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August 21, 2011

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Home > 2011 Issues > August 21, 2011

Eclectic visual art of modern architecture
Kissing Architecture, Sylvia Lavin, Princeton University Press, Pp 136 (HB), $ 16.75

THIS is a beautifully illustrated coffee-table book with a strange title but which explores the mutual attraction between architecture and other forms of contemporary art.

A professor of architecture and urban design at the University of California, the author particularly mentions the contribution of some modern American architects among whom Pipilotti Rist finds special mention because of her creation installed in Museum of Modern Art in New York and which is called Pour Your Body Out. The installation is a multi-channel immersive video which wraps the museum’s white walls with a prelapsarian Eve, apples and animalism. In this, Rist is not talking about her creation kissing the roof or the walls of the museum whose architect was Yoshio Taniguchi, long gone by the time she entered the scene; she is describing how her work would come in temporary contact with Taniguchi’s structure, how her moving images would brush up against his still volume.

In this freshly insightful book, renowned architect-author Sylvila Lavin develops the concept of ‘kissing’ to describe the growing intimacy between architecture and new types of art – particularly multimedia installations that take place in and on the surfaces of buildings. She clearly tries to capture the sensual change that is being designed and built into architectural surfaces and interior spaces today.

Architecture in the past could not tell stories in the manner of poetry and painting, although it had certainly tried, offering such gestures of atonement as architecture parlante and postmodernism. Abstraction solved the problem because by about the 19th century, painting and all the typically figurative and narrative forms, from graphic design to the novel, were no longer interested in telling stories and therefore the parity between architecture and other forms of art made it almost within reach. While painting no longer defines the literal contact of the images because of its very abstraction, but what worried the architects was how to make architecture bring about abstraction?

It is here that this book tries to explain that today’s architecture has abandoned the narrow focus on function. For instance, in the past, our reaction to seeing a representation of grapes used to be to feel hungry or other sensations of interest and obliterated the aesthetic dimension. Today, on the other hand, aesthetic is needed to produce new experiences rather than to evacuate them and to bring more forms of interestedness rather than less.

The author stresses that architecture’s most kissable aspect is its surface. Space is hard to get a hold on. “Kissing opens architecture to a means of expression founded in the touching of (at least) two surfaces, surfaces that in their twoness highlight either material or epistemological difference. It is not merely in the nature of the contact between the surfaces that the expression is produced but in the understanding of the membranes themselves.” Thus it is essential to keep in the foreground, especially in the current digital age, the notion that even if attenuated, the materials of these surfaces matter.

The book’s aim is to show that modern architecture embraces the viewer in powerful effects of visual and sensory atmospheres.

(Princeton University Press, 41 William Street, Princeton, New Jersey 08540;—MG

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