Monday, December 30, 2013

97. Help Save Rem Koolhaas from Obscurity

Capitalism: A Love Story | Jimmy Carter | Thora Birch | Michael Moore | Movie Trailer | Review

Hi, I am Conrad Newel,

Instead of using this post to talk about how being a creative original will lead you to architectural fame, I will simply show you.

I would like to also ask you to take a moment to join me in supporting a fellow architect.
The pace of genuinely interesting developments that have positively influenced our profession has hurt a lot of our starchitects. Starchitects who have had no choice than to turn to extra-ordinary means to remain relevant. However, they can only do so much.

That’s why I am asking you to reach into your pockets right now and lend a hand. In the coming years, Kickstarter will be launching a series of projects to help a lot of attention needy starchitects to remain in the spot lights.

There are only three days left for you to help fund the most highly-anticipated documentary film about the legendary Rem Koolhaas: REM - Directed by the architect’s son, Tomas Koolhaas. Please go to the kickstarter website and give generously!

Now, I know what you are thinking:
Rem is already famous, he and his works are on the covers and insides of most architectural magazines, he is already relevant in the architecture world, and I have already bought a number of books and magazines about him.

...and I know you did!

But even though you have supported him in the past, give some more!... it will make you feel smart!

The film takes a little from Bjarke Ingels Group's earlier film My Playground, by using parkour as a narrative element.  What’s not cool about people jumping around in your building? This is how it is used 0.0001% during the building's lifespan, but so what? It’s really cool.

Hey! Louis Kahn's son made a film about his famous father My Architect, why wait till you are dead? What kind of stupid rule is that? Have your son make a film about you now! That's soo cool! Why not take a little from Natheniel Kahn as well?

Taking these two ideas and mixing them together is what originality is about!
My Playground + My Architect = Your Original film

Conrad Newel

Liberating Minds Since August 2007

Sunday, December 8, 2013

96. The Accidental Femminist - Part 2

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "95. The accidental femminist":

this was published on archinect in response to this article-image:

there is something wrong with the article and the image.

it isn't merely zaha who worked with gadafi's and qatar's regimes. everyone and their uncle worked with them. zaha is equally as "guilty" in that sense. no one bothered to collage their image with their building like penises.

did the person who make this image ask permission from zaha hadid first and get it? i assume not. in which case, i assume that they have taken advantage of her image and manipulated it to their end.

which means that, in the name of a so-called feminism (that is an exaggerated pathological direct outcome of sexism -other side of its coin-and not an actual independent feminism that respects women's/people's individual images and bodies), she's being abused by being collaged into an image that - i strongly believe- would contradict with her wishes.

the author and fabricator of the image fall into the same hole -truly no puns here- that this image is employed to counter.

furthermore, there is a strong suggestion that this is was taken from some terrorist attack/military zone - perhaps in iraq. the inversion of victims into suggested violators now being violated by a vagina is completely tasteless.

everyone in this image is being used for a single minded purpose trampling on quite a few people - inverting them for its own whimsical and perverse end.

Hi Tammuz,
Thanks for the feedback.
Sure there are other starchitects that work for dictatorial regimes, and I have been critical of them before (see note #56 & 57). I am not singling out Zaha because she is a woman. I have targeted quite a few other starchitects for criticism before.
I have criticized Bjarke Ingels for not being rigorous enough, but no one bothered to ask why I didn't criticize any female architects who were not as rigorous too?
I have criticized Peter Zumthor for being disingenuous several times, but no one bothered to ask why I didn’t criticize any disingenuous female architects or any other disingenuous starchitects for that matter.
I have criticized Wim Wenders for making a masturbatory film that basically is Zumthor pornography for Zumthor fans to jerk off to, but no one bothered to accuse me of being sexist because I was referring to his manhood as a tool for criticism.

I have posted pictures of Rem Koolhaas breast-feeding Bjarke Ingels, Joshua Prince (REX), Foreign Office Architects and a bunch of his other prodigies, but no one bothered to say "if it was a female starchitect they wouldn’t have depicted her body in such a perverse way to make a point. It’s just because he is a man!"

I am pretty sure that neither Rem, nor Bjarke nor any of the other architects who were featured in that image would approve of it, but again no one asked if Rem was being abused or exploited when his image was used in that way?
Besides giving evidence that I have a very outlandish sense of humor, do you see where I am going with this?
I am not singling her out for this type of criticism because she is a woman. I am singling her out because she is a starchitect with very low moral bearings. Zaha and her allies have a habit of calling every male criticism of her sexist and every female criticism of her jealousy; a quixotic attempt to make herself inscrutable. It has never stopped me before and it’s not going to stop me now.
The intention with the image was to illustrate an alternate universe where Zaha is actually a super action heroine standing up for the repressed women in Qatar. She is depicted as a poised, powerful woman in control. She is smoking a cigar which she has in one had as if to celebrate a victory. In the other had she is holding up the middle finger, like a driver who has successfully cut off an opponent in a traffic dispute and leaving them in the dust. The stadium (looking like a giant steel vagina) is re-imagined not so much as an accidental Freudian hiccup to be ashamed of, but as an intentional powerful act of defiance and symbol of female prowess and strength. It is not accidental that the image chosen for Zaha's face has an expression of conceit and composure that stands in stark contrast to the horror on the faces of the crowd below. In a way, I was channeling Bruce Willis' expression in the Die Hard movie, that moment right after saying "yippie-kye-yae mother fucker!"

The little men in the street below her represent the strictly male power class of Qatar led by the Emir; they stand behind the oppressive system of de-facto slavery and mass female imprisonment. Behind them in the background stands "the cock crammed" skyline - tall sky skyscrapers resembling a forest of male phalluses. This is testament to the highly patriarchal society in which women make up only 1/4 of the population and are diminished in power. If they feel it is necessary to incarcerate and suppress women in their society in such a radical way, one can only conclude that they are afraid of them. It is no wonder then that any building that resembles a female vagina would be a frightening proposition - Super action heroine Zaha has just delivered  them their worst nightmare. So yes you are right, I wanted to invoke an image of what would be terror for such a society: A powerful woman that can stand up to or at least outwit them. That was the main point!
However there is another layer of meaning and intension to this image of terror. If you remember the days leading up to the fall of the Quadafi regime that Zaha worked for, you might recall the violent images of civilians and militia in the streets being attacked by her former employer's solders. As I mentioned Zaha was hired as part of the regime's propaganda wing in an elaborate plan to give the regime an air of sophistication that would help mask the atrocities that he was committing.

THE REALITY: The images in the video above shows the reality of Quadafi's Lybia and the terror he inflicted on the people there.

THE MASK: People's Conference Hall  (above) in Tripoli designed by starchitect, Zaha Hadid, but was 'put on hold' causing her firm to lay off many of its employees. The project was clearly an attempt by Gaddafi to rebrand his image and fumigate the stench of Lockerbie and other adventures of his dictatorship

With my image I also wanted to place the mask (Zaha Hadid and her work) and the reality behind the mask (the image of violence and terror) together on the same image as a way for my audience to see both the mask and the reality in one image.  This was the secondary point.

The third point was to create an image that was outrageous, humorous and offensive as possible to draw attention and spark debate. I wanted to shake my audience from their complacency of looking at starchitects who willingly participate in embellishing violent regimes as a trivial matter. By getting my audience emotionally engaged by either laughing or being disturbed by it, my hopes are that they will remember it and help to create a culture where this kind of behavior is no longer acceptable.  

Some say it is tasteless. Sure, I expected that response. What is tasteless? That varies along cultural, religious, and personal value lines. In some societies complete nudity is normal and acceptable; for them no part of the human body is taboo or can be seen as tasteless and that includes both the male and female genitalia. For some religions any flesh visible above the knee of a woman is indecent, others find it tasteless for a woman to show her ankles or require that the woman is covered so that only the eyes are visible.  So no matter what I do, someone will consider it tasteless by some standards. Therefore, you may have noticed that trying not to offend anyone isn't anywhere on my list of intentions above.  
To answer some of your specific concerns though; Why choose the vagina and not some other body part, or something else as a mode of criticism? Well you my have to ask Jon Stewart, or whoever started the Internet meme. By the time I saw that stadium it was already branded as a vagina. All that was left for me to do was to contextualize it, which i did - both visually with the image and politically with the accompanying article.

As for the alleged victims, No! The collage is not taken from images of actual terror victims; they are from a street protest - demonstrators running from tear gas thrown by police, another is of Arabic men running away at the start of a camel race in Rash al Khaimah, and the third (not sure) probably an Arab comedy skit featuring men screaming.  I commend you though for at least thinking about them. Most of the complaints I get condemns the tasteless victimization/exploitation of Zaha without any mention of the thousands of women or slaves who are victims of the system she works for.
In short, I belive you (as well as others) have misinterpreted my intention and inflated it with some incorrect assumptions. As you mentioned, the image comes with other messages. You interpreted it as a tasteless exploitation of Zaha and victims of terrorism that tramples on people for my own whimsical and perverse end. To this I say, that this is part of what makes art/comedy so interesting and wonderful: Because it can be interpreted in so many different ways. Like a Rorschach test, a psychoanalyst may put an ink splash in front of you and you will see one thing and I will see another. In these scenarios, the meanings we find in the images are more a measure of us and our world view than the actual image itself. 
It draws to mind the case when former NY mayor Rudolph Giuliani threatened to withdraw funding from the Brooklyn museum because it showed the artist Chris Ofili’s painting of the Holy Virgin Mary that he didn’t like. Ofili's painting depicted the Virgin Mary with dark skin, African features, and was collaged with close-ups of female genitalia cut out from pornographic magazines and real elephant dung.  Ofili's intention was to use the dung and the vagina images as symbols of fertility. Giuliani saw it differently. He thought it was offensive to Catholics and famously exclaimed, "There’s nothing in the First Amendment that supports horrible and disgusting projects!” Ironically though, it was Hillary Clinton who came to Ofili's defense arguing the freedom of expression and cultural tolerance. This is the nature of symbols in art. It can provoke a conversation about the meanings we extract from things between two strangers who know nothing about each other than the values we bring to an image.

All the best,
Conrad Newel
Liberating Minds Since August 2007


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

95. The Accidental Femminist

Zaha Hadid to me has always seemed to be a feminist of convenience; that is to say she is a chameleon-like figure that magically transforms into a feminist only when it suits her; notably, when she is criticized in public by using it as a defense mechanism. When she is criticized by men (which most critics are) she pulls out the gender card and cry “You are criticising me because I am a woman!” and follow up with sentences beginning with the phrase “If a man had done this then….. . However when it comes to standing up for women's rights, in cases where she could use her power and visibility as one of the world's most famous women to defend other women or feminist causes, she tends to go silent. Such was the case when she sat on the Pritzker jury and did not do much to stand up for Denise Scott Brown. I went into this in more detail in note number 92. Zaha & Josephine: A tale of two celebrity women.

The other thing with Zaha as well as other starchitects is that they generally use their works to glamorize autocrats that are inherently violent or oppressive. By choosing to work for dictatorial and oppressive regimes they become complicit in the opression. One such example is where Zaha entered into a contract with Muammar Gaddafi to design a new conference center outside of Tripoli shortly before the regime collapsed in 2011. Gaddafi had enlisted Zaha’s services as part of a larger plan to project an image of cultural refinement and soften his image as a regime that was friendly to western culture and safe to invest in.

So when I saw Jon Stewart’s skit a few days ago in which he remarked that her Qatar football stadium proposal looked like a giant steel vagina, I thought it was kind of ironic. Qatar like Gaddafi’s Libya is also ruled by an autocratic regime - in this case an absolute monarchy - that has laws among others that deem it illegal to criticize the Emir - the highest ranking monarch.

Some other notable  laws gives employers unilateral power to cancel residency permits, deny workers the ability to switch jobs and deny them permission to leave the country. Relative to the fact that Qatar is a country where the great majority of the population are foreigners, the result is a system of forced labour where it is difficult for a migrant worker to leave an abusive employer or travel overseas without permission. So in other words a defacto system of slavery.

When it comes to women rights Qatar boasts one of the best among arab countries, but take that with a grain of salt. Despite having one of the worlds most lopsided gender ratio where women make up just one-quarter of the population, Qatar has one of the highest female prison populations in the world. Most of these female prisoners are low paid immigrant workers, tried in an unknown language, without representation and often without access to consulate assistance. To top it off, in some cases in family courts, a female's testimony is worth half a man's and in some cases a female witness is not accepted at all.

So why would Qatar hire a woman - Zaha Hadid -  to design their prize stadium?  For the same reason Gaddafi hired Zaha - damn good PR! Qatar has a public image problem with The West, among them with women rights. Hiring one of the world most famous woman architect would go a long way in mending that image as well as embelishing them with the "sophistication" of western high culture.
The irony in this case, is that here we have a patriarchal society that tramples on women's rights and diminishes them in general and yet their proudest new monument looks like the gaping hole of a vagina.
Holy Shit!...Zaha unleashes a giant steel vagina on the cock crammed skyline on Qatar

But here is another way to look at it - perhaps just a fantasy of Conrad Newel. The fantasy is that Zaha is actually not just an opportunist or a tool for hire. No! Zaha is actually a real feminist behind the veil of an arrogant unconscionable diva. She is a real champion for women and human rights. Actually she is much smarter and smoother than anyone of us had imagined. What if the stadium was intentionally designed to look like a vagina? Perhaps that was the plan all along. Perhaps she really wanted to send a thinly veiled message to the Emir. Something like this:

Fuck you you sexist oppressive prick!  
I am going to take your money and make the proudest new addition to your cock crammed skyline into the image of a cunt!  
This one is for the imprisoned women of Qatar.
Imprision this Emir!

Conrad Newel

Liberating Minds Since August 2007