Communes (another portrait of America)

“Stomp the devil!” Sisters and Brothers began whirling in place. the group cried
“Shake! Shake! Shake ! Christ is with you! ” (Dan Graham on the shakers in ‘Rock My Religion’)

My work as art is very new in this World. The work as architecture that I have been able to do on my own is also new, but not as new, due to the lack of money and consequently technology, but also genuinely due to less need to be new, since as architecture it’s concerned with its purposes.
(Donald Judd, ‘In Addition’)

Architecture without content started in the United States of America. First, it was based on a fascination for the big box, a building of a particular scale, in direct relation to the landscape it inhabits. A building also that in its mute expression is able to contain anything, a container, a receptacle, a black hole. The big box inspired us somewhat into a revival of the myth of the American frontier, as much fictitious as pragmatic.

It has been the base of several portraits of America. If the big box was perhaps at first the protagonist of a purely architectural affair, it became the alibi for a more ambiguous kind of portraiture: the depiction of the ‘American Field’.

In many ways, micro myths (Jefferson’s classicism), industrial size production (agriculture) and a particular kind of High-Tech delirium (data centers, fulfilment centers) gave us tools to negotiate the scale of the landscape in relation to the myth of the occupation of ‘New Land’.

On the one hand, each of these cases showed us parallels with quite a different even covered field: the crooked plains of Europe. As the similarities were increasingly evident — issues of hierarchy and sprawl are seemingly universal — the actual engine of shared occupation appeared as fundamentally different. In simplistic terms, one could define a possible kernel of the European project ‘the commons’, where that very commons in the states has a far more ambiguous set of ancestors.

The land of the promised future, has been for centuries fertile ground for the social experiment of the commune: a compact unit of collective survival, it was able to add scale to the individuals struggle and his negotiation with the vast uncompromising landscape. The lack of conventions, the condition of the all new, was perhaps the catalyst of a formal and social experiment that brought us both the Shakers – the exemplary commune of the shared collective — and Donald Judd’s Marfa – a totem of egocentric ‘community building’ as a formal project. Both cases are two extreme ends of the potential of ‘the commune’ to deal with both its power to formally unite, and to individually survive. Both also bring the object, the furniture and the architecture, into a complex construction where negotiation with people, scale and land seem to be at stake. Both have a penchant for odd rituals.

If in the past semesters we put all our hope into machines to organise the land. This time we want to focus on people to negotiate the very land through self-imposed boundaries and perimeters. Self-imposed envelopes, self-consistent (and perhaps coherent) universes.

The question obviously remains: what are these contemporary communes? In this studio (again) we hope to present the America of today by designing the hermetic unit of contemporary gathering, of disproportionate protection, of group-hallucination.

Are these elderly resorts, condominiums for the super rich, tech lab bubbles, socialist refuges….

This course has an irregular meeting schedule.

Kersten Geers will be in residence on August 29 and 30, September 28, 29 and 30, October 12, 13, 14, 27 and 28, November 21 and 22, and December 7, 8 and 9.

David Van Severen will be in residence on September 15, 16, 28, 29 and 30, October 27 and 28, November 10 and 11, and December 7, 8 and 9.