29 Jan 2015, 2:26pm
Architecture Citizenship
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Ottawa’s Holocaust Monument

Dr Stephen Fai (on right) in Conversation with Daniel Libeskind at the Forum Lecture Series on Architecture.

Daniel Libeskind gave quite an inspiring talk on Monday night. He spoke the day before the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. He works in words, as he does in his architecture, the shadows and the light. He said, “It’s never too late to do something that is important to our time.” We fool ourselves if we think the scale of destruction can’t happen again. Xenophobia is still with us.

That Ottawa would get a holocaust monument was an act passed in the 2011 House of Commons, the biggest Ottawa memorial since 1939. It was a design competition worldwide. And part of a 31 country aim to set up memorials and education to prevent such acts from recurring.

His slideshow lecture was peppered with anecdotes and buildings from decades of work. For example, when he was proposing a building design competition in Berlin, Germany, a senator asked him for what major public projects he had done. At that point he said, he’d lived opposite of the Greek idea, which is to live young and fast and fierce, and then draw back and contemplate at length in old age. As a young man he was contemplating and all the active part of his life came later, which is to say he had designed many buildings but done no big commission so he replied, “If you go by the past, you’re not going to have any future!”

For one competition which he won he put the new building adjacent to the old without any attempt to connect the two. He was asked why. “There is no bridge between the baroque and now.” There is, he added, an underground passage because, that poetic gesture maps more accurately how the past and the present connect. His allegorical connections run through many of his public buildings, for example, in the Military Museum, a chevron of concrete runs through the old style building, cleaving the vaults and points to the compass direction where Dresden was levelled, the Venice on the Alba, before Allied bombing.

interior model
He mentioned he was walking by the finished building and a person on the sidewalk remarked to him, that building is disturbing. The architect said, that’s right. Whether he let on that he was architect he didn’t say. Each of his stories could have continued for days.

In Denmark a museum has his characteristic maze pattern but in surfaces and vantage point views that suggest the wooden boats that were used to let Jewish people escape from Denmark across the sea (to Sweden I believe he said) before the troops came, thanks to a tip given. A building is for changing an experience, creating a moment that virtual reality can’t give, that words can’t give, in how the planes of landscape and building relate. In another of his buildings a passageway leads outside to a garden but it is an unreachable one on top of 49 columns. The dish that people stand in are all at askew angles. There is void between galleries of images. There is also a gathering place, cafe, gift shop that is a space for light and hope and the present.

german museum
There are all sorts of other chimes with its landscape, relative to the built landscape.

He has exceptional ease with speaking, with it all seeming improv yet on topic. He explained how it is a difficult thing to build a monument to such tragedy where anywhere between 11 and 26 million were killed whether Jewish, Roma, priests, Masons, any of list of religions, people with a range of darker tints of skin. If you were queer, twins, disabled, a resistor, or an artist, the list was extensive for tens of thousands of concentration camps. And he added, those who committed suicide to escape during or after should be counted in the same tragedy. In one of his military history museum in Germany he includes an exhibit of of how we spread out the violence outside our species, the toll of death and involuntary enlisted other species, killer bees, dogs, horses, elephants.

Ottawa memorial
A sketch of the Ottawa Memorial. I couldn’t absorb it but the photo was blurred. Still..

He had been asked why the star in some form replays through his building. In Colombus, Ohio on state capital grounds, there were monuments to WWI, WWII, the Korean War and war in Vietnam but until his, not a monument to the dead. One star frames the capital building. To him it is many things. It is not there as a symbol of Judaism but as the mark to kill, whether a believer or atheist. It is also the emblem of distant light, larger world and of the star on the helmet of the American liberating black soldiers who came to break open the camps. It is not a religious mark so much as a unifying mark of humanity, not just luminaries but all citizens.

He was asked if the Holocaust Memorial would have an education centre. His answer was two-part. One, yes, it will. And two, education is not sufficient. If words could communicate what needs to be said about the Holocaust we would use them. But we need something more visceral. The communication is the experience of space, the confines, the inarticulatable of relationships of ground, space, air, horizon, speed of heart and temperature, the experience that is individualized not generalized. Education doesn’t prevent cruelty. All the top Nazi staff were not old, ignorant men. They were well-educated and in their prime, physically and intellectually. They had degrees. Goebbels had a PhD in Literature. It is a different matter that brings compassion. A monument itself cannot fix ignorance which has to happen on an individual level and spread. A monument might give a person a place to pause and assess. More of an optimist than I am, he quotes Sophocles in saying, “truth is the daughter of time”, that will will invariably figure things out correctly given time.

Light, he says, is itself a communication. If it could be done in words it wouldn’t need architecture. He quotes Emily Dickinson, “a slang of light that oppresses like cathedrals tombs.”

He gave a few looks at the memorial being designed. There’s a point which frames Parliament and a point of mediation in triangle, something of a chimney of concrete (40 or 14 meters high?) with two narrow doors to enter the space and in it an eternal flame and nothing except the open triangle of sky above.

How to do something useful to participate & make a better world? Denial and forgetting would not be it. Without remembering, without the salient living people among us who lived through the events, revisionists start reconciling the unreconcilable by changing the facts. He quoted Paul Celan as saying that green is the most dangerous colour because it is the colour if forgetting, of the past growing over.

What does one experience is individual. In an empty space alone with oneself, Paul Celan says, we “mourn in space that has nothing”. But others would see peace or hope or a eureka. It is to structure space to structure thought.

He will collaborate with Ed Burchinsky(sp?) and have photography embedded in concrete some 14 m high. There will be stone walks which are heated in winter so they have secure footing and plants pushing thru the landscape of stone, emblematic of survival of difficulty.

Doris Bergen, a historian, is another of his collaborators. She has a thin profound book, which he mentioned and if he said which, I missed it. Perhaps this.

His consideration is how to preserve evil and sense of hope, to not forget that tremor in humanity of what are capable of that ruptured the century and left the world changed. How to position oneself to such devastation of overt destruction? “History should not just make us commit suicide but give us urgency.” The question to return to, is as he put it, “How do we do something that offers hope, something useful, that makes the world a better place?”

The National Capital Commission Urbanism Lab, often at the NAC for the 2015 program (on twitter as NCC_UrbanLab) also sponsored the forum. The architecture forum lecture series is now is on twitter, as of the previous lecture, with Douglas Cardinal (Follow it on twitter @ForumLecture).

Blowing Bubbles that Don’t Pop

During the HintonburgHappening there were all kinds of arts events — try a potter’s wheel, go to women’s drumming circles, make a thankfulness kit, watch (or assist) a magician, watch paintings being painted, be photographed by the LoveOttawaProject. One option was to go to the glass blowers.

It’s the same as pottery, in that you’re shaping the earth, except you’re dealing with melted sand at 2200 freaking degrees or so.

We’ve gone twice before to glassblowers that offered the chance but I wimped out.

I made it myself, kinda. Flo Glass Blowing does the kiln, tools, materials, explanations, guidance, but you get to be involved.

Hubby photographed me picking up my choice of colors.

While we were there there were 4 other pairs where one person photographed the friend doing this.

You could make it and then opt for it to be melted away again or pay and keep it for $15 which is around half the usual price.

My little pile.

Turn it smoothly and fast enough to keep the molten glowing clump on the stick and even in the glory hole.

Blow and stop when Melody says. Sounded a little like lamaze class. It was surprisingly hard to blow. Like a balloon, a lot of blowing to start and push thru the mass then less, in this case to not blow out the end of the bubble as the teacher rolls and shapes the other end.

Some people could blow steady and hard and fast and made a big bubble quickly. Others didn’t have the wind and it had to be taken back and reheated once or twice more. Some ended up with a big, medium or small ball. Mine needed a reheat. Apparently I’m not full of hot air.

Nothing phallic to see here. Moving on.

The instructors, Melody or Stephanie while we were there, cut it off the metal rod, added the molten gob and stretched and twisted it to make the eyelet for a string.

The colors while hot are different than what they’ll return to when cooled. All that padding is round-shaped and keeps the heat safely away before it goes in the fridge. The glass looks cool but they marked your number with chalk. The chalk flashed into fire.

I blew it last week. It cools a little bit quickly but entirely slowly. It takes a controlled slow cooling to not crack.

With that many people coming thru people have to cooperate in a system to keep the place in working order. Case in point:


Pretty tools!

They have a video at their site showing inside the studios. They have several classes to do things from paperweights to oil lanterns and glasses. You can rent studio time as with a pottery place. While you’re there you might notice there’s a stained glass store/studio a couple doors down in the same strip mall. They also do classes.

20 Apr 2014, 5:00pm
Arts Music Ottawa
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H'Art Ottawa show, http://www.g101.ca/exhibits/turning-page

Turning the Page is in Gallery 101 (G101) from Saturday, March 22–Saturday, May 3, 2014 features a group exhibition of works on paper by artists from H’Art of Ottawa and Arts Project Australia. Many of the pieces are for sale in double-digits. Many are also already sold so head on over for a peak.

H’Art of Ottawa is a unique and innovative art studio where self-expression and a sense of place are encouraged and celebrated for people with developmental disabilities. Through the common language of art and self-expression, the artists of H’Art contribute to the community and the cultural life of Ottawa.

Turning the Page will also feature a multi-media musical theatre piece performed by composer/percussionist Jesse Stewart and H’Art of Ottawa artists that will take place at the National Arts Centre’s 4th Stage Wednesday, April 30, 7:30 pm.

Gallery 101

Here’s a video about H’Art’s turning the page show

Martha Schwartz: Landscape Architect

She started out by saying she never meant to be a landscape architect. Her uncles, cousins, father, son, husband are all architects; it’s like a congenital disease. She planned to go into fine arts but then she encountered earthworks and so smitten wanted to explore that. One thing led to another…

What is the landscape? We think of it in pastoral terms. We think of it in terms of purist erasure — Landscape is the world without us humans in it. It’s the remainder of leftover areas we don’t ruin. Or it’s when we make nice walking gardens. Trees, birdies, clean rivers and chilly hills.

But the landscape is a bigger circle encompassing every environment we’re in — the highways, the parking lots, the service areas, the sidewalks, the towers, the open pit mines. They are still the landscape. And we spent, statistically, 7 times more of our time on highways than in parks. It is what we create that then creates positive feedback loops in health, social lives, economics and environment. On some level we know that non-commercial space, like time off, pays for itself in a way. NYC’s Central Park brings $623 million/acre to the city because people want to see the park. It wouldn’t make economic sense to parcel any of its green space into any kind of “development”.

In a project she did in Toronto, Yorkville Park, having the park and public space has increased property values around it and increased the amount of shopping done because people want to be there. The green space takes its cue from the Victorian era houses and makes a collector’s box as if the landscape were each in cubicle of Canadian shield ecology. At the same time she remarked, it is better to do something that some hate and some like than something that people don’t care about because if people are blasé it won’t be maintained. If a project is taken to heart by some people, then it will be integrated into lives. For example, Grand Canal Square in Dublin, Ireland was a plaza to go in front of a waterfront performing arts centre. Even in Ireland’s economic downturn, the area was not effected economically because it served people’s needs for a space that worked.

She adds curves and colors to the built environment and green it but does so with a sense of whimsy that is considered from a design point rather than just random play such as in Ireland’s square which plays with colors and geometric shapes that mark outdoor areas.

Public spaces, whether commuter suburbs, or mixed use street plaza life govern the rules we employ against each other. Cultural change, she contends, happen in public space, not when we are sequestered and ghettoized.

She tries to tie in the project to its context. She talked about “creating a “there” there” as Stein put it. In a project going up in China she used sight lines to shape how people walked to see the model homes. The construction of the new homes was blocked from view by a wall with a vista with a cutout to see the distant hills. Along the path there are trees planted and metal sculptures that evoke Chinese lanterns and provide shade. The walk to the model home is so popular the developer has decided to keep it as a park.

Her commission in X’ian, China is a fascinating walled garden where none of the walls are parallel, most dead-end in the maze. You are always under the canopy of willows and approach them but never see the base of any trunks until the end. The end of each wall is mirrored.

Greenery is characteristically done unconventionally, like Vienna (pictures 5 and 6) or Minneapolis.

Another project for a tower in Abu Dhabi was to make a green roof. The hitch was typical. The architects did their work and left and then it handed over to handscape architects but the design load of the building didn’t consider the possibility of a green roof. Her solution was to give dimension with mounds of greenery and water trickle feature along the seating, but the green are all panels that at thin planting on a foam core to give shape without weight.

Also in Abu Dhabi was a beach with special demands. People want to be separated by gender so males can’t access women and children, and so the immigrant labour can’t access the employer class. As well the beach front is tucked in between the ocean and a freeway because infrastructure for transport was designed first and leisure and daily life second.

In Jakarta, her firm is working on Pluit City. Jakarta has a lot of problems in the sense of it sinking worse than Venice. In Jakarta they’ve emptied their aquifers and have to catch rain water to supply local water needs. The project reclaims land, builds seawalls, replants mangroves which were all cut down which should help stabilize the coastline and regrow the fishery.

She’s doing multi-family housing in Japan with a funky stone form of fish among bamboo.

In this interview she talks about renewing mines,

We worked in Winslow, New Jersey, on a clay quarry that had been a dump for 30 cars. It was a degraded and socially dangerous site. With the client, and an ecologist, we regenerated it so now it’s an informal nature conservancy. Now, people want to know if they can buy the land to develop it into housing (no). But the point is, that now, there is a whole new set of possibilities for the site and the town.

They resculpted the 500 acres creating ponds, mixing in wood chip with clay so it could grow. It went from being a waste area to an area that migrating flocks use on their flight path. It is now trees and local species have moved back in. There are 11,000 clay quarries in New Jersey but it takes will and desire.

Martha Schwartz (of Martha Schwartz Partners of London, UK and her firm, Martha Schwartz, Inc. in Cambridge, Massachussetts with projects in over 20 countries) was the speaker on November 4, 2013 at the National Gallery of Canada.

She has received a couple pages worth of highly regarded awards and prizes including the Cooper-Hewitt Museum National Design Award for her body of work in Landscape Architecture, Women in Design Award for Excellence, Boston Society of Architects, 2005, an honorary fellowship from RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects), and several design awards from the American Society of Landscape Architects, including residencies, tenure and an honorary degree.

But more importantly for this she was one of the most articulate of speakers the series has had and she organized the lecture into the half of principles of why landscape matters and then details of a few projects. And she did so with smatterings of humour, and with loads of enthusiasm and inspiration.

I was wishing through the talk that Mayor Jim Watson should have been there. He would have enjoyed her ideas, spirit and talk. Perhaps he was there. It is open to the public and a full room.

Quote: “You have beautiful, living and inanimate materials, and one can create something that has cultural resonance. The narrative or idea can be about anything. All great art is, essentially, a very personal statement or inquiry. A built landscape is not required to look or mimic nature. If we are creating it, like any other cultural art form, it can be what we wish it to be. There’s no law that says it has to look like nature. What if all the books or movies or plays were about one subject matter or were dictated by the government? It would be stopping the evolution of culture. Without realizing it, people have very clear notions of what a landscape should be, while we’re much more open about what a building can be because we know it’s a cultural artifact.” ~ Martha Schwartz [via]

P.S. The Azrieli School of Architecture & Urbanism present forum lectures irregularly through the regular university year.

Nov 18th will be the next lecture. It is by David Leatherbarrow of the University of Pennsylvania. He does research on history and theory of architecture and the city. His books include: Books include: Topographical Stories, Surface Architecture (with Mohsen Mostafavi), Uncommon Ground, Roots of Architectural Invention, On Weathering: The Life of Buildings in Time, and Masterpieces of Architectural Drawing.

31 Oct 2013, 11:09am
Arts Ottawa
1 comment

Art Now: Michèle Provost

Michèle giving her talk
Michèle Provost gave her artist talk last night for for her ART NOW! It is an assortment of recontextualized images, objects, and quotes taken from Taschen’s Art Now!. The volumes list the most popular contemporary artists of the last 50 years or so to present.

visitors reading

among the quotes

She’s taken all the pull out quotes of artist statements from the 3 volumes and hung them from the idea of film canisters. Something I admire, of the much I admire of her, is her mix of open-mindedness and critical thought. She said she took each piece regardless of her feeling about the artist or art.

The tributes are done whether she loves the original piece or had contempt for it. She said, when you get a book like this that catalogues so much the temptation is to look only at what you like, but you learn far more from what you don’t like or don’t get. It is more interesting that way.

All 350 quotes are tagged with a page number referencing the books in the gallery. Even the ones who didn’t have an artist sound bite. That half dozen are represented as blank slips. To not speak also signifies.

a tagged quote


This one in the gallery, where’s that?

an artist statement matched to book
And who said that?

artist source of quote


embroidered artist faces

She also took from the books the artist photos and embroidered them on familiar circles, onto a soup can lid, tomato paste, CD (and onto a 4th household shape which I will remember presently). Each of these also have numbers stitched in as well so it may cross-reference with the quote, and the other two sections. Most of the artists, although recognized as top of the field, do not have face recognition.

She brings forward the question of the role of marketing. Is marketing facilitating the exchange between the public and the artist or impeding it? What does the language do to bring the public and ideas of art together? Or is it separating?

By the act of making a sort of Vogue magazine for the art world of creating hot (and by implication not) lists, then breaking the arbitrarily made patterns by the maker itself, who is served? Is it the artist or the structures around them? Is anything but the art between the artist and the potential market?

strips of paintings like panetone strips
She’s taken details from art that has been canonized by Taschen and repainted portions on strips like interior designer’s pantone colour strips. Like the quotes, each is decontextualized. What was part of a story is now decorative, stripped of meaning. Something is still conveyed but something undeniably lost.

Is it misrepresenting to reproduce in acrylic like this? Everything that is not seeing the art directly in person is not the art. If you see an illustration of art, you may think you are familiar with the piece, but a representation is not the thing. It is a representation.

If you see a still of a temporal art piece, you don’t get a sense of the film. If you see an image of Rodin’s sculpture, you miss the dimensions of being with it in person. A photograph of textile art misses the texture. A reproduction of oil painting can’t convey that extra transcendence of in person. Something is lost necessarily in translations through media. To reference is to not create the original.

A 4th part of the exhibit was taking the images reflected in the art pieces and restoring them to 3D. For example, a performance artist who drizzled himself in chocolate and stuck a mouth full of twizzlers and recorded that to flat 2D is brought back to object by making art the original twizzlers.

A display case of objects that were pictured in the art brought back as art in reference to Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain of 1917. What is art and who curates it? What is it to signify to whom?

among the quotes

The exhibition continues until Nov 2.

It includes works that are embroidered, painted, and printed, as well as found objects. It questions the subjective process employed by art-world publications of selecting, defining, categorizing, and evaluating art, all while inviting the viewer to participate and discover the artworks and artists being referenced.

It’s out by South Keys at Patrick Mikhail Gallery, 2401 Bank Street, Ottawa.

among the quotes

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