ABOVE: A Bernie Miller/Alan Tregebov "cancellation mark."
Terminations of View: A Series of Proposals
by Bernie Miller and Alan Tregebov
Exhibition: 8 September to 17 October 2003
8 PM - Tuesday 16 September Alan Tregebov/Bernie Miller Lecture, Centre Space, Faculty of Architecture, University of Manitoba.
NOON - Wednesday 17 September: Public Art Forum at Centre Space, Faculty of Architecture held in co-operation with the University of Manitoba Faculty of Architecture and the Winnipeg Arts Council.
3 PM - Wednesday 17 September Gallery One One One reception with the artists present.
Bernie Miller interviewed by Cliff Eyland.
Cliff Eyland: What's in this show?
Bernie Miller: Fourteen new panels showing termination of view proposal monuments plus the original Veer proposal composed of a model and three panels. The supporting tower model has been built in AutoCad and will change slightly for each monument depending on the site. We have developed a list of cancellation and erasure symbols and will choose seven to match the particular urban design issue rather than the billboard. All the cancellation devices [see illustrations above and below] are interchangeable as blockers or disrupters. The cancellation devices that currently have me most excited are scrambled and enlarged pixels taken from the original coloured billboard image. (I think it is the Photoshop filter called Mosaic that does this job) These will look pretty good as coloured objects in a black and white photo. This device is commonly used in video to conceal the identity of persons for various reasons. The only change in our thinking is actually that conceptual refinement of using the urban design issue as a criterion for choosing the device.
ABOVE: A Bernie Miller/Alan Tregebov "cancellation mark."
Eyland: I think of this work as "culture jamming" or maybe "ad jamming" -- does that make sense?
Miller: It does make sense as an entry into the project although that did not occur to us at the time. We started from an urban design issue of termination of view. When we were designing the Emma Goldman memorial [Veer] we noticed that an important termination of view from Spadina Circle and Knox College North in Toronto was occupied by a billboard. Traditionally these kinds of sites were used for important civic structures (buildings, monuments) but would have been sited for the same sorts of reasons having to do with sight lines and approach. These more civic-minded structures would embody different values however.
ABOVE: Veer, monument to Emma Goldman
plastic, glass, film, 20 x 40 x 65 cm, 1:15 scale model, 1997.
The great urban design guru at Cornell, Colin Rowe, referred to this difference in value as paradigm vs. process, the latter being more prevalent with the technological ethic of Modernism and I guess like so many other Modernist presumptions, up for review as well. It is our intention to have the 'jamming' interference signage reflect the particular design issues. These issues would relate to what the action of the site seems to be. i.e. is it a T junction, is it a roundabout circle, is it a veer or more about the deflection of vision upward (spires, obelisks) This part is more Alan's territory. The other thing is that with culture jamming, although you would know better than I, it is an interference with particular content of the billboard, whereas we would be commenting more on the commercial appropriation of particular and important civic spaces. Also bear in mind that the form of the project this far is one of 'proposal as commentary' an ironic and rhetorical use of the competition proposal. The monuments would only be built if commissioned, and what are the chances?
They basically exist on paper so if it is "culture jamming" it is at a distance. [They are] proposed culture jams. So the real and immediate aspects of "culture jamming" as we know it would be more effective. Although I like the idea of contributing to this kind of tactic however conceptual our productions end up being.
Eyland: Could you tell me a little about the history of your collaboration with Alan Tregebov? How did you get together and how does the artistic relationship work?
Miller: Alan has been involved in my public art projects from the outset. The first competition I entered was a commission for Molson's 200th Anniversary in 1986. They wanted to do something for the city in a visible way and in the neighborhood where there facility had been located for such a long time. I won the competition but Molson's wanted to have something immediately to show at an announcement event. My competition drawings were modest, to say the least, just simple line drawings. They needed splashy renderings and fast. I had known Alan because he had curated The Interpretation of Architecture show with Andy Patton and Janice Gurney. YYZ had been its principle venue and Andy and I were on the board.
Alan was up for the challenge of producing something like six perspective renderings in ten days, something like that. He teamed up with James Brown (the artist not the singer) and Kim Storey (who are the designers of the new Dundas Square project here in Toronto). The story is that they stocked up on beer and country and western music and ordered in their food and basically lived at the office for the next ten days. The results were fantastic, Molson's loved it and had a big event for which they brewed special beer and impressed the hell out of all their corporate buddies.
The next project I won was a $500,000 commission for Toronto Metro Hall a kind of seat of Government for the Greater Toronto Area aka the GTA. The piece was complex piece of design and needed some pretty fancy engineering and testing in order to achieve certain effects I had no idea how to do. I turned again to Alan to be rescued after having consulted with him on certain aspects of the piece. I hired his firm to do the working drawings, the tendering of contracts, the consultation with engineers and site supervision. We had a few hitches but pulled it off.
The next competition I thought about I had decided to ask Alan to consider was a collaboration. He agreed and we ended up winning an international competition for an even larger project sited along False Creek in Vancouver.
We have entered a few other competitions together including a competition for a Bloor and Spadina parkette. We proposed the Emma Goldman monument called Veer which was short listed but not commissioned. This is the project out of which the current collaboration Terminations of View had its beginning.
One other notable collaboration which was quite unexpected and very exciting was that we were short listed to do a memorial for Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington DC. The site was about as prominent as you could get. Just off the Mall near the Franklin D. Roosevelt memorial. We had planned on using an imaging technique we had been developing since the Vancouver project. The budget was not an issue so we pulled out all the stops. It would have been great to have built it.
All of these projects have been challenging from an urban design point of view. This is a special interest of Alan's and has greatly influenced the way I now look at our built environment.
The collaboration with Alan is something to which I have not given a lot of thought. It grew out of a particular history of consultation of which I have already spoken. It is probably a testament to the workability of the collaboration that makes it somewhat transparent. When I think back on our projects they mostly have an outside event, which would be the precipitating factor. We don't do a lot of internal initiation. A competition notice would reach us somehow. For instance the OAA [Ontario Association of Architects] might send out an email to all its members (this was the genesis of our Martin Luther King Jr. project) or an art consultant might email us because of our history of doing this sort of thing, or a friend might say that they had seen this thing in the paper. It looks like our kind of thing. Sometimes I even find them myself in the paper or an art mag. We'd look at it, send it back and forth "What do you think" kind of thing. We decided on the Martin Luther King Jr. project just as an exercise to develop a thing we were working on with cast shadow images that we used in our Vancouver project. We had no idea that we would be short-listed. It kind of shocked us.
Sometimes we will ask for the jury composition to try to suss out whether they have decided in advance on a local person, and whether they want the nationwide or international call to produce a kind of window dressing to make their choice look good. This is a constant problem. On the occasions where we initiate our own projects like this show or a drawing show that we did for Sable Castelli Gallery it grows out of previous collaborative projects. In both these cases an idea occurred to me that has a certain persistence. If I can't forget about it then I will entertain the idea a bit more. This is the usual route for my own work but when I realize that the idea is related to projects that belong to us collectively I run it by Alan. He never says no, (not yet anyhow) or "I don't want anything to do with that and I don't want you to take our idea and do it on your own". (Is this a negative option system?) At a certain point we get more and more serious about it. Usually I have an image in my head and then Alan and I sit down. Alan hardly ever talks about projects without trace paper and a certain kind of marker pen at hand. He is so spectacularly capable at sketching that I am embarrassed to join in. He can draw upside down -- literally. We sit opposite of each other and he draws it upside down so that I can see it appear before my eyes. Its a fabulous trick when working with clients and I'm sure it amazes them as much as it amazes me. So I rarely pick up the pen with him around. I do my drawing when I get back to the studio. He uses trace paper like animation cells. The forms develop as each sheet is layered over the previous. I throw out comments, point, draw invisible lines with my finger smudging as I go and Alan makes it appear upside down and in perspective. I get the idea that his insights come at the spur of the moment. Sometimes we pause and Alan will comment on the developments in relation to something out of architectural history, often the Renaissance. For instance I have this fear of symmetry and stable looking forms. He will come back with "it looks like symmetry but look closer. It's a very subtle form of asymmetry more of a play against symmetry."
I go away for a few days and work on modeling or drawing to get something more physical have a few more ideas about it, run into problems etcetera, etcetera, and then we will have another session. I'll go away with my head full of solutions that would never have occurred to me, sometimes a whole new direction and on and on it goes. It's kind of like do whatever you want, whatever you are able to do, that is, then go back and get your eyes opened up a bit wider. When it gets to the point where we've used up all our design time and really need to get things done for deadlines Alan takes the lead. He works very fast. I fret too much and slow things down. I definitely cannot work 'round the clock. I make mistakes when I get tired. I think adrenalin must sharpen Alan's faculties. He is "mister deadline." He has no problem finishing a project in the car on the way to the last open courier invariably out in the suburbs some place. I think architects love this sort of thing because it recalls the primal scene of their education -- the solidarity of staying up all night in the studio for a week or so trying to make deadlines for crits.
Any way that seems to be how it goes. We seem to have developed our specialties and, at least for my part, haven't had to work on my inadequacies because the other guy is so good at his stuff. On one project there was some watercolour work. We would both be painting or running a wash on the panel at the same time! And, we would have several drawings going at once. I think in that project as well we would both work on the same drawing. I can't remember who drew what. Alan seems to remember what he did. It may be that I want to credit myself with some excellent line work and Alan, sensitive as he is to drawing subtleties won't have certain line work laid at his doorstep. He is just too polite to say anything, though. And I get to convince myself that my drawing really is improving. At any rate we both signed the drawings so history will be none the wiser.
Eyland: I often connect the look of your work to architects like Zaha Hadid and Bernard Tschumi, that is to "Deconstructivist" architecture a set of architectural values that is in turn reminiscent of the early Constructivists.
Miller: Absolutely. I've been very interested in looking back to that early Modernist stuff, and particularly the Constructivists because they had that strong imperative of futurity manifested in Utopian revolutionary language and visual metaphor that just grabbed me. If I could ever be considered a post modernist I would be the guy who would say: why can't we quote Modernists in with all the other quoting and referencing that was going on at the time? Why would Modernism be verboten territory? I think it had something to do with the 'post' of Post Modernism. We were supposed to have put Modernism behind us, not be sneaking it in the back door. One of my favourite philosophers is Gianni Vattimo who was probably not the first to say that the attempt to overcome Modernism was itself very Modernist. Which is to say that 'overcoming' is avant-garde therefore a very Modernist strategy. His idea was that Modernism is an almost, by now, unconscious philosophical entrenchment that cannot be put behind us as quickly as they say. Modernism ended on July 15,1972 at 3:32 in the afternoon, with the dynamiting of the Pruitt-Igoe Housing Complex in St. Louis, as I believe Charles Jencks had declared triumphantly in the early days of Post Modernism. (Tregebov: "I think modernism died much earlier the Nazis, the Fascists, Stalin the spirit died so early. After the war one could no longer be so naïve or believe in the New Jerusalem.")
I think that intuitively I had this instinct to review what aspects of Modernism could be recuperated and what we should definitely throw out.
So most of my own sculptural practice has been this kind of meditation on the Modernist unconscious. There are certain strong dialectic pairings associated with Modernism like Future and Past (as in history and memory), Production and Consumption, Ornament and Function against which I have unwittingly applied a kind of Deconstructivist method wherein one explores how the two dialectic terms might be made to collapse into each other or circumscribe what is in fact a kind of "third area" or zone.
When I "quote" Constructivism I am aware of the irony of looking back at a revolutionary movement that was all about looking forward. I was quite interested in this idea that we were living in the future that the early Modernists had tried to envision and that we would be best placed to comment upon what sorts of "progress" had been made.
I also find it quite productive to collapse images of our consumerist culture into the early Constructivist's very "productivist" culture. I keep thinking there must be a word just about to emerge like "Consumeravist" that might best describe the sorts of sculptural monsters that I end up making.
So you can see that I would have quite an affinity for the work of the "Deconstructivist" architects. I was very excited by the appearance of this movement. In fact I went down to the MOMA to see the show. I have the catalogue with Mark Wigley's fabulous essay. I was so close to getting Wigley to do a piece for Crime and Ornament [Toronto: YYZ Books, 2002]. He had agreed to do something but he took so long that he was delaying the book and other writers began to ask if they could do something else since another publishing opportunity had arisen for the piece originally committed to our book. We eventually just had to cut bait on the Wigley piece. It would have been great.
I happened to be in Paris when Bernard Tchumi's major opus (which in fact included Derrida having something personally to do with the design of the "follies") was about to open. I toured the site when there were still bits of construction being finished up. I was, what could only be called "blown away," by the fabulous referencing of early constructivist forms, themes, compositions and colours.
On the other hand Alan seems a little skeptical of the Deconstructivists. He doesn't rave on about the conceptual inventions as I do. In fact he tells funny stories about them. He has had contact with them in one capacity or another. A number of them studied with the great Colin Rowe, whom I have already mentioned, as did Alan in the seventies. Alan taught with Daniel Liebskind (now of World Trade Centre fame) who was supposed to participate in that Interpretation of Architecture show I spoke of. And Gehry would come up to Toronto and Waterloo schools of Architecture to do crits and play hockey. When Colin Rowe retired from teaching all his famous Deconstructivist students had a big symposium (& party) for him. Alan, (like most of the Rowe Alumni) was there to celebrate (and to gather more Colin Rowe stories.)
That's all I know about these guys (other than that Brian Boigon, local architectural whiz once introduced Peter Eisenman as Peter Eisenmind, a fabulous slip of the tongue that everybody loved especially, I'm sure Mr. Eisenman himself.)
I can think immediately of a couple but I think that unless one was sensitized to this sort of thing they would be overlooked. Gábor Bachman from Budapest and Zvi Goldstein from Tel Aviv. Jeanne and I invited both of them to the residency we designed for Banff. Zvi pulled out because of the [first] Gulf War and I can't remember what the deal was with Gábor Bachman. They each eventually showed up in Toronto: Bachman at an AGO [Art Gallery of Ontario] show of Hungarian artists which took its title from his work "Free Worlds"; and Zvi showed up for his exhibition at York University Gallery. Jeanne and I wrote a major article on the show and his work for C magazine. Both these artists had incorporated very strong Constructivist references in their work so that was the immediate attraction for me. And if one looks further there would be some shared themes. Bachman works with this idea of looking back from the future that the pioneer Modernists envisioned: Utopian idioms expressed with obvious artisanal means in order to bring out the failed promise. Zvi was interested in almost the opposite idea. That he could practice away from the established centres of western culture and overcome the cliché of local folkloric artistic practices in much the same way that Constructivism wished to overcome the agrarian Russian production by looking forward to a technologically liberating future. The work is of course more complex than I have made it seem here, but having had to check it out for the residency and the article I think that I have the nub of it.
Other artists who interest me quite a bit are Haim Steinbach and a guy from France named Bertrand Lavier who does this really fantastically simple looking thing of simply stacking consumer goods on top of each other and that's his sculpture. I like Melvin Charney here and there. Especially when he seems to be reviewing the tenets of Modernism. Of course I like all sorts of other artists but not for the narcissistic reason that they are doing things that look a bit like what I do.
I love Bill Woodrow. Locally I like most of what Kim Adams does and I really like Robin Collyer's work especially when he seems to be recycling off-the-shelf technological hardware or items that have some kind of technological application that is not quite available to us, when mixed in with advertising images and light boxes. When he pulls off this stuff I even get a tinge of professional jealousy.
Eyland: How has your "pal" Jeanne Randolph influenced your work?
Miller: Jeanne has probably influenced me in ways that I have yet to discover. I often will be working away at something and realize that Jeanne has been conceptualizing for years what I have just at the moment rendered physical and material. Sometimes I will try to induce Jeanne to critique the work as it develops. I find that she is not aggressive enough in this regard. I have to drag stuff out of her then suffer doubt over the possibility of having projected the critique on to her.
So it's mostly in retrospect that I see the influence. It may be because I like to work intuitively with imagery and a vague sense that an idea is intriguing enough to develop it further. Here's a couple of her big ideas that I have noticed coming out in the work and have given me a context in which to view what I have just done: The holding environment may be the biggest for me. This can be applied wonderfully to understand social and civic space as an arena of unthreatened experimentation with possibilities. To be playful and unresolved as you work out ideas about ethics, say, or social responsibility, or hope, both on an individual and a social level or even identity construction and its relation to desire. In a proper holding environment the influencing machine (another big idea) or the technological ethos (yet another big idea) is held at bay. The imperative of 'getting the job done' is not allowed to trample the development of these ultimately greater pursuits, however half-baked they may seem. Sometimes my ideas may have to do with the actual repair of the holding environment and sometimes they might have to do with imagining what the holding environment might look like if we all had our way. At the level of taking into account the reception of the work and therefore the development of it effects, I find her ideas about 'collegiality' (yet another big idea) or the co-productions of representations to be extremely useful in sorting out the final look of specific works. This idea gives the bum's rush to what some have referred to as the 'policing of meaning' wherein intentions are guarded as they are forced into the viewer's psyche, suppressing all errant meanings that may pop up en route. In this, ultimately an instance of "technological ethos" or "influencing machine," even the viewer's interpretations and uses are crushed.
I'm sure that if the more I thought about it, the greater it would seem that Jeanne's influence was thoroughly and utterly pervasive. I should quit while I still have a modicum of my own identity left.
Bernie Miller's references:
Charles Jencks statement was published in his book The Language of Post-Modern Architecture, [New York: Rizzoli, 1977, p. 9].
The Deconstructivist show at the MOMA was June 23 -August 30, 1988 and was curated by Mark Wigley and Philip Johnson. The catalogue was published by the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1988.
The Gianni Vattimo book is called The End of Modernity: Nihilism and Hermeneutics in Postmodern Culture, trans. Jon R. J. Snyder [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991].
The article that Jeanne Randolph and Bernie Miller wrote on Zvi Goldstein was called "Sculpture and the Philosophy of Modernism: A Reflection on the Reference to Technology in the Work of Zvi Goldstein" in C magazine, issue 45, spring 1995. The Art Gallery of York University show was in 1993.
The exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario was called Free Worlds: Metaphors and Realities in Contemporary Hungarian Art, Oct. 18, 1991 to Jan. 5, 1992.
The Residency item mentioned by Miller was co-organized with Jeanne Randolph for the Visual Arts Studio, Banff Centre for the Arts Artist's residency Program called "Technology, Rhetoric, and Utopia", winter session, l992.
Special thanks: The Canada Council for the Arts, The Manitoba Arts Council, The Winnipeg Arts Council, Eduardo Aquino, Tricia Wasney
The Terminations of View: A Series of Proposals by Bernie Miller and Alan Tregebov CD-ROM includes an essay and images: $20.00 plus shipping = $25.00 payable to Gallery One One One, School of Art, Main Floor, FitzGerald Building, University of Manitoba Fort Garry campus, Winnipeg, MB, CANADA R3T 2N2TEL:204 474-9322 FAX:474-7605
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