Tag Archives: Architecture

Nick Skowron’s Recent Show

Nick Skowron, Informal Sense (2014)

Nick Skowron, Informal Sense (2014)

Nick Skowron–a candidate for an MFA in printmaking at Kent State University–recently had a show at Black Balloon Editions in Cleveland, Ohio.

The works show Skowron’s background in architectural studies, which reveals itself through processes particular to printmaking and through simple drawing. The contrast between printmaking, drawing, and even painting is what interests me so much about these works, because it is through these formal differences that the material of the work becomes known.

The artistic limits of architectural blueprints are obvious in their coterminous juxtaposition with more expressive details in colorful smears and formal distortions such as the paper of the work itself ripped off in layers. But the blueprints also excel in their characteristics, such as planning, and geometric precision. Even for the most mundane applications, architectural planning has an essence of hope to it. This essence seems most apparent when a pristine plane hovers above a meadow scattered with detritus.

Detail of Nick Skowron, Grid Field (2014)

Detail of Nick Skowron, Grid Field (2014)

Skowron’s prints not only resist duplication due to their modifications–though duplication would be theoretically possible–, but also acknowledge the limitations of consciousness in duplication of prints and blueprints. A building can be described well, in one sense, by a blueprint–lengths measured right down to the level of millimeters. But the history of the building, or its place in the world of society, is lost. Skowron’s prints show us multi-dimensional histories of imagined structures through his juxtaposition of forms. The mere facts presented to us by blueprints–or other potential visual forms for documentation, such as photography–are insufficient, but pretend to be sufficient. The interpreted history in Skowron’s work argues against such reductionism. While reading an essay by Siegfried Kracauer entitled “Photography” in his book The Mass Ornament, I was reminded of these prints, and immediately sent this excerpt to Skowron:

In order for history to present itself, the mere surface coherence offered by photography must be destroyed. For in the artwork the meaning of the object takes on a spatial appearance, whereas in photography the spatial appearance of an object is its meaning. […] The artwork, too, disintegrates over time; but its meaning arises out of its crumbled elements, whereas photography merely stockpiles the elements.

The crumbled elements in Skowron’s pieces disrupt the clean sheen of the blueprints, despite how beautiful those promises might be. Or in the words of Kracauer: the works in their entirety remember history, while the blueprints left to themselves evoke only historicism (the blind accumulation of facts). The future cannot delude itself into thinking that the past did not exist. The removal of such lines, however, seems unnecessary too. That is what balances the pieces: they are riddled with tragedy and hope just as we are.

Marco G. Ferrari and Humanity in Landscapes

On Friday May 24th, I went over to UChicago’s Logan Art Center to check out the final installment of thesis shows for the DoVA MFA program, this last one being named “Sway”. I got to the event in time to catch a screening of Marco G. Ferrari’s short film, “Parabola” (embedded above).

Timothy H. O'Sullivan, Ogden, Utah (1874).

Timothy H. O’Sullivan, Ogden, Utah (1874).

Given the mountainous terrain of the site where Ferrari is shooting, and the way in which objects are framed in the foreground while great landmasses and spaces loom in the distance, there’s a sense of reference to the paintings and photographs of the American west of the early 19th century in the United States. This can be seen then as a gesture towards the Transcendental Art movement of that time period, with at least one noteworthy exception, however–that being that the undertone of Enlightenment progress still lingering in Transcendentalism seems to be missing–its inclusion in the piece would be short-sighted in a time of global capitalism. Ferrari’s use of digitally zooming into the image reminds us that we’re no longer looking at 19th century photography.

Of course the intellectuals of the 19th century weren’t blindly optimistic either. Just as O’Sullivan’s photograph above is able to evoke a sense of humanity’s overcoming of nature it also reveals a menacing grandeur in the landscape. About this oddity of O’Sullivan’s photographs, Joel Snyder writes in his essay “Territorial Photography” in W. J. T. Mitchell’s Landscape and Power, “They work against popular conceptions of nature and the natural by defamiliarizing nature, by refusing to formulate the land of the Great Basin in the accessible and reassuring terms of the picturesque” (197). On the use of O’Sullivan’s photography for the sake of educating future expedition leaders, Snyder shows that O’Sullivan emphasizes the massive and seemingly impossible undertaking of mastering these landscapes: “O’Sullivan’s representation of the West is an awed stare into a landscape that is unmarked, unmeasured, and wild, a place in which man is not yet–and not without an immense future effort–the measure of all things” (196). Is the West ours now? Is the world ours now?

Photo-collage of Superstudio's Il Monumento Continuo, 1969

Superstudio’s Il Monumento Continuo, photo-collage, 1969

Just as I seem to be implying that the world’s lands have now been dominated, I should reverse such a declaration by pointing out what we’ve yet to achieve technologically, geographically, and architecturally. Ferrari’s film shows that in the 21st century, the landscapes still tower over us, both literally and figuratively. I’m reminded of daydream sketchings of megastructures by architectural firms like Superstudio. There are great things yet to do.