Tuesday, February 2, 2010

angelus novus

"A Klee painting named 'Angelus Novus' shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one picturs the angel of history. His face is turned towards the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that he angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress."
Walter Benjamin, "Thesis on the Philosophy of History." 1940

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tourist Road: Detour to Broadway

The development of the art and architectural follies along the tourist road in Norway highlights a question of relevancy in the context of America as both conceptual paradigm and potential physical manifestation. Though references to Works Progress Administration rest and weigh stations that dot the highway system in the United States create ideological and functional links between the new work in Norway and the influences they may have here, the true role of the work must be extracted out of the sublime arctic landscape and seek redefinition in the degrading realm of the American city and its infrastructure.
As the Detour project promotes the experience of vast, seemingly unchartered Norwegian territory for the tourist and the opportunity for artist and architect to work with site, material and program, defining moments along a path, American urban planners and theorists should seek inspiration in an intellectual interpretation of the work. The road translates through a shift in scale and subject to our urban streets, the effects of a faltering economy, of empty or abandoned spaces and the desire for rejuvenation in the cultural experience of the city with appropriate, sustainable and mutable design.
Bureaucrats and policy makers should take hints from the initiatives of the Norwegian government to provide the space for art and architectural work to progress a landscape that is financially and environmentally viable. Yet, these inclinations must be considered in context. The competitive and collaborative approach to Detour can exist within our cities. It can inspire a new understanding and appreciation of space. It can look to the creative and material imagination for a conversation, across disciplines, enlivening the faltering, abandoned and leftover spaces of our cities.