:: Article

Utopian Connotations and Stewart Home Industries

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Luca Frei, The so-called Utopia of the Centre Beaubourg – An interpretation, Book Works, 2007

By 3:AM Reporter.

It is the strangest sensation to stand on the fortieth floor of the Centre Beaubourg, way below the better-known, well-rehearsed floors of the Pompidou Centre, and read about the very place being created there and then, in real time. It is as if, absurdly, the materialisation of the place is brought about by the text. Every floor here, and every man and woman in it, is an example that stands for something unique; a series of explanations which, with each floor, is interrupted and cancelled out and yet simultaneously expanded and multiplied, almost beyond all limits. Reading this is like watching Sokurov’s film Russian Ark in the Hermitage Museum where the film is filmed in one single, unmediated take whilst taking a smoke of Camel with Metzger of ADA notoriety and the recently deceased Andi Engel.

Stewart Home Industries ‘Muffled moans lost themselves amid frantic chanting from the caff.’

The excellent Book Works edition does the place justice. I read it whilst waiting for somebody to arrive, for the place is deserted at present, despite the great crowds I noticed thronging in the adjoining floors both above and below. There is a critical alliance I think, however, between the stillness and silence of this floor and all the activity of the others. It may just be, however, that I prefer this to that. Taste is the great divider. I read aloud to just myself. You can reach it by taking the primitive neoist line Sevol took circa ’85 whereby Paris, Amsterdam and Tepoztlan are connected via the restored Central line from Ealing Broadway through to Berlin, a line extended throughout the sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties until today we have a spirited reworking of the notoriety of Kiki Bonbon’s ‘Flying Cats’ film so that instead of dropping cats from a tower block they are laid out on the track as a train approaches. The phrase remains the same, however. ‘The cat has no choice.’

Stolen quote or deliberate omission of interpretation ie let the text talk for itself, even its marginalia? Discuss in the light of the following: ‘Appearing under the pseudonym Gustave Affeulpin in 1976, and coinciding with the inauguration of the Centre Beaubourg in Paris, Albert Meister’s fictional text imagines a radical libertarian space submerged beneath the newly erected centerpiece of French Culture. In a world turned upside down, the seventy-six storeys submerged beneath the official centre for culture provide a platform for alternative modes of work and creation. Reporting, in sometimes hysterical, sometimes more poetic language, and with tongue firmly in cheek, the narrator recounts the vacillations of free organisation, in a satire that never takes its eye of the main target: state sponsored culture.

This is the first translation and publication of the text in English, a project undertaken by the artist Luca Frei as an attempt to both revitalise a significant cultural treatise incorporating many elements of Meister’s sociological thinking, and to reflect upon the subjective role of the artist in transferring ideas from one cultural framework and era to another.’

The tea I have in my flask is sour. This book is sweet. It is sweet like Samizdat. Stewart Home Industries Samizdat is far more than self-publishing. As a tradition it is by necessity collective. Politically, it usually takes the guise of anti-bolshevik communism – although a minority of its partisans have adhered to Trotskyism, fascism, and even Stalinism. Most of its manifestations emphasise collective action. There is always an implicit socialism. Virtually all those involved with samizdat since 1945 have been aware of futurism and dada as precursors to their own activities. For example, Gorden W Zealot in ‘Neoism Om Taka Taka’ (Computer Graphic Conspiracy, Montreal 1986) wrote the following:

“I was a pilgrim in the parched bleakness of official culture, the bankrupt paucity, the de-colapso (sic.) of organised art. I was kicked out of school at 15 yrs for reciting tristan Tzara’s poetry at the parent-teacher night at our art school. My assistant threw buckets of wet cooked spaghetti on the guests and teachers and we chopped up the stage with axes.”

Guy Debord wrote:

“Dadaism wanted to suppress art without realising it; surrealism wanted to realise art without suppressing it. The critical position later elaborated by the situationists has shown that the suppression and the realisation of art are inseperable aspects of the same overcoming of art.”

What Stewart Home Industries has realised is that samizdat is riddled with contradictions. However, this does not prevent the listing of key characteristics. Despite being a sensibility, it is possible to give a meaningful description of samizdat to sympathetic observers who have no personal involvement with the tradition. Even thoe who place themselves in opposition to the samizdat tradition are made aware – usually to their distaste – of certain cognitive and physical possibilities, upon coming into contact (either through first hand or through media reports) with the actions of those who adhere to this brand of madness.

LUCA FREI

1976, Lugano. Lives in Lund.

A pun: Lund of the Frei.

I read the book in stillness. I crouch next to a wall. I am not Swedish nor Swiss. We should maybe ignore geographical differences. Lettrisme and specto-situationist theory are very obviously a product of French culture whereas punk and Class War are just as obviously British in origin. Similarly, specto-situationist theory, with its implicit belief that capitalism has overcome its economic contradictions, is clearly a product of the fifties and sixties – when the world economy was expanding rather than depressed. Stewart Home Industries

I begin to move with the book in hand, held in the right hand. I mime directions for use. I mime Frei’s work into the empty space. I imagine myself back in the old Tobacco Warehouse. This is a response to the book rather than an interpretation. Or maybe it is nothing more than a wriggle of life in the bottom of the pond. The elements that make up Frei’s work – graffiti, mirrored tables, found and invented chairs, constructed walls are all a response to two pre-existing situations. One is the building of the old Tobacco Warehouse from which the piece takes its name. The other is Oda Projesi’’s new book, produced for the Biennial.

Frei’s starting point was the ground floor space with its large loading door, wooden ceiling, columns and tiled floor. Emphasising these through his additions, he wants to create a kind of hybrid space, open to the surrounding neighbourhood while claiming its own integrity as a dynamic location whose purpose is still in flux. Oda Projesi’s book is exploded into three dimensions through the graffiti, a transgression of the public/private divide that also links the whole work to the idea of the squatter movement that often uses graffiti to declare occupation of a building.

The work establishes a place where the public and the private come together to create new possibility, something that mirrors Oda Projesi’s own working method. However, the construction of the work also relates to Frei’s research into the Swiss sociologist Albert Meister’s book La soi-disant utopie du centre beaubourg (The so-called utopia of the beaubourg centre) which refers to Paris’ main contemporary cultural venue. The book begins with the author discovering a method of creating big holes, whose content disappears. He thus creates a 70-storey alternative ‘beaubourg’ underneath the existing one and after a while small ‘beaubourgs’ begin to appear across Europe ‘ in apartments, disused office spaces, factories etc. In these spaces there are libraries, places for meetings, living, working, eating and loving. Frei’s work here imagines that proposal realised, using the materials he has at hand in the city. The work is produced in collaboration with graffiti artists, Tunç ‘TURBO’ Dindas¸ – ‘S2K’, WYNE – ‘S2K’, ARI˙ ALPERT and #flypropaganda#.

Charles Esche is not on this floor. When I was last in the pompidou centre above here there was a Beckett exhibition and there was an incredible colour photo of Becket hung outside the centre from 1960 by Lufti Ozkok/Sipa. I immediately went inside to buy the poster. I also saw ‘Film’ for the first time and bought a DVD. I am a bad man. I shop and don’t worry.

I am a thief of texts which I am writing onto the walls. I have brought read and blue crayons. I have written out the text from Book Works. I now am scribbling out another stolen text. I am in the spirit of the book. I imagine Stewart Home Industries laughing at these acts of theft. I am not writing out commodities. This is the kind of thing that gets a laugh out of some people. Stewart Home is very good at these kinds of pranks. The modern world needs books like this. The modern world needs men like Stewart Home. Stewart Home Industries makes a deliberate anti-statement to ensure sympathetic process. Stewart Home has a gob on him. For a writer this is his invention. He will be remembered for this act. There is nothing else like this. He is the genius who fights against the very notion of genius. Therefore he is the picture of the man who eats himself. A cannibal gob. Artists with books is what Book Works are all about. Gavin Everall is the man. It is as if neoists and all the groups in Stewart home’s book about the avant garde were still working. So now I think they still are. So then a random mess of text comes here and I scribble it on the wall. The question is whether to do it in red or blue. I go for red. There is no system. I think this can be disconcerting for some. I renounce art and all that shite. TOBACCO WAREHOUSE

The Pompidou Centre: or the hidden kernel of dematerialisation

Author: Francesco Proto a

Affiliation: School of the Built Environment, Department of Critical Theory, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK

DOI: 10.1080/13602360500463156

Publication Frequency: 5 issues per year

Published in: The Journal of Architecture, Volume 10, Issue 5 November 2005 , pages 573 – 589

Subjects: Built Environment; Architecture: Theory of Architecture; Architecture: Theory of Architecture; Urban Design;

Nottingham University has a green and beautiful campus. The Trent Building is where its philosophy department is. I don’t know if it still is. But I guess it is. Vagueness and the sorites. In my day it was Harrison who wrote about Locke. A lecturer called Kirk had once written a rebuttal of some point by Quine which had excited scorn from some but always impressed me.

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As I said, I am not Swiss. 3ammagazine is not Swiss because it comes from nowhere. Having said that, I confess to being in England. 3ammagazine has samizdat moments. Ignorance prevents me from saying much about this huge topic. I feel it has a conceptual affinity however. Andy Gallix and Andrew Stevens are the Gutai to my pretty discourse. They are a living tradition. Gallix is not only living in Paris but his name gives away the location. Stevens is on the inside of something Japanese. There is in their identity an opposition to permanence. Hence 3ammagazine changes all the time and all at once. Sitting here reading this book about the Beaubourg I disintegrated long before I was disbanded.

Stewart Home Industries : Samizdat movements, being utopian, seek to intervene in all areas of life. However, the anti-professionalism of samizdat biases it in favour of cultural and political activities and away from serious scientific investigation.

Abstract

Already in the mid-1960s, with the first warnings of juvenile arraignments, an open critique of the naive enthusiasm with which the former generation had absorbed the myth of technology and communication came to the fore. So that Archigram members themselves, in proposing a cardboard megastructure for the ARCHIGRAM VII special issue (‘everybody’s got their own mega-structure, do it yourself’ they wrote), kept an ironic distance from the modernistic belief in the linear evolution of society (Fig. 1).

Nevertheless, the dramatic decrease in the utopian mainstream that had characterised the ‘Year of Megastructures’, as Banham called it (1963), succeeded in producing an unrepeatable architectural gesture for the celebration of individual freedom and social equality. As one of the best-known contemporary icons, the Pompidou Centre was also responsible for turning the modernistic interest in functionality into the de-materialised aspects of urban fetishism. The hyper-objectification of its form and the consequent ‘transparency’ of its content led in fact to a new type of architectural fruition: that in which the ideological perception of the building exceeded the real possibilities suggested by its hyper-flexibility. Thus, the Pompidou also inaugurated a new era for the dogmatic myth of self-empowerment by means of self-learning (auto-didacticism) and mass jouissance.

I never asked permission for Mats Stjernstedt to walk in at this point. The conversation is Mats’ and not mine but again I am a thief. Plagiarism is a well-known feature of the avant garde. There is a great deal to be said for it. It allows a review to be written in a matter of minutes and also explodes the idea that it was written by any controlling agent. Such an agent could easily be held in contempt for being merely a nazi.

I imagine Mats wearing a dark green overcoat, black Doc martin boots. His hair is red, his beard a sallow yellow I imagine. He has sad eyes. They are sad because they have seen so much and refuse to be limited by merely the visible. His voice is surprisingly rasping and harsh.

Luca is calm and collected. He refuses to be pushed into any corners and feels a little guilty trying to explain anything. But he remains courteous and speaks in earnest low tones that suggests that he is trying to help. It is not clear, however, whether he feels Mats is the right person to speak to. Yet there is no one else. He day is overcast and gloomy. Yet in his heart Luca is feeling sympathietic and happy.

Mats Stjernstedt:

In an e-mail you wrote that you don’t really create objects to accommodate, but rather to activate. Can you tell me something about this aspect in your works?

Luca Frei:

I am interested in producing objects that creates an awareness of the content in relation to the context in which these are placed and used. These objects should also be flexible in the sense that they can be moved or placed accordingly to different spaces or situations of use; on the other hand I am not interested in creating objects that are authoritarian on ones behaviour, rather they should suggests change, propositions and openness.

Mats Stjernstedt:

During the month of January Index has partly rebuilt its office space to – in that same space – promote a more participatory situation for our visitors, and at the same time rationalise our daily and administrative work. We have asked you to develop a functional and esthetical suggestion for this new space. Can you express some of your ideas for your “Proposal for a new office space” at Index’

Luca Frei:

In a way I wanted to make the office less “office”. One of my first intentions was to create a space that would be both office and playground, resulting in a more open and dynamic whole. Therefore it was important to consider the furniture not as office furniture but as functional objects that could be used for different purposes. It helped the fact that in the room there is a complete kitchen set, and that somehow already gives a more familiar and personal character to the space.

Mats Stjernstedt:

So the office is now installed at Index since early March, and it will stay with us for quite a while. It has already proved to be multi-functional according to your intentions and according to our wishes. But the office’s fully potential should now be explored in order for it to represent something more than, say, a succesfully executed design. Your suggestion for how it should live on in the future will be as important as ours. Do you have any immediate reactions on this’

Luca Frei:

An important aspect were the dialogues and the process that went through when we developed this project, for me this was already part of an engagement with the office space, or a way to use it. On the other hand the design is only a support for activities, therefore it is important that the space is constantly fed with different situations of engagement.

The voices suddenly dim and fade out. There is really nothing left to be said.

News:

“Rooseum Lobby at Radisson SAS Hotel: Suggestions for Empty Spaces, by Luca Frei”

2002-08-30 until 2002-12-01

Rooseum Center for Contemporary Art

Malmo, SE

Rooseum Lobby is a new collaborative project between Rooseum and Radisson SAS Hotel that gives Rooseum the opportunity to present contemporary art outside the institution and the public a chance to experience art in a different context. Four young, Malmö based artists will work in the hotel space during 2002: Christina Erman Widerberg, Andreas Nordström, Luca Frei and Anna Ling. Now it’s time for Luca Frei.

The exhibition Suggestions for Empty Spaces, by Luca Frei, opens on 30 August. The group of collages and drawings in the exhibition presents his latest works, and visualises the artist’s concerns with the idea of space as an open territory for questioning and possibilities.

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Luca Frei’s latest projects have all in some ways been concerned with educational and working models exploring ideas of mediation relating to architecture, design, context and communication. Recent public projects included the realisation of the office space + lounge at Index gallery in Stockholm and the class-room for the Critical Studies program at Malmö Art Academy. Recent exhibition projects included Fria Aktiviteter/ Free Activities in collaboration with Anna Ling, Wight Gallery, University of California ( Los Angeles, 2001), a project that questioned the relation between education and control; A Laboratory for Proposals/ Proposals for a Laboratory, graduation exhibition, Peep Gallery (Malmö 2002) and participation in the Gwangju Biennale (Korea, 2002).

Obituary

All events, and this is an event, should be free to make up more. The purpose of this floor was to do just that. I have ripped the obituary of Al Lewis from the Guardian and simply scrawled it on the wall. I then add a question at the end, in bold red letters.

Comic Munster actor who took a serious view of politics

Ronald Bergan

Tuesday February 7, 2006

The Guardian

The actor Al Lewis, who has died aged 82, had a face like a carnival mask. This was perfect for his role as the irascible, 378-year-old Grandpa in The Munsters television sitcom that ran from 1964 to 1966, the repeats of which have seldom been off the box.

The look of Grandpa was modelled on Bela Lugosi’s portrayal of Dracula in the 1930s, but the interpretation was Lewis’s own. With his pale moon face, beady eyes, black leather gloves (of tanned bat skin), moth-eaten tuxedo and high-collared cape, he played the role as if in a second-rate touring version of Dracula.

It is not surprising to find that he had previously worked in the circus, burlesque and vaudeville. What is more unusual, perhaps, is that Lewis, born Albert Meister to Polish and German Jewish immigrant parents in Brooklyn, had been a salesman, store detective and teacher, and had taken a PhD in child psychology at Columbia University at the age of 31. He claimed to have read a book a day since he was 11, and later became a respected basketball scout. In 1998 he stood as the Green party candidate for the governorship of New York state, campaigning against “draconian” drug laws and the death penalty, and picked up more than 52,000 votes.

Lewis said that he learned his politics from his illiterate mother, who worked in the garment trade. “She understood what the struggle was about. You become aware. It hits you in the stomach and then a cop hits you on the head.”

Ironically, he got his first big break on television playing a policeman, the crass officer Leo Schnauzer in Car 54, Where Are You (1961-63). “Cops loved it,” he recalled. “I’ve played so many going away parties and retirement parties. I used to do a yearly show for the New Jersey state police, and the next time they saw me on a picket line they would say, ‘Hey, what are you doing here’'”

While finishing up a Broadway run of the musical Do Re Mi with Phil Silvers, Lewis became part of the “horribly funny” Munster family, resident at 1313 Mockingbird Lane. He was Count Vladimir Dracula aka Grandpa, father-in-law to Herman Munster (Fred Gwynne, his erstwhile cop pal from Car 54), a bumbling Karloffian Frankenstein monster. Grandpa, who had an insatiable thirst for blood and knowledge, was usually found puttering around in his underground laboratory with his pet bat Igor.

Shortly after the show ended, and after appearing in the lame film spin-off Munster, Go Home! (1966), set in England, Lewis opened an Italian restaurant called Grandpa’s in Greenwich Village. But he continued to appear in TV comedy series and such feature films as They Shoot Horses, Don’t They (1969), about dance marathons during the depression. Lewis, who had bitter personal memories of the era, is compelling in an almost silent role beside Gig Young’s haranguing MC. A few years later, he was in Used Cars (1980), Married to the Mob (1988) and My Grandfather is a Vampire (1991).

Three years ago, complications during surgery for an angioplasty led to the amputation of Lewis’s right leg below the knee and the toes of his left foot. When asked once what accomplishment he was most proud of, he replied, “my three sons”. They survive him, as does his second wife of 20 years.

Al Lewis (Albert Meister), actor, born April 30 1923; died February 3 2006.

I forgot to note what my question was after pasting this obituary on the wall.

I have been aware of someone also studying Piaget. The study builds upon Piaget’s theory of moral development in children, extending his concepts into the sphere of political morality and choice. A series of hypotheses is offered, and tests are used to measure whether Piaget’s theories are relevant to judgments about political matters. The findings from the interviewing provide strong support for the thesis that moral development theory has major utility in the study of political socialization.

I also made a poster. In this case the sentence was combined with an archive image of the Place Beaubourg, where the Centre Pompidou was later built. The poster relates to my long term research on the book La soi-disant utopie du Centre Beaubourg written in 1976 by Swiss sociologist Albert Meister. The book, written in form of a diary, is an account of the life in a space situated more than 70 floors underneath the fundaments of the then newly opened Centre Pompidou where alternative forms of culture take place. The book starts with the author discovering a revolutionary method to make holes and to make their content disappear, so he decides to apply his discovery to start this adventure. The book ends with new Beaubourgs opening all over the world. Albert Meister (Delémont, 1927 – Kyoto, 1982), sociologist, has been director of studies near École des Hautes Études. Le 6 janvier 1982, mort d’Albert MEISTER à Kyoto (Japon).

Sociologue libertaire.

Né le 22 juillet 1927 à Bâle (Suisse), il est l’auteur (sous divers pseudonymes) de très nombreux ouvrages qui traitent en priorité des problèmes d’associations, d’autogestion et de développement des pays pauvres. Pour ne citer que quelques titres : “Coopération d’habitation et sociologie du voisinage” (1957), “Socialisme et autogestion, l’expérience yougoslave” (1964), “Participation, animation et développement” (1969), “La participation dans les associations” (1974), “L’inflation créatrice” (1975), “La soi-disant utopie du centre Beaubourg” (1976), etc.

Il est le fondateur de la revue internationale “Community development”. Dans un tout autre domaine, il participera avec Jacques Vallet, en 1977, à la création de la revue d’art et d’humour “Le Fou parle”.

“(…) si vous pensez que le Système ne peut être amendé, mais qu’il devrait être complètement transformé, si vous pensez, par exemple, que le problème n’est pas de travailler moins mais de travailler avec plaisir et pour le plaisir et quand vous en aurez envie, pas de posséder des choses mais de pouvoir les utiliser si le coeur vous en dit, pas de gagner plus mais d’oublier la notion même de gain et d’argent, pas de fonder et posséder une famille mais d’aimer… si vous pensez de telles horreurs vous n’avez d’autres possibilités que de prendre le contre-pied de ce qui est impliqué par le Système : aimer au lieu de haïr, donner au lieu de prendre, écrire avec des fautes plutôt que respecter l’Orthographe, adopter au lieu de procréer, marcher au lieu de circuler, ne pas voter au lieu de tomber dans le piège de voter contre, ne pas posséder et donc ne rien avoir à déclarer au lieu de déclarer trop peu, ne pas regarder la TV au lieu de la déclarer mauvaise, ne pas croire au lieu de bouffer du curé,…” Maria Luisa Berneri, Travel through utopy, NEVER, Carrara, 1981

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Martin Buber, Paths in utopy, Community, Milan, 1981

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Ronald Creagh, Laboratories of utopy, Elèuthera, Milan, 1987

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Michael Lewey, Redenzione and utopy, Stamped Boringhieri, Turin, 1992

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Albert Meister, Under the Beaubourg, Elèuthera, Milan, 1989

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William Morris, News from no place, Garzanti, Milan, 1984

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P.M., Amberland, Elèuthera, Milan, 1992

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P.M., Bolus Bolus, Free It, Solarino [Switzerland], 1987

This then doesn’t end. The exhibition is now ready. The event has passed into history and I must record it. The empty room, despite its vast size, seems too closed up. There are no crowds. No one but me. As the only archivist of the strange wall writings in red and blue I take on an authority that I have to resist. I do so by leaving without asking permission. It is in the lobby of the Pompidou Centre that I look up to the shop and realise that I should be there. I end up buying a small brightly coloured orange kitchen gizmo. It looks very designed. I wish to smoke. I leave and watch some clown entertaining a crowd. I go looking for a poster or two. I especially like the one of Brel in black and white having a cigarette with two other singers but I can’t remember their names. It’s a very cool picture.

This is a very cool book. Luca Frei is a very cool guy. Book Works are cool, Gavin Everall too. By cool I’m thinking of the classic stuff: Belmondo in Breathless, Camus, Beckett. It’s a Paris thing. The book is a light touch and funny. It stops because a book has to end sometime so we can go breathe it and see. It’s about life and tasting jam. That’s how it ends. Book Works however are not Parisian. Book Works are London, CASCO and Utrecht. Stewart Home Industries is similarly diverse. I have wandered around many of the floors under the Pompidou Centre and can say that nearly everything in the book remains pretty accurate. Time changes very little down there. But then I was in a deserted room. I like my own company but still. All I’m saying is my own impression of the accuracy of the book and I think it’s on the money.

This review is nothing more than an emotional connotation, a ‘sensibility’ that is an ‘ism’ but with more positive connotations. I noticed that every level of the utopian building was part of Stewart Home Industries which signalled a corporate affiliation denying the possibility of falling prey to romanticism.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, September 1st, 2007.