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Auto Braids / Auto Breeding.
The body and its double

[in italiano] New York architect Evan Douglis, Director of Columbia Architecture Galleries, has developed a practice in organizing events that include interactive installations able to overcome the traditional dichotomy between exhibition space and artifacts on display. In today's rapid information world, the power of display detaches objects from their usual context and erases their original meaning: what emerges is a state of indeterminacy where environment and messages keep on shifting roles. In many exhibitions and installations, Douglis has explored this interchange and attempted to construct a mutant body for exhibition architecture in the hope it could become both self display and critical commentary on the estrangement of objects in the information age.


Douglis research, starting from individual exhibits, has gradually focused on the generation of changeable environments supported by digital techniques. Auto Braids / Auto Breeding, his latest creation is an innovative membrane manufactured with sophisticated 3D modeling software and five-axis prototyping milling machines. Composed of interlocking units, the self-supporting membrane introduces itself as a serial field whose repetition is tempered by surface variations characterised by wave ad braid-like shapes. Among the units, there are pockets for the placement of poles that support other objects away from the surface. The membrane is thus a relational apparatus and not an autonomous system.

Background, support, frame, structure, threshold or, possibly, all of the above? Auto Braids / Auto Breeding does not have an ultimate identity and prefers to remain nomadic both in its spatial form (it can be relocated in many contexts with different arrangements) and in its meaning. Its composition blends Cartesian grid (it is based on repeated modules operating along orthogonal axes), numerical systems (the computation of a single unit generates infinite growth) and curvilinear morphing (the surface extension is continuously varied with shifting reference points).

Thanks to casting technologies employed in product design, the membrane succeeds in giving a physical body to images that are usually associated with the virtual world. Lacking a definite dimension and orientation (except for the ones given by the surrounding environment), Auto Braids / Auto Breeding is an evolutionary architecture that constructs a continuously shifting environment able to respond to the spreading of information flows. Its relational nature is well perceived in its latest application, the exhibit Jean Prouvé, Three Nomadic Structures, curated by Douglis with Robert Rubin and on view at Columbia Architecture Galleries in New York until April 23, 2004. Douglis membrane here confronts the prototypes, pieces of furniture and structural elements of the metal master from Nancy: there could be no better opportunity to compare two nomadic approaches. The show presents parts coming from three lost structures: the Glassmaking School at Croismare (1948), the Tropical House at Niamey in Africa (1949) and the Aluminum Centenary Pavilion at Villepinte (1954). These buildings, originally thought as demountable kits of parts, have been subsequently abandoned and dismantled. Their components have been dispersed in collections, antique shops and dumping grounds. Their presence can be therefore known only through fragments and not as a whole.

Douglis underlines this condition in the exhibit by suspending Prouvé's pieces on the metal arms projecting out of the membrane's surface. Chairs, brise-soleil and panels flow above the wavy surface of Auto Braids / Auto Breeding in uncertain balance. The membrane forms a carpet and halfway becomes a vertical wall that shapes a dark tunnel for the screening of videos. The anti-neutral character of the exhibition environment makes one think of notions of seriality, production and flexibility, all present both in Prouvé's pieces and in the units of Auto Braids / Auto Breeding. By comparing the sophisticated mechanical subdivision of the French master with the continuity of Douglis waves, one could measure the distance between the machine and the digital age. The identity of Prouvé's components and the modular subdivision of Douglis units are however similar in the search for the autonomy of the parts from a whole. For both designers, the nomadic involves the construction of a temporary architectural body able to move through different times and environments.

This mutant materiality that moves from support to piece of information and through a multiple (temporary) presence has interesting theoretical consequences. The similarity of a new form like Auto Braids / Auto Breeding to a generative organic entity, makes it close to an automaton (reproducing the moving body) and a prosthetis (extending the limbs). This is visible in the show where Auto Braids / Auto Breeding doubles Prouvé's pieces but, at the same time, becomes their extension through the projecting supports. The human body, the environment and individual pieces of information are related here with new imaginative extensions: this activity has implications that are both surreal (the dream of the body assembled from different parts) and fetishistic (the transfer of desire on inanimate beings). Douglis knows well a Surrealist and theoretical tradition that reflects on the body and its doubles. By looking at the shots of the casts of his membrane, one cannot help thinking of that obscene construction, the Poupée by Hans Bellmer and other exquisite corpses of the 1930s.

This also shows that there exists in New York a critical tradition that acknowledges avantgarde movements and projects them in interactive situations outside of their original autonomous status. Surrealism and Abstract Art needed a personality like Frederick Kiesler to be accepted publicly and nowadays recent trends in digital art can use a piece like Auto Braids / Auto Breeding to confront data coming out of different times and places.

Pietro Valle
Photo: courtesy of Evan Douglis.


la sezione Artland è curata da
Elena Carlini e Pietro Valle

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