Category: architecture

We’ll be closing the JuiceTorrent service…

Sadly… we’ll have to do it. We were not able to jump start the service in a meaningful way.

We should have formulated the service and the value proposition in much, much simpler way… starting perhaps with an API only. But we did not have the energy, resources, and perhaps the smarts, to do it.

I already removed the JT widget from this blog. Consider doing the same if you happen to have it on your blog.

I still believe that we’ll see some implementation of the JT basic idea. Google Adsense could do it in a heartbeat. But they don’t seem to listen to me.

Read more about the JuiceTorrent idea here.

Personal Media = Personal Control Over Ad Revenue

A flurry of stuff in last few days about media, news, web links, news, revenue models, etc:

Here is about who owns what (control)… and gets what (revenue)… in the new world of web-mediated media.

Here is about new media companies not being able to monetize through advertising:

Here is about “Models for Preserving American Journalism”:

Here is what Craig Newmark sees as one of the pillars of trust:

“…a clear separation between reporting and financial needs.”

And something Fred Wilson says:

“If you are a content owner, the front door to your content has moved to a place you don’t control.”

Notice the common thread – separation – of:

  1. Content from revenue
  2. Content from consumption

Now, after having done my “selecting” and “linking” – here is what I think.

  1. The link economy is here to stay. Linking (along with selecting) are the two (yes, only two) basic generative mechanism of all we humans do.
  2. The current business of aggregating will also lose – to end users – the function and value of “selecting” and “linking” it now offers.
  3. Offering of infrastructure for “selecting” and “linking” will be the only business left – with a relatively diminished role in the processes of connecting production with consumption (compared to old media).
  4. End users will own and control the bulk of the media space – think of all kinds of personal (web-enabled) interfaces – blogs, microblogs, start pages, streaming services – that’s where most of the “selecting” and “linking” will be happening. That’s where most of the programming will be happening. That’s where most of the context creation will be happening. That’s where most of the content creation will be happening. That’s where most of the media consumption will be happening.
  5. We (as content consumers) will have full control over how, where, when, and what of our own consumption. We will be doing the bundling (classifieds no more supporting the news reporting, OK?).
  6. We (as content creators) will lose control over how, where, when, and what others consume.

The revenue model for content creators will change – from transactional “paying” to relationship-based “giving”. Yes, sounds like NPR – however, we will not need NPR – it will be more like PPR – where “National” is replaced by “Personal”. Remember the infrastructure of “selecting/linking”…

Just some thoughts… no real ending, sorry.

What To Do About Contextual Ad Blunders – “Opinion-Based” Advertising

I blog about the elections – meaning my support for Obama – only to get ads from McCain’s campaign right there with my post. Bummer.

The current capability in Google AdSense to block specific domains from serving ads is not practical in so many ways.

Here is an idea – a (self-service) positioning matrix… that could be implemented by contextual ad services like Google Adwords/AdSense. Here is how this might work:

  1. Start a list of hot topics/issues (crowdsource the list)
  2. Let publishers (in AdSense) browse/search the list, look up the topics/issues of concern to them and position themselves along dimensions like “love/hate,” “for/against,” “approve/disapprove,” etc…
  3. Let advertisers (in Adwords) do the same.

The result:

  1. Ads matching the attitudes of publishers and their audiences
  2. Possibility for advertisers to differentiate between “converted” and “non-converted” audiences… and eventually try to selectively engage those who admittedly don’t like their message/product/cause. Something like – “We know many people don’t like {whatever}. But we work hard to change this. Gives us a chance.”

UPDATE (March 2009):

Google introduces “interest-based” advertising… good, but still missing the point of “opinion-based” advertising.

May be I should start a category “free ideas to Google” … here is another one…

Ads On This Blog… And JuiceTorrent

Here is what Fred Wilson says back in June 2006 in a post on his blog titled “Ads on this blog“…

“I don’t like leaving money on the table. This blog does around 2 million page views per year on the web and another million plus views in my feed.

Those page views are worth real money and while I don’t need it, someone does.


I hope to generate $40,000 this year to charity with this blog. I am certain I’ll generate at least $25,000.

That’s real money that will get a tribeswoman in Africa a cell phone or a underprivileged child a scholarship.

So that’s why I run ads on this blog. I hope you agree that its a good cause…”

Fred is a “star” blogger with a big audience. So he makes a meaningful chunk of money (let’s say $36,000) to donate at the end of the year to charities.

Now… let’s assume that a typical unknown blogger could make an average of $12/year (that’s $1/month) in ad revenue from AdSense.

You’d have to put 3,000 such bloggers together to achieve what Fred does with his blog in terms of ad revenue. And you’d have to wait over 8 years before Google releases the $100 min checks to each of these bloggers… and you’d have to remind these bloggers and their audiences that the money was intended for charity. Not very practical… nobody does it.

Enter JuiceTorrent (see the JT widget in left column of this page)

With JuiceTorrent, 3,000 regular (non-star) bloggers (like me and most of you) can create and maintain a monthly revenue “torrent” of $3,000 flowing directly into the account of a charity… or multiple charities. No waiting for months or years, no writing of checks, no “donation” accounting (who cares about a receipt for a $12 yearly donation anyway). Added benefit – being part of an online community of supporters and actively promoting the causes you care about.

Without JuiceTorrent – we leave money on the table. With JuiceTorrent – we can pay for a scholarship for an underprivileged child. All it takes is embedding a few snippets of code on our blogs.

Personal notes:

  • I really, really can’t care less about the aesthetic implications of having ads on my blog (JuiceTorrent is set for now to serve text ads only though). Looking “sleek,” “clean,” or “non-commercial” (read “anti-commercial”) somehow doesn’t make it even close to the top of my priorities. Finding new ways to make the web meaningfully social does.
  • I don’t want to wait for the “ad-free” web of the future that may come or may not come about any time soon. If NPR and WGBH can put car dealers’ ads on their websites – for a good cause – so can I.

Read more about JuiceTorrent:

JuiceTorrent Is On!!!

JuiceTorrent Diagram

The points about JuiceTorrent:

  1. Gives organizations and individuals (we call them JT stars) the possibility to start their own self-expanding ad networks through the blogs and websites of their fans and supporters.
  2. Gives people (fans and supporters) an easy way to start and manage micro-streams of ad revenue from their own blogs and websites – and join them into meaningful “torrents” going directly to entities (JT stars) they choose to support.
  3. Gives the JT stars a fast and easy way to plug into and test/compare contextual ad markets (Google AdSense, YPN) without the hassle of changing ad code and micromanaging ad placement.
  4. Makes (ad)sense out of the largely unused micro-pools of ad space controlled by the new class of (personal) media owners and publishers – “the people formerly known as the audience.”
  5. Creates a new category of social vectors across the online identities of people and organizations – adding the moral and material dimension of “supporting” to the existing “linking,” “friending,” “visiting,”and “following.”
  6. Separates “utility” advertising from “high quality” content while keeping the economic link between them. Mortgage ads on my blog where I rant about home prices will support the independent star blogger/journalist/artist I admire and read daily… or the Red Cross… or both. JT “stars” can stay as high minded, ad free, and/or commercially non-viable as they wish – while the ads on my blog can be trivial, pedestrian, useful, and indeed effective.
  7. Gives musicians a possibility to establish ongoing flows of exchange – streaming music for streaming support – as opposed to the discreet consumption/transaction models of the industrial era past.

We are now actively looking for candidates for JT stardom – nonprofits, star-bloggers, musicians – to start them up with JuiceTorrent.

Please, contact me – in comments here… or by email (emil at sotirov dot com).

JuiceTorrent… Make Your Own Ad Network

First, let me state the obvious: all I do – is co-doing… with my partners, team, my wife and the people I meet, read, and follow. This post was, in fact, suggested by one of my partners. So here it is…

December 1991 – I write (in this paper) that “There is no … author/audience … no text, but always, and only, a con-text.” Seventeen years later (July 2008) – Umair Haque is almost there (with this strategy note)… by telling us “There is No Consumer” and by suggesting UGC should, in fact, mean “User Generated Context.”

April 2005 – I co-found Aidpage Inc ( – with the tag line “People Helping People.” Three years later (July 2008) – a Deloitte study (by Beeline) concludes: “The tribalization of business is all about ‘People Helping People.'”

March 2007 – I co-found People Networks Inc. About a year later (February 2008) – Dave Morgan, founder of Real Media and TACODA (acquired by AOL in July 2007), says – in a post titled “The Future: People Networks” – “To me, it’s all about the growing role of “people networks“… promptly followed by AOL announcing (May 2008) the creation of a new business unit called “People Networks.”

Currently – we work on a web service called JuiceTorrent with a tag line “Create Your Own Ad Network.”

New Tagging Service from Google

I want such a service. Google should offer such a service.

Give me a feed of keywords from your search index corresponding to the page I serve… so I can display them as a cloud of “search tags” … working as predefined automated searches.

A few days ago I was reading/commenting a post on A VC’s blog – where Fred Wilson talks about his “learning from Flickr.” The last of his ten points caught my attention: “Machine tagging (autotagging) is the next big thing in web 2.0.”

My first reaction was – what’s the big deal about machine tagging – thinking about some sort of automated tag extraction at the moment of inputting a piece of content into a system – how would that be much different from semantic search engine indexing?

Only later did I realize that Fred had in mind – mostly, it seems – the behavioral tagging occurring when a site records and displays user gestures in context – ala Amazon’s “customers who viewed this… also viewed…”

But misunderstanding being often the way of creative thinking – the idea came to me about a new type of web service from the likes of Google.

Why not have Google’s index out in the open, on my web pages – as a contextualized self-updating interface to related content – perfectly in synch with our common AdSense based interests. A simple click on a “related” keyword (close to the main content) is 10 times (my educated guess) easier than having to come up with good search words (too much thinking) and typing them into a search box (too much work) somewhere else on the page.

Web links are THE web interface… not search boxes.

We had “aidjumps” (my partner Ivan coined the term) on Aidpage since the very beginning in 2004. We would take user created tags and offer them also as preset Google searches. (We had to take these “aidjumps” down because of a conflict with the AdSense terms of service. For another unrelated reason, you won’t even see tags now on Aidpage… we’re working on a major upgrade.)

The idea is that Google may offer such a free web service to anybody quite easily – as an additional discovery interface. In a way, it sounds fair – I allow Google to index my pages but I want Google to give me back the results of the indexing – as tags that I can put back on my pages.

The whole Google index returned back to the periphery… exposed in the original contexts from which it was extracted… feeding back traffic to Google. Each such tag is an immediate Google search… much easier than using a search box… sending people to Google search results – what could be better for Google, or for any search engine for that matter.

People tend to forget that Google’s engine is not some sort of a super smart AI based meaning extraction machine. The smart thing about Google’s search engine was always the relatively simple recording and computing of the original human social gestures on the web (a.k.a. web links). Web links are the original social bookmarks too. It is this early social Web2.0 thing inside Google that made Google great… and hugely profitable.

Add to this the personal bookmarks Google now collects through their toolbar…

So, if Google’s greatness relies mostly on the social and personal bookmarks collected from my web pages and my browser, why wouldn’t Google give me back free RSS feeds of my tag clouds – on my web pages, my browser, my RSS reader…

I want to know what Google knows – immediately – without the cumbersome search box between us.

The exploration/discovery experience would gain much if we combine user generated tags (author self-tagging + social bookmarking), local behavioral tags (footprints, etc), and search tags from the likes of Google with their machine power and global view of the web.

UPDATE (October 2009):

Well… Google just did what I suggested here almost three years ago – see Google Related Pages and Search Words.

Thank you Google… 🙂

CORANTE Symposium on Social Architecture at Harvard University

Yes, I was there… and I am definitely a smarter person now.

Here is a thing David Weinberger said about hierarchies in general (and that would be my modest blogging of the symposium):

“The pyramid brings out the worse in people.”

Since I am not a real blogger (I write and type slowly)… here are some links:

Thomas Kriese:
David Weinberger:
Network World:

From the Alertbox of You Know Who… Read It!

I always read Jacob Nielsen’s alerts… But this one is really important. It’s about the next step in the democratization of software interfaces. To put it shortly… using an analogy… if given a choice, most people wouldn’t cook their meals… they’d rather select them from a restaurant menu… with pictures… Sorry geeks… yeah… dumb users, what can you say… 🙂

Tales From The Web 2.0 Frontier… The Platform Thing

Richard McManus from ZDNet asks the question “What is a platform?“… under the general topic of “Tales From The Web 2.0 Frontier“… and finds good answers from Amazon’s Jeff Besos and Aidpage‘s Emil Sotirov (taken from a comment I made on Jeff Jarvis’ blog)… I like seeing Amazon and Aidpage in one paragraph.

Richard’s own blog is Read/WriteWeb.

Give a Platform to Your Customers and Let Them Talk

Consumer-generated media exceeds traditional advertising for influencing consumer behavior, finds Intelliseek study (via Emergence Marketing). Consumers are 50 percent more likely to be influenced by word-of-mouth recommendations from their peers than by radio/TV ads… see press release from Intelliseek.

Advertisers of the world… stop spending on “pushing” image and message… it doesn’t really work well anymore… in the near future it won’t work at all.

Invest in Aidpage instead… 🙂 … or in similar projects… Give a platform to your customers and let them write, talk, sing, make pictures. You don’t even have to be “creative”… let them be creative. Do not judge or mediate. Now, just imagine how will they think of you.

“Authorship” and “Mediation” – Battelle on Disintermediation in AdAge… and My Comments

Here are the self-explanatory title and subtitle: “ARE YOU BECOMING IRRELEVANT TO YOUR CUSTOMERS? Why Marketers, Agencies and Media Execs Need to Understand Disintermediation“. Here is a link to the full article (AdAge requires registration). Here is a link to John’s posting on his own SearchBlog.

Among the many good points by John or as he calls them “ground rules for media in a Web-dominated world“:

  • join the ‘point-to’ economy,
  • make your living in the long tail,
  • creative no longer driver,
  • writers go directly to readers,
  • rise of the new middlemen – meaning Yahoo, Google, IAC, etc.

I would like to comment though on something John says:

“Publishers are born connectors, they bring like-minded people together. They are also conversationalists of the first order. They foster the interaction between the three key parties in commercial media: the audience, the author/creator and the marketer. This facilitation is still very much needed. And as much as the folks at Google would beg to differ, when it comes to true value, nothing beats human communication. Figure out a way to be part of the conversation, and you will always prosper.”

I would question a basic assumption underlying the discussion – the “author-audience” relationship – as a given… as something that still needs facilitation by marketers – even in a conversational framework.

I would argue that – on a deeper cultural level – we live through (for quite some time already) a crisis of the idea of “creation” itself as a mode sustaining its terms: “author” and “audience“. Our culture is steadily re-telling the hierarchical “one-to-many” structures through “many-to-many” network models. In a conversation, we don’t really have a “teller” and an “audience.” Everybody is both “talking” and “listening” in a peer to peer environment.

So, what kind of mediation such a conversation needs. “Moderating” comes to mind… which may be as good as Ted Koppel’s televised town square meetings, but is that the conversation John is having in mind? Ted will be retiring soon.

Then, there is the “creative” in the “mediation” business itself. Once you are “creative”, you stop being “part of the conversation” – you try to take “the center” of it. And this, again, reminds me somewhat of Ted sitting pretty on a high chair.

My point being… I am not sure that “authorship” and “mediation” are sustainable values in the context of a real non-moderated conversation.

Comments on Stephen Baker’s "How to appeal to non-bloggers? Think virus wikis"

In a recent blog post, Stephen Baker writes:

    I’ve tried to interest my wife, for example, in our local Montclair, NJ, blog, baristanet. She’ll use it for movie schedules but has no interest in reading or writing comments (and has trouble understanding why anyone would).

So true… Yes, most people seemingly are not inclined to be active media producers or actors. Most of us prefer the “one-click” media engagement. Click – your TV is on; click – look at your new picture; click – go from this web page to that web page.

Most people will not learn the “blog speak”. How about “trackbacks”… Oh, yes… these are links to somewhere on the Web where somebody already said something about what you read here. And this is supposedly happening automatically. For example, I am writing this post hoping for a “trackback” to appear on Stephen Baker’s blog linking back to this post right here – automatically – because I’m linking my post here – back to his original post there. How about easy to imagine… Not to mention “rss”, “pings”, “tagging”, and other similar nerd niceties. Not enticing for most normal people.

And what’s all the fuss about “blog this”, “blog that”… I still cannot get it. How in the world bloggers see each other on the web. It’s not obvious at all. There are the links in the side bar… and in the text itself… true. But how do you easily put these links there. As obscure as any old-fashioned DHTML/Javascript coding. My guess is – bloggers see each other on CNN, may be on Google, locally everywhere in SF, and on Web 2.0 conferences.

And… where is the information? As Stephen Baker points out:

    …it will take new types of blogs to broaden the appeal. They’ll function as tools, and will feed less from comments to other types of input. One example is this new virus wiki (from Ross Mayfield). Here users create the value by contributing data. It’s promises clear value, even for the comment averse.

Yes, most blog posts are comments about other blog posts that are comments on something already produced on old fashioned web sites, TV, or newspapers. There is no much hard data on blogs. But this is to be expected from a publishing format that thrives on quick “real time” typing done by people with other day-time jobs.

And yet… and yet… people can be surprisingly prolific in writing and reacting when faced with serious issues – like personal physical or financial survival, choosing between Kerry and Bush, or more recently – the incredible wave of Internet activity for the tsunami disaster. So, here is a point I want to emphasize – the issues. And then again… the large amounts of useful information.

And here comes the plug – AidPage. How is AidPage relevant? Read my recent posts about AidPage.

Update (July 8, 2005): Turns out Blogger does not support trackbacking yet. No hope for an automatic trackback appearing on Steve Baker’s original post. I did an old fashioned comment there referring back to here… 🙂

Have Syke and Bod – Will Compute. The Near Future of Personal Computing.

About the wanna-be-buzz words

“Syke” I derived from “psyche” and is pronounced the same way. “Bod” is simply an obscure (at least for those of us non-natives) English word for “body”. You be the judge of my marketing lingo creativity.


My syke is my digital “soul.” My syke is everything digital I own – identity, profiles, operating system, applications, configurations, preferences, and data.


A bod is a digital “body” – a computer with processing and storage capabilities. Bods are as small as to be easily portable in bags and even pockets, interchangeable, cheap, and retailed as widely as batteries. I need a bod to run my syke.

Periphery (display, input devices, etc) is like furniture. I expect to find periphery everywhere (including in cars, planes) – the same way I expect to find chairs when I enter a room. I just “plug” (wirelessly, of course) my bod and start using my syke.

All I have to carry is my bod. Not that I couldn’t use another one, but at least for the foreseeable future it will still be somewhat inconvenient to download a whole syke. A syke could be many, many gigabytes.


Instances of my syke are stored in (1) my bod and in (2) a secure digital bank. Whenever I connect to the Net, my syke is synchronized.

I am the only person that can start and run my syke – the bod recognizes me via some bio stuff (finger, eye, dna, etc…). Forget passwords… don’t need them. Criminals need my bio body to crack my syke – nothing new about this. There’s a long tradition in bio body protection – it’s not a computer problem.

That’s it.

Ah… one last thing. For those of you who pretend doing something with a computer outdoors… just wait for the cool periphery coming: clothes with keyboards “painted” on them, sunglasses with microdisplays, and other such stuff.

I’m not a computer scientist. I’m simply a knowledgeable present day computer user (“user” here is very close to being a euphemism for “slave”).

Update January 2010… five years later:

Just saw a good anti-Apple essay by Paul Graham from November 2009 in which he writes:

“Could anyone make a device that you’d carry around in your pocket like a phone, and yet would also work as a development machine? It’s hard to imagine what it would look like.”

And then Paul goes on by putting out an RFS (Request for Solution) on Y Combinator:

“There seems a reasonable chance that handheld devices will displace laptops as development machines in the same way that laptops displaced desktops… Maybe you’d have to make significant innovations in input and display devices. The real test is whether you can create an acceptable development environment on something small enough that you’d be willing to use it as a phone. Whatever the solution turned out to be, the result would end up being useful to more than just developers.”

Anti-Architecture Manifesto

illustration by E.S.

Why Useless Architecture

If architecture is “locked” in the “universal chain” of mutual “exploitation” and “channeling” of human life – where every human practice is used for another practice’s goals – perpetuating, in this way, the general condition of instrumentality (nothing is important, including humans, because everything is instrumental), Useless Architecture would give presence to that suppressed human need to be loved for what you are, and not for what you perform. Everybody knows that need.

Design a house without interior space. Or, design the ruins of a building whose original function you do not know. Or, design a small summer house for a Parisian clochard – situated on the sidewalk of a small Parisian street or square. Do not try to meet any of his needs. In summer, he does not need a house at all. Use your professional architectural knowledge to give his life presence.

Why Destructured Architecture

If formal order, structural stability, and durability of buildings are established as architectural metaphors of institutional order, stability of power systems, and durability of ideologies, then, perhaps, Destructured Architecture would give presence to the basic human need for transcendence of given establishments, conditions, or constraints. To deconstruct a structure is a pleasure. Every child knows that.

Think of an institution or people you do not particularly like. Then, design for “them” a “shelter” that, while still standing, would really be “mature” for structural and formal disintegration, and would very clearly express that condition. Use your professional knowledge of formal order and structures the way a criminal with a medical degree would use a scalpel. Prepare a model and test/taste its tendency for formal and structural disintegration.

Why Ugly Architecture

If architecture is embodiment, expression, or a presence of human values, then, we could imagine appreciating Ugly Architecture the way we value people for courage, honesty, sensibility, and intelligence – and not necessarily for beautiful appearance. Designing Ugly Architecture would, perhaps, open our eyes wider to aspects of human existence beyond appearance.

Try to discern and describe for yourself what “ugliness” in architecture would be. Then, design an “ugly” house for your best friend. Observe the relief of not having to make the house “beautiful”. There is also, in your friend, an “embarrassed”, “poor”, “alienated” side that you, as a friend, see and understand. Give presence to that side too.

If you really like an exercise – repeat it.

Original title:
On the Need to Design Useless, Destructured, and Ugly Architecture
Published in: Dimensions, no 7 (1993), 70-71
Journal of Architecture at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Aditya Dev Sood (Editor of Dimensions at that time) called my article “The Anti-Architecture Manifesto.”

See related:
Discipline vs. “Field” Discourse

Discipline vs. “Field” Discourse

The original rather pretentious title (I was young then) was:
Towards An Old/New Way of Thinking, Writing, Designing…
(written in 1991 for one of my Ph.D. courses at the University of Michigan)

…the validity, usefulness, adequacy of popular standards can be tested by research that
violates them…

— Paul Feyerabend

illustration by E.S.


Stumbling. However, quite revealing as experience – in Professor Senkevitch’s class on “Thresholds of Architectural Thought…” students have to read the original writings of “well-known” theoreticians – Vitruvius, Alberti, Laugier, Sullivan.

Original writings turn out to be long, complex, unclear, and sinuous – compared to the “well-known, clear, concise, and straightforward” ideas-principles ascribed to these authors by the architectural discipline.

Let us consider Vitruvius. Here are some of my notes/questions/readings of/on/about him:

  • What we term “architectural order” seems to be only the external appearance of what Vitruvius contemplates as “proportions”. Here is what he writes: “Since the external appearance of the Corinthian, Doric, and Ionic proportions has now been described, it is necessary to explain the arrangements of the cella and the pronaos…” (Vitruvius, “The Ten Books…”).
  • Corinthian, Doric, and Ionic proportions (orders) are measurement systems embracing the whole temple – cella and ptera.
  • The ptera is only an “external appearance” (articulation) of the cella (body).
  • There is a chapter titled “Proportions of the Base, Capitals, and Entablature in the Ionic Order” (In Book III of “The Ten Books…”). It is about the ptera as a whole – and not about a separate column and its vertical articulation.
  • The measurements of columns and intercolumniations are, according to Vitruvius, work on the “high relief” of the temple… seen obviously as a sculptural whole.
  • For Vitruvius, the colonnade seems to be a sculptural form-articulation of the cella-body.
  • The columns are NOT structural elements for Vitruvius.
  • Through them, an “external appearance” is presented – uncovering the truth of the temple – its character.
  • Here is what George Hersey (1986) says: “When Vitruvius’ myths are analyzed, the origins of the Doric and Ionic orders impart gruesome lessons. They are tales of betrayal, enslavement, invasion, colonialism… Finally, practically all classical moldings are called after things used in catching and eating victims – human, animal, or vegetable – or after bits and pieces of the victims themselves… Moreover, he (Vitruvius) uses the word ‘entasis’ to describe the slight outward curvature in the silhouette of the Doric shaft, which means ‘tension, straining, exertion’ of the human body…
  • The Caryatides are “placed so as to carry a load” (Vitruvius). The “carrying of a load” in the position of a column is a metaphor only. Metaphor of sin, punishment, and sacrifice.

So, there is “content” in the architectural orders, largely unfamiliar to those trained in the discipline of architecture.

Still, the metaphor of “tension, straining, exertion” seems to be recovered as “mastery of structural forces”. The metaphor of “pro-portioning” (articulating a body in pieces according to sacred rules) is recovered as “mastery of formal order”, and the metaphor of “the entablature as a table of offerings” (Hersey) – recovered as “mastery of function”. Forms of a myth are resemanticized (in a sense and logic suggested by Olga Freidenberg, 1978) as structures of what we call discipline of architecture. Repeatedly recovered through the history of architecture as discipline, this cluster of mythical forms-themes is established as axiomatic structure of the architectural discourse.

In this way, the “origin” of architecture is re-covered/lost in principle for a thinking based on the discipline itself. And “origin”, in a historicist tradition like ours, means explanation and validation. This is why, paradoxically, disciplinary thinking in architecture is obsessed with an ever disappointing search for “primitive huts”, “origins”, “primary needs”, or “reasons”.

In fact, by writing his treatise, Vitruvius fixed the first (known to us) broad referring of the architectural practice to a set of “historical”, “socio-logical”, “psycho-logical”, and “techno-logical” “origins” and “reasons”. In this way, a disciplinary self-consciousness was defined by positing an “otherness”. Stanley Tigerman (1991):

Otherness: From generation to generation, it seems as though architects have been determined to define their craft through the examination of issues extrinsic to architecture. They seek definition in the consideration of function, structure, and stylistic referentiality rather than looking within architecture’s own precinct to discover what, if anything, constitutes its essence.

So, Tigerman is sup-posing an “essence” of architecture as opposed to its disciplinary “otherness”.

Now, it seems to me that, instead of opposing “essence” to “otherness”, we could see them both as “other”. I think that the architectural discipline cannot not look for the non-architectural “other” (Tigerman’s “otherness”) – as a substitute for an always re-covered/lost pre-architectural “other” (Hersey’s “content”).

The non-architectural is what the discipline is thinking, speaking, writing, and designing about. It is the “object” of the discipline as “seen” by the discipline. On the other hand, the pre-architectural is what the discipline cannot “see” (even less speak about) because of its own de-finition (conceptual closure). The disciplinary discourse was formed as to look “outward”. All the disciplinary metaphysics (theory) of architecture was “gathered” through looking at and interpreting of the “outside” – because of this inherent/inherited directedness of the discourse. Directedness “outward” paradoxically stemming out of continuing efforts to recover “essences”, “origins”, “disciplinary cores”.

The non-architectural consists of all traditional “objects” of the architectural discourse – structure, function, form, history, theory, practice, use, façade, plan, section, etc. The pre-architectural is analogous of what Julia Kristeva (1989) means by “semiotic imprints of an interchange with the other”. The pre-architectural is the “affective” experience of the profession – felt by architects and transmitted as the un-speakable and the un-thinkable of the discipline – the undefined “other” of the profession. Julia Kristeva (1989):

Westerners… are convinced they can convey the mother – they believe in her, to be sure, but in order to convey her, that is, to betray her, transpose her, be free of her. Such melancholy persons triumph over the sadness of being separated from the loved object through an unbelievable effort to master signs in order to have them correspond to (re-cover, E.S.) primal, unnameable, traumatic experiences…The initial belief in conveyance (recovery, E.S.) becomes changed into a belief in stylistic performance for which the near side of the text (the pre-architectural, E.S.), its other, primal as it might be, is less important than the success of the text itself…At the boundaries of emotion and action, writing (architecture, E.S.) comes into being only through the moment of the negation of the affect so that the effectiveness of the signs might be born. Writing (architecture, E.S.) causes the affect to slip into the effect – actus purus as Aquinas might say… From that moment on, the world of signs lays down its own logic. The jubilation it affords, that of performance as well as reception, intermittently erases the ideal as well as any possibility of external justice. Immoralism is the fate of that process…”

The architectural discipline is “locked” in a dramatic opposition whose terms are “re-covery” (repression) of the “inner” complexities and contradictions (semiotic imprints, Kristeva) and “mastery” (symbolic order, Kristeva) over the “outer” complexities and contradictions. The traditional directedness “outward” of the architectural discourse (having a hidden root “inward”) sanctions the axis of opposition – inward/outward. “Sacred”, serviced is only the closing, blinding, dividing, conflictual potential of the discourse.

Still, the pre-architectural somehow “shakes” and “nurtures” the disciplinary discourse from inside – making possible the architectural practice as well – as a continuing and necessary transcendence of the discipline. But how does this work?

Field Discourse

Here is an interesting parallel. A Russian author (Porshnev, 1974), writing on the origins of culture, speaks of the “absurd” as being the very foundation of our language, thinking, and social history. On that base, he elaborates: (the translation from Russian is mine, E.S.)

Normally, the absurd is presented as a non-fulfillment of logic’s conditions. What would be to reverse: logic – as a non-fulfillment of the conditions of the absurd… As conditions of the absurd, we could posit the opposites of the three basic laws of logic: (1) necessary polysemy of terms (ambiguity as minimum), (2) necessary contradiction, and (3) instead of “either-or” – “both-and”. Accordingly, we will have to see everything logical as a violation of these rules.

So… the parallel is with Robert Venturi – who, it turns out, also was speaking in “Complexity and Contradiction…” (1966) about rules of the absurd exactly in Porshnev’s sense – and about the need to respect them. Venturi contemplates the “complex” and “contradictory” ways architecture relates to people, cultural contexts, and its own history. But the idea is even older:

The Sophists… proposed a theory claiming that the world itself was in full motion and contradiction, and that consequently the motion of la langue was only corresponding to real mobility … language could not express anything fixed or stable, since it was in full motion itself.” (Kristeva, 1981)

Recent work of Venturi, Rauch, and Scott Brown is characterized by Alan Plattus (1990) as post-analytical, conversational:

…the Sainsbury Wing, for all its thoughtful consideration of the program and the site, is neither predicated upon nor predicted by any single model or method in the architectural arsenal unless it be that distinctly non-theoretical model of a conversation… the VRSB scheme does not hold up to a rigorously analytical interrogation. Indeed, I think anyone would agree that something else is going on in VRSB’s project – something largely incomprehensible, and certainly indigestible, from a strictly analytic point of view.

Frank Gehry’s architecture is discussed by Carol Burns (1990) as an example of topical (rhetorical) thinking and design. Burns takes the notion of topical thinking from David Leatherbarrow’s review (1988) of Donald Kunze’s book “Thought and Place: The Architecture of Eternal Places in the Philosophy of Giambattista Vico” (1987). In his review of Kunze’s book, Leatherbarrow discusses the liminality of topical thinking:

Liminality in Kunze’s book is the topic that directly links philosophical and architectural subjects; it is a sort of seam, joint, or knot. Architectural educators and practitioners know that these days this seam is torn. Students, not faculty, move between the departments of a school and the different subjects of a curriculum, and no one teaches both technology and theory! Likewise projects, not lectures, mediate between what can be envisaged and what can be built. The challenging difficulty of Kunze’s book is a result of its preoccupation with the ground between the separate territories of architectural knowledge, the space between “eidos and polis”, and “type and locus”, “discourse and nature”, “subjects and objects”, “transcendence and immanence”. At worst this is a space between, a gap, or a divide. Seen at its best, however, it is a figure between, a seam as I have said, a joint, or a knot. Understood in experience, such a figure exists in tension, it is a knowledge being pulled or stretched as taut cable. So are Vico’s rhetorical topics… topics are sited at boundaries. In fact, they are boundaries. Topics are limits which articulate points of connection. A rhetorical topic is a Janus in space and January in time, a true coincidence of opposites. The liminality of the middle will be difficult always because it illuminates the greatest differences by inventing points of agreement, which makes it aggressive to the status quo, but also productive.

The conversational discourse produced in Professor Senkevitch’s class on “Thresholds of Architectural Thought…” is liminal. Erudition (authority) meets ignorance (respect), clarity meets unintelligibility, enthusiasm meets (sometimes) lack of interest. Speech meets silence, answers meet other answers, questions meet questions. Of course, sometimes questions meet answers and vice versa. This is not exactly knowledge. This is more like an ongoing (mis)understanding. At its best provocative and productive, at its “worst” – a chat between friends. This discourse is not necessarily “elegant” or “effective”. It could be “ordinary” in a Venturian way; it could be playful and poetic in Gehry’s sense.

This conversational thinking, I believe, should be “allowed” in theoretical writing, and should be professed in design. I see leaving the directedness of the disciplinary discourse for a kind of a “field” discourse – a meandering, “sewing” movement that does not oppose sides, but links them, engages them in a “polylogue”. And I am certainly not seeking a new, “liminal” essence.

Here are a few notes on this “field” discourse, in no particular order:

  • It is a balancing (not planned balance) between symbolic order and semiotic experience (in Julia Kristeva’s sense).
  • It is a discourse produced as existential need, not as instrument. In a recent interview, Venturi says that he found himself in “Complexity and Contradiction…” There are no clearly articulated intentions, plan, strategies, purpose, conclusions. The discourse is not produced as “useful”. This does not mean that it could not eventually turn out to be very useful.
  • The “field” discourse does not convey a totalizing “idea”. Professor Senkevitch does not necessarily try to summarize the discussion – it is rather open ended. Every student is left with his/her own (mis)understanding of what was said. So, we have a dis-course conveying by de-finition many interpretations – and re-interpretations – conversations after class.
  • This rhetorical discourse necessarily produces confusion – it con-fuses experience and knowledge (semiotic and symbolic). It does not “translate” experience into knowledge.
  • This rhetoric is suspicious. Because it reveals a fundamental undecidability. It can be seen as a resurgence of a suppressed “feminine” side of our phalocratic tradition. By “feminine” I rather mean the pre-male (male’s non-defined otherness), and not the fe-male (male’s defined otherness). Jeffrey Kipnis (1989) says that we should perhaps take seriously Nietzsche’s question: “What if truth were a woman”. I would rather say: culture seems to be a wo-man – there is always that semiotic “chora” that bears the symbolic “chorus”. For a discussion of the Platonic “chora” as analogical to the semiotic experience – see Graafland (1989) and Kipnis (1989).
  • This poly-logical rhetoric is not an evolution of author’s ideas, nor is it a revolution against ideas of other authors. It is a co-evolution and ongoing mutual displacements between a personal stand and cultural context. There is no author in the traditional sense (author/audience). The thinker/speaker/writer/designer is a mediator between cultural realities (semiotic and symbolic) – facilitating tendencies for self-organization which are always pre-existing in any context (for the terms “co-evolution” and “self-organization” – see Jantsch, 1980). There is no text, but always, and only, a con-text.

See related:
The Anti-Architecture Manifesto


  1. Burns, Carol. “The Gehry Phenomenon” in: Thinking the Present: Recent American Architecture, ed. K. Michael Hays and Carol Burns, Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 1990.
  2. Freidenberg, Olga. Mif i literatura drevnosti, Nauka, Moskva, 1978. For English translation, see: Image and Concept: Mythopoetic Roots of Literature (Sign/Text/Culture), Harwood Academic Publishers, Amsterdam, 1997.
  3. Graafland, Arie. “Peter Eisenman: Architecture in Absentia” in: Recente projecten Peter Eisenman Recent Projects, ed. Arie Graafland, SUN, Amsterdam, 1989.
  4. Hersey, George L. “Vitruvius and the Origins of the Orders: Sacrifice and Taboo in Greek Architectural Myth”, Perspecta no23, 1987, pp 66-67, Yale Architectural Journal.
  5. Jantsch, Erich. Self-Organizing Universe: Scientific and Human Implications of the Emerging Paradigm of Evolution, Oxford, New York, Pergamon Press, 1980.
  6. Kipnis, Jeffrey. “The Law of Ana-. On Choral Works” in: Recente projecten Peter Eisenman Recent Projects, ed. Arie Graafland, SUN, Amsterdam, 1989.
  7. Kristeva, Julia. Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia, Columbia University Press, New York, 1989.
  8. Kristeva, Julia. Le langage, cet inconnu, Seuil, Paris, 1981.
  9. Leatherbarrow, David. “Review of Donald Kunze’s Thought and Place: The Architecture of Eternal Places in the Philosophy of Giambattista Vico”, Journal of Architectural Education, Spring 1988, vol.41, no3, pp 52-56.
  10. Plattus, Alan. “Toward a Post-Analytic Architecture: Recent Work of Venturi, Rauch, and Scott Brown” in: Thinking the Present: Recent American Architecture, ed. K. Michael Hays and Carol Burns, Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 1990.
  11. Porshnev, B. F. O nachale chelovecheskoi istorii (problemi paleopsihologii), Misl, Moskva, 1974.
  12. Tigerman, Stanley. “Other Architectural Problems and Recent Projects”, Architectural Design (AD), Vol.61, 3-4, 1991, pp 38-45.
  13. Venturi, Robert. Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1966.
  14. Venturi and Scott Brown. “Entre imagination sociale et architecture”, (interview by Philippe Barrière and Sylvia Lavin) L’Architecture d’aujourd’hui, Fevrier 1991, no273, pp 92-104.
  15. Vitruvius. The Ten Books on Architecture, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1960.

Architectural Design – Public Library in Blacksburg, Virginia (Design Competition, 1992)

I developed this project during my graduate studies in architecture at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. My studio instructor was the great William Bricken who gave me one of the best creative moments in my life.

There are two unusual things achieved in this design for a library – both working through and for the building’s high spatial qualities:

  1. “Walls of Books” – a library without freestanding stacks – achieved by augmenting the surface of the interior walls through spatial folding and rhythmic articulation of the building’s enclosure.
  2. Visual merging of interior and exterior spaces through large glass walls – very unusual for a library – achieved through careful analysis and design of the way the sunlight interacts with the building’s geometry and site positioning.

The “Crisis” of the Traditional Means of Expression in Modern Art and Culture

[a very old thing I am re-publishing here now]

“Means” – the word itself suggests a relation of instrumentality, usefulness, aim. “Expression” also means relations – what is being expressed, by whom, to what audience. All those relations change in meaning across cultures and time.

For example, the Byzantine artistic Canon, from our point of view, can be seen as a practical means for constructing an image. In fact, the relations I listed above were completely different in the Byzantine culture from those, for example, in Modern Europe. In Byzantine culture, the painter would be a means to the Canon, which itself would be a means to God. That is to say – God re-present himself by means of the Canon and by the hand of the painter. Looks like the opposite of the Modern European understanding of the creative process.

Just having stated the cultural difference between Byzantine art and that of Modern Europe, now here is a contradiction. Vasily Kandinsky happens to also think that the painter is just a “hand”. But how does that happen? Why would Kandinsky go back to such a medieval understanding of the relations between painter, medium, and meanings to be expressed?

One possible explanation is discontent with current cultural circumstances, feeling of crisis. Let’s go back to the statements of two key thinkers who play active roles in the modeling of the late 19th century problematics. Kant declares that the aesthetic satisfaction is useless and sets it apart from morality and knowledge. Hegel defines art as the lowest form of knowledge and predicts its decline and disappearance. Of course, despite the huge popularity of both, we cannot hold them responsible for art’s problematic situation – which, in Hegel’s view, can be defined as “situation-limite” – before death.

In fact, these statements just happen to be in unison with the structure of the emerging bourgeois culture. Basic oppositions of that culture were:

useless <<< >>> useful
amoral <<< >>> moral
emotional <<< >>> rational
madness <<< >>> reason

It is easy to spot the “right” side as positive. Let us write down Kant’s and Hegel’s oppositions:

art <<< >>> science
art <<< >>> morality
art <<< >>> reality

Now, the position of art in bourgeois culture is clear. Art is:


I will not go deeper into the so-called “crisis of content” which led to this rather grim situation for art. But, in a few words, this was the progressive paling of the ideal referential horizon – namely, the decline of Christianity. The cultural sphere, which was keeping people together, was vanishing. People were used to commune in God and through God – not directly with each other. The notorious closeness and non-alienation of religious people has always been internally mediated. The communion’s structure (through God) used to be tripartite (referential) and because of that – stabilized (meaningful).

“God is dead” (Jean Paul, early 19th century), the communion fails, the meaning disappears – precisely – the “spiritual” meaning. With the disappearing of the Spirit, the ties “in” and “through” Him fall apart.The alienation is accompanied by a feeling of soullessness. With the disappearing of the Creator, life itself disappears. Under the “emptied” skies, people and things seem “empty” and spiritually “dead”. At least this is how they looked like seen from the traditional “spiritual” point of view. This is what was incorrectly termed a “crisis of bourgeois consciousness”.

This is the situation which provoked the Romantic rebellion in early 19th century. Rebellion of feelings against reason, of soul against soullessness, but also of a-morality (under empty skies) against bourgeois “hypocrisy”. Revolt of meaning – “deep”, “transcendental”, “ancient”, “natural”, “authentic”, “original”, “intuitive” – against everyday, today and here, bourgeois meaninglessness.

Art – placed in a “situation-limit” by a soulless society and Hegel’s predictions – came up with a response. Forced to be outsiders, “starving” artists invented a new, elite, leading role for themselves – Avant-Garde. Against the perceived meaninglessness, they would start inventing “new meanings”. Defying the stifling bourgeois Present, they would begin contemplating more “authentic” times – the Past, and eventually – the Future. Searching for new references, they would explore a variety of ideological frameworks – Philosophy, Nature, History, Christianity (again), Theosophy, Anthroposophy, Science, Sociology, Engineering, Psychoanalysis, Socialism, etc.

Some of them however, like Delacroix for instance, would try Art itself – as a reference for art, or as it is well known – l’art pour l’art. The possibility is discovered for art to express not something else but itself.

The notion of Avant-Garde appeared around 1820. Hegel was very important for the institutionalization of the avant-gardes. His philosophy of historical progress offered a template for all kinds of “avant-garde” ideologies (Marxism included). But there was a peculiarity – as Hegel’s system posited its positive pole in the Future – that is to say in a still-emptiness, there were no rules: no instructions could possibly come from the Future (the Christian “history” was fairer in this respect – the “becoming” at personal level was informed by the presence of an eternal supernatural “boss”). This obscurity of principle additionally oppressed the “cursed” artists. One of their neurotic reactions was the form of the Manifesto – defining a desired Future, writing down laws and rules for themselves, creating a contract between themselves and society. The Manifesto worked as a substitute for the missing patron, for the missing guardianship (B. Tschumi).

As we know, outsiders are often pushed toward a very hard internal work combined with a compensatory contempt for people around. Delacroix initiated a development characteristic of Modern art – concentration on the specific sphere of art itself (independent of a meaningless environment), on the medium itself as engendering specific, intrinsic meaning of the work of art, and on creative work itself as giving meaning of the artist’s life.

There is, however, a third way – besides searching for reference outside art and in art itself. It is the indirect ideologization of art. A discipline outside of art, philosophy for instance, induces an hierarchical model of relationships into the arts. Arts are ranked into an hierarchical order which gives “superior arts” the status of referential realm for “inferior” arts. This explains the domination of music in the 19th century. Music fits perfectly the romantic aspiration for an unclear, intangible, immaterial referential horizon.

At the same time, a very old idea gained new popularity – the so-called “correspondence” between different arts or different media. An ancient idea based on the belief in the existence of a universal cosmic order which, of course, makes very desirable the “harmonization” of all human creation with this order. Accordingly, all arts turn out to be telling the same story in different media. The popularity of this idea among artists is very often underestimated by those writing about art from the “scientific” point of view. Anyway, the important consequence of this search for “correspondence”, happening in the second half of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, was a quite real effort for mutual re-coding among arts – musicalization of painting and poetry, narrative structures in music, pictorial ambitions in the novel, etc… This, of course, meant mutual deconstruction of traditional disciplines.

I will jump here directly to two mature and very characteristic offshoots of these developments – Picasso and Kandinsky. Not because they are the inventors of the two perhaps most popular “isms” in the 20th century art (abstractionism and cubism), but because they represent two not so obvious tendencies – opposite in their response to the “situation-limite” of art in the 19th century.

There is, in my opinion, a very important difference between Kandinsky and Picasso regarding the Modern understanding of the so-called means of expression:

admitted rhetoric <<< >>> non-admitted rhetoric

Whether the denial of rhetoric is conscious or not is not important.

Picasso admitted the rhetorical nature of art: “Art is not truth… The artist must know how to persuade people in the truthfulness of his lies… Through art, we express our conception of what nature is not… That we need these lies… is beyond any doubt, because through them, we form our aesthetic perception of life.”

Kandinsky talked about “spirituality”, “inner necessity”, and about the hierarchy of what must be expressed:

The Eternally Artistic
The Zeitgeist
The Individual Personality

He called these hypostases three mystical causes – suggesting top-down causality and dependency. And correspondingly, he talks about an hierarchy of composition, a language of lines and colors – a whole reference system. Quite logically, according to the hierarchy of “contents”, the painter turns out to be just a “hand”, a medium through which higher levels express themselves. Kandinsky also talks about collaboration with the Numbers – probably because, since Pythagoras, Plato, Plotinus, Proclus, and Pseudo Dionysius, the Numbers have been placed on one level below the “One”. So they are a kind of sanctioned “way” to the transcendental.

Kandinsky’s idea of “progressive expression of the eternally-objective into the transitory-subjective” structurally corresponds to the Byzantine icon of a saint where the transient passional (the periphery) is juxtaposed to the central eternal image. But, with Kandinsky, the eternal is in a Hegelian way not-yet-become – so, it cannot be “seen” as whole, as a recognizable image. What the painter expresses on the canvas is always but a fragment – unclear and incomplete.

Now, interestingly enough, even this “historical” (Hegelian) explanation of the image-less art (abstractionism) has its analogue in Byzantine thought – the so-called apophatic theology. According to the apophatic theology, every next higher level in the world’s hierarchy appears as infinite, unknowable, and imageless when looked at from below (a bottom-up vision).

Avant-Garde transcendentalism turns out to be structurally analogous to the Byzantine theories of the image. Not by chance then, one of the highest episodes in avant-guarde art would happen in Russia – with cultural and religious traditions rooted in Byzantine theology. And not by chance was Kandinsky a Russian.

Is Kandinsky’s abstractionism a rhetoric? Of course, it is. As a rhetorical move, abstractionism reappears periodically in the 20th century – sometimes under a new ideological cover – ch’an philosophy, for example. But ch’an is an almost admitted rhetoric.

What do I mean by rhetoric? Rhetoric is the free, by choice, but plausible, linking of points in the semiotic space. The plausibility is defined by the disciplines co-operating that space. When unexpected, unusual (but plausible according to at least one discipline) links are realized – while producing/perceiving an artifact – new meanings, new mutual designations appear. The disciplines define what is usual or expected and what is not. But, operating the same semiotic space, they contradict each other. This is why the rhetorical freedom exists and can always find some kind of plausibility or – institutionalization. And this is why disciplines change too – constantly.

Admitting this mechanism of meaning-production – or not – makes for an important distinction. When admitting it – the artifact is being produced with a clear understanding of its openness in principle: the artifact is seen as a beginning of an endless and unpredictable process of meaning-production. In other words, understood is the impossibility to control the meaning.

When the rhetoric is not admitted, the unavoidable re-coding processes eventually decontstruct and debunk the original “meanings” (intended ideology) of the artifact. Paradoxically though, the suggestive power of an ideology feeds off this fundamental discrepancy between intended meanings and a deconstructive reality.

The difference between Kandinsky and Picasso is the same as the difference between Modernism as ideology and Post-Modernism as admitted rhetoric.

Here is what Gleizes and Metzinger say in their treatise on Cubism (1912): “…the variety of the relationships of one line to another must be infinite as a potential: on this condition only, it can express the quality, the immeasurable sum of discovered links between what we perceive and what is pre-existing in us – on this condition, the art work moves us.” These words could easily be attributed to Umberto Eco.

Picasso did, in a way, a visual “textual” analysis of the object. More precisely – an analysis of the visual signifiers, so tightly intertwined in our cultural memory as to form that solid, opaque visual whole – the object. The rigorous cubist geometry came as a necessary discipline for ordering and controlling the overwhelming complexity of what Picasso perceived. His analytical technique was a superimposition of a series of viewpoints and a resulting mutual “blowing up” (deconstruction) of the intrinsic order decreed by each of them separately. This results in the untwining of visual codes and their mutual re-coding. The transposition (re-framing) of this process in the painting’s space causes a secondary “explosion” of re-signifyings. A kind of “nuclear fission” of the internal referential energies of the object takes place. The process is open for endless renewal in the context of every new spectator’s specific set of cultural references and frameworks.

In the beginnings of Modern art, we find the same technique and even the same ideology which are now being thought of as Post-Modernism.

Picasso looked at the present calmly. His answer (with him, it was precisely an answer) to the false “situation-limite” of art was remarkably conscious and quite relevant to today’s discussions of “lost” meaning. With Kandinsky, we have a reaction, dependency, subordination. But this is on the ideological level only. In fact, the various external ideologizations of art are just an unintended way of creating new rhetorical situations which produce new meanings.

A particularly interesting result of this development was the rethinking of traditional formats and practices of art as kinds of meaning-production machines.

For example – “le choix de l’artiste” as stated by Duchamp. A very powerful mechanism was defined – the transporting of a non-artistic, non-beautiful, non-noble object (or person/character) into the “high” artistic space. The beginning of this technique was Manet’s painting “Olympia”. The impact on the public was highly offensive which, seen through the avant-guarde ideology, was meaningful by itself. “Les demoiselles” of Picasso – spirit-less, “ugly” characters are transported into the painting’s space. The result – a “resuscitation” of dead bodies, corpses drawn out of “low” and dark social spaces. Mutilated female characters are propped up to look straight into the eyes of the spectators. Offense for the public again. Picasso was accused of depicting a massacre.

Other examples of such an “unauthorized” identifying of the spiritual (animated) with the non-spiritual (soulless, dead) were the couplings “home-machine” (Corbusier) and “man-machine” – the mechanical theatre of Oskar Schlemmer, “Le ballet méchanique” and the “robots” of Léger.

Similar “illegal” transports underlie much of Modern art – Theater of the Absurd, Living/Process Theater, Pop-Art, etc.

Art learned how to produce meaning on its own and I prefer to say it in plural – new meanings-media, in and through which people can commune. The despair caused by the predicted “inevitable death” produced Modern art as an autonomous cultural practice – as we understand it today.


Originally published in ARHITEKTURA, 3-4/1989, Sofia, Bulgaria