original project statement
A fascination with the art of portable architecture is not new. Groups, such as Archigram in London and Utopie in Paris, were exploring portability in Europe in the 1960’s—a trend that peaked around 1968 with the coincidence of the Utopie’s Structures Gonflables exhibit in Paris and the premiere of the Archigram Cushicle project in Milan. Together, these groups (both drawing their names from progressive design journals) set a precedent for a new avant-garde, a forum for innovation and criticism outside the boundaries of traditional art and architecture.

Though the history of portable architecture has been very well documented, little effort has been made to asses a variety more recent work as a coherent whole. In the 1990’s, the work of artists like Langlands + Bell, Jorge Pardo, Vito Acconci, Glen Seator and Rachel Whiteread incorporated architectural ideas into discussions of contemporary sculpture. Within this trend, however, lay a specific fascination with portability—in the work of Atelier Van Liesthout, Lot/Ek, Andrea Zittel, and others—which begins to undermine, rather than reinforce, traditional architecture. Portable structures are an anti-architecture… a manifestation of a nomadic instinct that negates the domesticity and permanency so implicit in most architecture.

Today, projects ranging from proposals for disaster relief shelters to nomadic luxury fashion, continue to go well beyond the precedents set in the late sixties. These new projects (like their predecessors) constitute a pocket of activity operating on the fringes of art and architecture—a body of work that appropriates an architectural vocabulary to formulate a new sculptural language. Or, perhaps, it is a body of work that appropriates a sculptural vocabulary to formulate a new architectural language? In an interview with Peter Eisenman, Richard Serra said, "the biggest break in the history of sculpture in the twentieth century occurred when the pedestal was removed." I am interested in what happens to architecture when the foundation is removed?

The challenge at this point in the project is narrowing the focus… there are thousands of projects that fall under the rubric of portability and I simply cannot consider all of them. I will concentrate primarily on more experimental unique or limited-edition work of artists and architects—projects that are not products as much as propositions. I am particularly interested in these projects because of the conduit they provide between the fields of art and architecture. The expansive realm of mass-produced portables—Airstream trailers, Louis Vuitton steamer trunks, long-haul truck cabs, lightweight camping equipment, even cellular technology—will remain in the background, but is simply too large to address directly.

The central question at this point is where this trend will lead next? What is the future of the mobileutopia? We are at a moment when concepts like compartmentalization and mobility have grown dull from overuse and shipping containers have been refitted for every function imaginable. So what use is this new sculptural (or architectural) language now?

The project I proposed for this fellowship is comprised of a combination of research and original work. The eventual goal of the research will be a catalog of photographs, drawings, essays and interviews, relating to the projects documented over the course of the next year. I am interested in identifying trends between the projects studied and comparing contemporary ideas of portability to the precedents established in the past as well as speculating where these trends might lead in the future.

Travel is an integral component of the trip because both the experience of dislocation and the potential for mobility are so central to the content of the work I will be researching and producing. A discussion of travel, however, raises interesting questions about the "site" or "location" of this work. These projects are, by definition, transient—more easily located in an alternative space than in at a specified geographical site. One of the challenges of this project will be the mapping of this alternative space in relation to traditional ideas of site and existing theoretical models—such as Deleuze’s smooth space or Foucault’s definition of a heterotopia. Even something as familiar as the 917 area code, for example, has interesting spatial implications… an "area code" without any guarantee of geographical specificity. The location of this web"site" is similarly undefinable. Like these models, the "sites" I am concerned with are constantly shifting locations. Travel takes on a new meaning as the traditional idea of an architectural pilgrimage is replaced with a more open-ended pursuit.

My original work will reflect both the needs I encounter as I travel and the influence of the projects I am researching. I hope to incorporate my creative process into the experience of travel in such a way that the adaptation of the work to different settings will be an essential part of its evolution. Ideally, the act of travel and the act of making will become one. In this sense, I hope to modify a traditional understanding of a travel fellowship by placing as much emphasis on transitions and adaptations as destinations.

In an effort to clarify the objectives of this project in its initial phase, I have asked a number of artists, architects and theorists to contribute their thoughts on the topic. I have transcirbed interviews with Alan Koch and Linda Taalman (Open Office) and Giuseppe Lignano (LOT/EK). I would also like to thank Andrea Zittel, Tony Vidler, Robert Kronenburg (founder of the Portable Building Research Unit) and Marc Dessauce (author of The Inflatable Moment: Pneumatics in Protest in ’68) for their thoughts and advice about the project.

(This project is made possible by a Mortimer Hays-Brandeis Fellowship)