July 18, 2017


This Is Your Brain on Architecture
This article, an interview by Amanda Kolson Hurley of Sarah Williams Goldhagen about her recent book about how architecture is experienced. She describes how recent scientific explorations into embodied cognition reinforce a conception about architecture once trafficked by luminaries such as Louis Kahn and Alvar Aalto, a perspective that has been buried in recent years in the academy by Critical Theory and its' variants.

I pin/pen this note for the sympathetic resemblance to an agenda that drove my painting over the years. The bridge between painting and architecture in my work is not a coincidence. Snipped quotes and commentary follow:

1. Architects tend, particularly with parametric design, to emphasize overall aggregate form, and all that other stuff gets filled in later. And then, very often, it's value-engineered out. That's what's creating a lot of the impoverishment in the environment. To have "sticky" places--places that engage you, your sensory system, your motor system, [and] help you create a sense of identification with [them]--you have to have all those things, and most buildings don't.

When you read parametric design, think computers and their influence on creative culture. When something is drawn (or otherwise created), it can be recreated endlessly via cut/copy and paste. Collage ruled in previous epochs of art history and is now in its' glory in this era. Sharp scissors and sticky glue have now dissolved into fingertips playing keyboards. What drops out is specific sensibility when we had dispensed with the slowness and dexterity required to fragment an image and add it to another.

Think also, of the effect of the parametric era, of the information age. The fungibility of analog to digital was also the seduction of lived reality to a virtual doppelgänger. It is amazing that we can be simultaneously cognizant and forgetful of this phenomenon. Well digested in pop culture -to toss an example such as the old cartoon Calvin and Hobbes- and yet we love to become lost in the pretense that the former can be replaced by the latter. For example, witness the ease that we engage in online trolling, forgetting about the ease of cruelty that results from the distance between face to face interaction and textual interchange. To connect all of this to our art world, I credit the clairvoyant work of Sol LeWitt and his generation, who anticipated without calculation the Information Age by reducing art to a set of instructions. I also recall Clement Greenberg as a precursor, who famously (and perhaps inadvertently) reduced painting to surface effect, the purity of visuality. The cautionary tale I am weaving here also extends to the rudderless state that the art world is stuck at this historical moment. We have been delivered downstream of art history into a spreading delta as wide as it is shallow. The popular coinage of "Zombie Art" is a signal of the extents of our current situation.

2. Another thing is differentiated, non-repetitive surfaces.

Repetition is the glory of the virtual collage of cut and paste culture. The detection of repetition is what betrays the photo shopped image. Subtlety and a short attention span is the only way a glitch can hide. Our real world is endlessly differentiated. The information encoded in gene sequences are thrown to chance combinations in an interaction with the environment, with specific indigenous circumstances with which they must be reconciled.
3. ...cognition is embodied...

Even if Duchamp knew at the famous moment when he disparaged "retinal art" that he was invoking an artifice of argument, many who trailed in his legacy took this construction as a truism, an article of faith. Few of stature since the art world bothered to question the rigid mind-body dualism invoked, the Descartian split that had so confounded the world, a fevered dream of ghosts haunting machines. Simple reflection and elementary biology shows that the eye is the mind, that the mind traffics along nerves to the extremities of our limbs. More than that, the haptic information we green from handling our tools extends our sense to the extremities of the tools. The artifice of Duchamp's argument had to elide all of this, and more: the truth that the mind and the world are actually more of one than twain.
4. ...in the academy, the effect of poststructuralism and identity politics has been to hammer into people's heads the notion of cultural relativism: "You can't possibly say things about how people experience the world because it's all culturally constructed, socially constructed; it differs by gender, by locale." And so the other dimension was that talking about individual experience, even if it's related to social experience, but from an embodied-cognition point of view, meant that you were apolitical. Because you were talking about something very subjective and individual. So it was kind of forbidden territory...

...This book basically started with an essay on Alvar Aalto and embodied cognition and metaphors, in a book edited by Stanford Anderson. I presented this when I was still teaching at Harvard, and people went nuts. They just went crazy. "Wait a minute, you're making all these universalist claims!"

..So there isn't this opposition between looking at it as a social construct versus experiential construct. It's all the same thing. It's a continuum.

Just who coined the phrase? "Truth is like gold, you can't bury it forever."

But we know who it was who famously asked: "What is truth?

Posted by Dennis at July 18, 2017 6:54 AM

1 Comment


I have a 2000 work of yours titled 'Guardian' that belonged to a dear friend. I am charged with selling this piece for the estate and wondered what the valuation might be today as well as if you would have any gallery owners that represent your work that might be interested. I can send you a picture if you don't have one for easier recollection. Oil on canvas on wood. (72" x 64" La Serre 13530 Trets France )
many thanks and wowed by the body of work I am seeing.

Best Regards,
Kristine Lang

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