Most Wanted

Komar and Melamid are two Russian artist emigrés who undertook a fascinating project. Their book, Painting by Numbers, explains that “with the help of The Nation Institute and a professional polling team, they discovered that what Americans want in art, regardless of class, race, or gender, is exactly what the art world disdains–a tranquil, realistic, blue landscape.”
Once they received the general consensus, they painted the result. The painting above is what Americans prefer to see, complete with a historic figure (George Washington), deer, and children. It’s an ugly amalgamation for sure, but it is quite revealing of the aesthetic preferences of the general populace. One thing that immediately strikes me is that it looks absolutely nothing like what the Art World tells us is ‘good art.’ Although, I do suspect (like Arthur Danto) that most people would rather not actually hang this on their wall. I know I wouldn’t like to.
Not content to stop there, the duo polled countries from all over the World. The results are in (and not a surprise): People the world over tend to prefer a strikingly similar landscape. The elements we have laid out earlier are all there. What does this tell us about aesthetics and human evolution? The argument has been made that the results are an aberration due to the ubiquity of Hallmark calendars in all the countries polled – that the results have been skewed. I like to think that the ubiquity of Hallmark calendars is exactly the proof we’re looking for: Hallmark is everywhere precisely because that’s what we prefer to look at.
Komar and Melamid have just laid out Hallmark’s market research for them, and Evolutionary Psychology has backed it up: The experience of beauty belongs to our evolved human psychology.

Alan Carroll, An Instinct for Beauty (2011)

USAKomar and Melamid, USA’s Most Wanted Painting (1993)RusiaKomar and Melamid, Russia’s Most Wanted Painting (1995)ChinaKomar and Melamid, China’s Most Wanted Painting (1995)FranciaKomar and Melamid, France’s Most Wanted Painting (1995)AlemaniaKomar and Melamid, Germany’s Most Wanted Painting (1995)KenyaKomar and Melamid, Kenya’s Most Wanted Painting (1995)ItaliaKomar and Melamid, Italy’s Most Wanted Painting (1995)HolandaKomar and Melamid, Holland’s Most Wanted Painting (1995)


 

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Most Wanted

Bitter Pill to swallow

Designed environments which are thought out, formalized, and complete are usually ‘lifeless’ and unapproachable because (a) they do not invite interaction and modification to suit immediate human needs; (b) they are unable to develop and become extended through human use. (…) Oddly enough, many environments which ‘work’ well for people meet few, if any,aesthetic criteria ordinarily employed by designers. (…)

George Rand, quoted in Lawrence Halprin, New York, New York (1968)

For most designers this was a bitter pill to swallow. (…) We do not seem to be able to structure the process of change. On one hand we need citizen participation; on the other the magnitude of he physical needs of rebuilding are enormous.

Lawrence Halprin, New York, New York (1968)

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Florian Rivière, Hacktivist Dublin (2012)

Bitter Pill to swallow

Industrial Sublime

At Gas Works Park, the industrial works and the waste burial mound were transfigured through site design into aesthetic objects. This was achieved, first, through masking their presence with a thick, green wall separating the parking lot from the park, and then through juxtaposing silhouetted towers in the foreground with the city in the distant background. These objects were made heroic by their isolation and lack of of functional context. They evoked the technological sublime awe of our ability both to control nuture, space, and time through technology and to create magnificent forms clearly expressive of that control.

Elizabeth K. Meyer, Seized by Sublime Sentiments (1998)

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Industrial Sublime

Whose Landscapes?

Who benefits from landscape architecture? To move beyond the simple, aspirational answer – everyone – raises further questions. Who do we think the beneficiaries ought to be, and what is their place in the texture of society as a whole? Planning and designing our future landscapes takes place in a cultural context, and culture is not monolithic. So whose culture, whose landscapes, are we conserving, enhancing or developing anew?

Catherine Ward Thompson, Who benefits from landscape architecture? (2005)

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Joel Meyerowitz, Broadway and West 46th Street (1976)

Whose Landscapes?

Over-determinism

City landscapes are being increasingly commodified, monitored, and constructed in ways that discourage spontaneous appropriation and unplanned transformation. In resistance to this over-determinism, a few contemporary landscape architects and urbanists are seeking to promote qualities of indeterminacy, open-endedness, and temporality in their work. Their aim is to engender and support engagement rather than objectification. These efforts are particularly applicable to large-scale public, decommissioned, and marginalized lands within or at the edge of the cities. Such spaces resist popular prescriptions of use, identity, and meaning. Is this shift from form to events, permanence to change, identity to void, a recognition for the need to recover essential territories in the city that are “neither wilderness nor home”.

Anuradha Mathur, Neither Wilderness nor Home. The Indian Maidan (1999)

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People walk back to their homes as vehicluar traffic came to a standstill due to rains in Bombay.

Anuradha Mathur, Dilip da Cunha, SOAK (2009)

Over-determinism

Natural Capital

The city is a landscape; its soils and geology define its fundamental character. Our work and interests stem from understanding time and territory, the geology and wider landscape patterns, the river catchment with propositions for water sensitive urban design, the urban forest with how liveable the city is and how resilient the urban dweller feels. Our work ranges from strategic planning to forensic analysis of the below-ground condition, considering the soil’s biological complexity and its capacity for yield and absorption. Collaborations enable our practice to reach widely into the marginal territories that inform our work; the poetry and science of soils; the sound of geology; the value of shared grass roots knowledge; the biomimetics of spider sheet webs. Our profession concerns that which makes land a landscape, the people who inhabit it and the resilience of the environment and the individual that together create city communities in all their density and diversity. We seek an archaeological narrative and creative ways of how to stimulate the stewardship of the city’s natural capital.

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Johanna Gibbons + Muf Architecture – Art, Making Spaces in Dalston (2012)

Natural Capital

Complex

Our image of the landscape is the result of complex cultural interpretations. The relationship of our personal experience, based in our cultural milieu to the landscapes around us is often underestimated. This includes how we interpret something even as simple as a public park. Parks have undoubtedly communicated cultural, behavioral and political cues throughout history.  Sometimes didactic and sometimes unintentionally instructive about societal norms and preferences, parks are not always as neutral as they might appear. Curiously, parks are instruments of power that seem almost benign in the public realm – few question the creation of a new park.

The design and appearance of a park generally reflects its cultural and geographical position. At the municipal level, parks are furnished with standard “from the catalog” items, such as benches, bollards and trash cans, which vary from country to country, and from city to city. Even in parks that are initially completely custom designed, these standard elements creep in as time and use progress. it is easy to identify the location of some parks from their bits and pieces, such as those in New York City from their dark green wood-slat benches. In contrast to this common quality, Superkilen in Copenhagen looks nothing like any other park in Copenhagen,and for good reason.

Jessica Bridger, Culture Riot (2012)

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Topotek 1, Bjarke Ingels Group, Superflex, Superkilen (2012)

Complex