What makes the messy and fleshy sinews that move a city in body and soul? “Each belief is an extension of a rhetorical space,” writes Lisa Robertson, whose Office for Soft Architecture seeks a language to gage the forces that shape our civic networks.* It is a pliable communication, creeping out from the floors and walls and extending out into the community.
Networks provides a conduit between these two creatures, these two dialogues, as it creates an architecture and voice that grows from out from Truck’s space into the building’s walls and the city streets. The collection of manufactured and recycled materials shapes itself into an exploration of vernacular forms; Jen Hutton’s sculptural and textual works act like a topographical view of language and organic life, while Troy Ouellette’s Echosystems’ series of tubes and codes absorb mass information.
Hutton’s describes her sculptural work Ess partly in reference to Paul McCarthy’s Dead H (1968), with its imposing character and puzzle-like nature. But rather than hide its innards, as does Dead H, Ess’s periscope shape invites viewers inside to inspect its curvy innards (or, as Hutton describes it, “peering through the ass of the Ess”). The sculpture creeps along the floor, it’s serpentine shape made of plywood, giving it heft and a utilitarian feel. The phonetic spelling of the letter, “ess,” is breathy and slithering, sigmatism given form.
Much like Hutton’s earlier work, This Dirt Makes This Mud, where a sprawling series of linking chains (like coils of DNA) seem to grow out of the exhibition space, Ess has its own unique tactile and organic nature, inviting viewers to play with it, and exposing the perceived staid nature of the space as one both synthetic and soft. Hutton also brings in textual references as part of this process, asking viewers for a phonocentric response to the boldly splashed words and letters. Texts that not only become part of the material process, but, as Hutton says, “Seemingly pithy but inherently empty” - much like Derrida’s “archi-ecriture,” whereby language becomes a type of writing. The words filter down through Hutton’s consciousness to become her own unique vernacular; the burst of words creating a sea of text that brings a heteroglossia between their syntactic meanings and those manifested in the physical form.
Ouellette’s sound and sculptural Echosystems comprises a series of plastic containers connected by rivets; the series of tubes akin to a mass of clear snaking spines. The sound of a supermarket checkout scanner bleeps and blips, reading an unending line of products that echoes throughout the tubes like a pulse. The sculpture is made to grow and fit to accommodate its space; the resultant organism takes on life from the exhibition space – a being made of distilled information. Life has been codified and squeezed into barcodes, a series of magnetic strips that hold catalogues of economic data. For if indeed the “desire is in the data,” the capturing of this sub structure of information is the language of consumer lust, where speedy delivery is paramount – the velocity of information relaying desire rather than content. Perhaps desire here is expressed as the desire to see living matter transformed into data; as Robertson writes, a “prosthetic pleasureground.”
As Paul Virilio writes, it is “the decline of that analogue mental process, in favour of instrumental, digital procedures” that information now operates by; indeed, the mass collection of data hidden in magnetic strips is so easily used to codify one’s life, but it is also a knowledge that is synthetic and existing in a cybernetic world unmoored from the tangible reality of Ouellette’s structures.** The archival nature of digital information is captured in an architectural environment; communication captured in a tangled mass of networks.
*Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture by Lisa Robertson, Coach House Books, Toronto, 2006. Although as much an exercise in the use of poetics as a means of constructing a dialogue around architecture (with a host of rich signifiers describing the physiology of architectural forms) Robertson’s pocket –sized tour guide is also an impassioned manifesto that seeks to bring a social dialogue to discussions around the fate of civic structures.
**The Information Bomb by Paul Virilio, Verso, 2000. Virilio’s exploration of how the “temporal compression” of cybernetic information affects communication, particularly in a militaristic context.
Bryn Evans is a Calgary-based arts writer and critic. He was the former arts editor of Fast Forward Weekly, and currently serves on the board of the Mountain Standard Time performative arts festival.