – lit­tle apps, lit­tle pam­phlets, lit­tle plas­tic fig­urines. That being the case, indif­fer­ence” as a tag seems exact­ly wrong to me; they are in love with their world of things, to the exclu­sion of engag­ing with the social and eco­log­i­cal ener­gies that tie that world together.

Per­haps to that point: ear­li­er this year on Insta­gram, Mered­ith was back on the man­i­festo horse, except now the con­cept had become dumb archi­tec­ture. The ini­tial round of respons­es: I feel this from the very bot­tom of my heart” (3 likes), THE IRONY” (4 likes), a longer rebuke for using ableist lan­guage (“Hop­ing we’ve all learned by now that jokey’ big­otry is still big­otry,” 18 likes), Fuck­ing Hell Amer­i­ca is a mess” (28 likes), a stray cho­rus of clap­ping hands, wouldn’t‑you-says, and caught-you-outs. From Fred Schar­men: Is this real­ly the best time for this?” (8 likes)

Meredith’s mus­ings about going to ground, hav­ing a pri­vate dis­cus­sion, evad­ing the trou­ble over­head, match­es rum­blings I’ve heard around these parts about jus­ti­fy­ing a tenure case by par­tic­i­pa­tion in a small cir­cle of dis­course. In an unchar­i­ta­ble mood, I’d say that it looks as though every­one pushed off a round­table or a lec­ture series by a woman of col­or was tak­ing his prover­bial ball home. After all, who is it who gets to prof­it and advance through par­tic­i­pat­ing in a small cir­cle of friends?

To that point, it is telling that Meredith’s accep­tance of non­de­sign: the banal, gener­ic, and uno­rig­i­nal; the weak; the antidra­mat­ic” can only be jus­ti­fied through kin­ship with what he sees in a cer­tain group of 1950s artists: a games­man­ship with con­ven­tions, tech­niques, and his­to­ry.” That is, they proved their belong­ing, and their wor­thi­ness to prof­it, through gen­u­flect­ing to estab­lished cul­ture; a ges­ture Mered­ith repeats. 

Mered­ith sees such artists, hav­ing been faced with soci­etal intol­er­ance and repres­sion, as chart­ing a com­fort­able mid­dle path between overzeal­ous con­vic­tion” (“‘jokey’ big­otry is still big­otry”) and embit­tered pas­siv­i­ty” (“THE IRONY”). Like Rauschen­berg or Cage, Meredith’s school of indif­fer­ents are true spec­u­la­tive real­ists: they want to ren­der the world in front of them, because they love the world in front of them. Who could object to Rauschen­berg or Cage? Look­ing back, they don’t seem checked out; they did things worth doing. But indif­fer­ence in archi­tects seems impos­si­ble not to read as guilt; we could oth­er­wise accom­plish some­thing, except that we don’t care to.

Since it’s been three years since some­one fired the start­ing pis­tol, who will vol­un­teer to do indif­fer­ent land­scape? Why not me? It would be a great relief to be indif­fer­ent. I already do gifs and gags and I know well enough how to make gra­di­ents in Illus­tra­tor. I wouldn’t have to pre­tend to be inter­est­ed in what I’m real­ly not. (Mered­ith is very insis­tent that you can leave sun angles out alto­geth­er, which works for me since I’ve nev­er liked doing those.) If I do not both­er to be indif­fer­ent, it would be in the cer­tain­ty, in the con­vic­tion, that my own indif­fer­ence would be mir­rored by the world back at me.

(April 2020)