October 30, 2012


Joseph Becker

Can there be architecture without buildings? What if a wall or a floor went on forever? The works in our current show, Field Conditions, pose these questions and more about the construction, experience, and representation of space. In an attempt to expand our general interpretation of architectural ideas, its focus is on an array of projects by both artists and architects that redefine the relationships between invisible and visible, figure and ground, finite and infinite. As an exhibition, Field Conditions feels like the tip of the iceberg to me, a leaping-off point for further investigation and analysis on these intersections between art and architecture practice and the abstract concept of “space” as a subject. The SFMOMA presentation, with 13 projects by 11 artists and architects, is of course limited by the physical factors of the gallery and as such cannot begin to be a complete and comprehensive analysis of the topic and theory that interests me here. Of course, neither can a singular essay devoted to the subject, although I did map out a semi-comprehensive 15-page outline as a beginning. Suzanne asked me to publish this, incomplete and as-is, on Open Space, and in this age of attention deficit and information over-saturation, I was excited to re-imagine the essay format for the space of the web. The great advantage of web-publishing — the possibility of immediate derailment, disorientation, or adventure down the rabbit hole. So, with that in mind, please scan, peruse, click, enjoy.

It is with a heavy heart that I mourn the loss of Lebbeus Woods. He was a tremendous inspiration to me in my pursuit of architecture, and I was incredibly fortunate to work closely with him over the past year. Our long conversations at his table will forever illuminate my mind. His visionary work will continue to influence the discourse for countless years to come. I dedicate the exhibition Field Conditions to him and his enduring legacy. – Joseph Becker

Field Conditions installation view, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2012; photo: Matthew Millman

Can there be architecture without buildings? What if a wall or a floor went on forever? The works in our current show, Field Conditions, pose these questions and more about the construction, experience, and representation of space. In an attempt to expand our general interpretation of architectural ideas, its focus is on an array of projects by both artists and architects that redefine the relationships between invisible and visible, figure and ground, finite and infinite. As an exhibition, Field Conditions feels like the tip of the iceberg to me, a leaping-off point for further investigation and analysis on these intersections between art and architecture practice and the abstract concept of “space” as a subject. The SFMOMA presentation, with 13 projects by 11 artists and architects, is of course limited by the physical factors of the gallery and as such cannot begin to be a complete and comprehensive analysis of the topic and theory that interests me here. Of course, neither can a singular essay devoted to the subject, although I did map out a semi-comprehensive 15-page outline as a beginning. Suzanne asked me to publish this, incomplete and as-is, on Open Space, and in this age of attention deficit and information over-saturation, I was excited to re-imagine the essay format for the space of the web. The great advantage of web-publishing —  the possibility of immediate derailment, disorientation, or adventure down the rabbit hole. So, with that in mind, please scan, peruse, click, enjoy.

I’d also like to call out an invaluable collaborator on this project: my research assistant Aviva Rubin. Her dedication and energy behind both the exhibition and this post has been beyond incredible and has made everything possible.

Field Conditions installation view, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2012; photo: Matthew Millman

• Introduction

o Systems, chaos theory, movements, processes, generative instructions – all are employed in the works included in SFMOMA’s new exhibition, Field Conditions.

o The ‘field’ emerges from a diverse array of disciplines and influences, beginning in the 1950s.

o Defining the field condition, architect and theorist Stan Allen describes it as “any formal or spatial matrix capable of unifying diverse elements while respecting the identity of each. Field configurations are loosely bounded aggregates characterized by porosity and local interconnectivity…What is intended here is a close attention to the production of difference at the local scale, even while maintaining a relative indifference to the form of the whole.” [Stan Allen, “Stan Allen: Distributions, Combinations, Fields – Preliminary Notes,” in A+U: Architecture + Urbanism 08, no.335 (Aug 1998): 4]

o Separation between viewing subject, viewed object, and space between (aka the environment) is dissolved.

Hans Namuth, Jackson Pollock, 1950; ©Estate of Hans Namuth

Field Theory’s Emergence – Art

o 1950-51 – Jackson Pollock’s ‘drip pictures’

• Immense canvases filled with dripped and thrown paint, “weaving colored lines into one another in such a way as never to permit the bounding of an individual shape and thus the formation of a contour. The effect, as the critic Michael Fried expressed it, was to bound or delimit ‘nothing except, in a sense, your eyesight.” [Foster, Buchloh, Krauss, Bois, Art Since 1900, p.650]

• Foster et al make connection to Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings of the 60s

o 1956 – Jackson Pollock dies

• He ushered in an era of ‘action painting,’ which performed art making and expressed an ‘event’.

 o Art critic Clement Greenberg’s famous essays, “Modernist Painting” and “The Crisis of the Easel Picture,” shape the debates in art in the 1960s

• The term ‘allover’ describes the uniformity of surface and the difference and repetitions in Jackson Pollock in contrast to the flatness and frontality of traditional painting up until then.

• “All-over, ‘decentralized,’ ‘polyphonic’ picture relies on a surface knit together of identical or closely similar elements which repeat themselves without marked variation from one edge of the picture to the other.” [Greenberg, “The Crisis,” p.155]

• “The dissolution of the pictorial into sheer texture” [Greenberg, “The Crisis,” p.157]

• “The ‘all-over’ may answer the feeling that all hierarchical distinctions have been, literally, exhausted and invalidated” [Greenberg, “The Crisis,” p.157]

• Replacing easel picture with mural painting, which portrays the wall as an impermeable surface that is continuous. His focus shifts (between 50s and 60s) from material properties to perceptual experience (vision and sight) of surface.

• “What is possible, Greenberg maintains, is a special kind of spatiality which, like flatness, denies the viewer imagined physical entry, as though he or she were able to walk through the depicted space.” [Foster et al, p.442]

Rosalind E. Krauss, Sculpture in the Expanded Field, figure 1 in October, no. 8, MIT Press, 1979, pp. 30-44

o 1966 – Art critic Rosalind Krauss’ famous essay, ‘Sculpture in the Expanded Field’

• Dissolving of the pedestal of sculpture links object to actual site or space. Sculpture goes from being seen as a physically bounded, 3D object to being shaped by its cultural conditions and contexts.

• “The expanded field is thus generated by problematizing the set of oppositions[, landscape and non-landscape, architecture and non-architecture,] between which… sculpture is suspended.” [Krauss, October, 1979, p.38]

• “Thus the field provides…an expanded but finite set of related positions for a given artist to occupy and explore, for an organization of work that is not dictated by the conditions of a particular medium.” [Krauss, p.42-3]

• [Krauss’ Expanded Field Diagram]

o Minimalist and Process Art of the 1960s

• 1962 – Viennese Actionism

• 1965 – Donald Judd publishes ‘Specific Objects,’ theorizing on Minimalism along with Robert Morris’

• 1960-1968 – Francois Morellet joins GRAV, a group of visual artists that established principles and systems of visual experimentation prior to beginning an art work, thus working against Pollack’s ‘all-over’ method

• 1966 – ‘Eccentric Abstraction’ exhibition with Eva Hesse and others, showing alternative expression of Minimalism – Post-Minimalism

o Process Art – throughout both movements

• Art object expands, art becomes immersive, time-based, processional

• Late 1960s – Barry Le Va’s Distributions

• “Whether ‘random’ or ‘orderly,’ a distribution is defined as ‘relationships of points and configurations to each other, “ or, concomitantly, ‘sequences of events.’” [Jane Livingston, “Barry Le Va,” p.53]

• “The works are not meant to be shuffled around or placed with by the spectator; but neither are they intended to be physically inaccessible to him….The more significant issues are to what degree each work is rearrangeable by the artist each time it is set up, and how nearly the pieces in a set work must remain as originally positioned by the artist, in order to still constitute the work of art he intended.” [Livingston, “Barry Le Va,” p.54]

Archizoom, No Stop City, in Domus, no. 496, March 3, 1971, pp. 49-54

o Post-Minimalism and Process Art of the 1970s

• 1968-9 – ‘9 at Leo Castelli’ exhibition of Post-Minimalism in London + exhibition of Process Art in NY – both focused on Richard Serra, Robert Morris, and Eva Hesse

• Early 1970s brought a broad range of practices that challenged the formal logic of Minimalism – a mood of ‘anything goes’

o Shift from Minimalism to Post-Minimalism + Process Art

•  The shift from Minimalism to Post-Minimalism maintains the existence of Process Art through both movements.

•  Minimalism sought to bring to light the essence and purity of forms and concepts, removing all extraneous elements to an artwork and employing methods such as grids or seriality.

•  Post-minimalism attempted to push beyond the aesthetic rigor of minimalism. Not quite a movement but more an ‘artistic tendency,’ post-minimalism used unconventional, simple, and hand-made materials and objects to reveal a human element to the art’s construction. Minimalism still holds as its reference point. Post-minimalist artists are diverse.

• Process Art focuses on the making and doing of art – the gathering, collating, and patterning of the art process. The objet d’art becomes diminished in importance for the heightened value of the creative process.

o [reference: Foster, Buchloh, Krauss, Bois, Art Since 1900]

Zaha Hadid, The Peak — Night, Hong Kong, 1990; Collection SFMOMA, Agnes E. Meyer and Elise S. Haas Fund and Accessions Committee Fund purchase; © Zaha Hadid

Field Theory’s Emergence – Music

o John Cage

•  American composer, music theorist, and artist that developed indeterminate and aleatoric music [video of ‘Indeterminacy’]

• 1952 – Cage composes 4’33” which performed the absence of deliberate music in four minutes and 33 seconds.

•  As a professor at Wesleyan, he established ‘happenings’ with his students – a performance or event that is acontextual and non-linear

o Iannis Xenakis [website]

•  Greek composer, music theorist, and architect/engineer

•  He used mathematical models, like game theory and set theory, to structure his music

•  He created spaces for music as well as created music for existing spaces

•  1953-54 – Xenakis composes Metastaseis where each orchestra member (61 in total) had their own distinct part

o SFMOMA Public Program / Events

•  Julie Lazar on John Cage and screenings of ‘Circle of Circuses’ at SFMOMA’s Phyllis Wattis Theater in afternoon of 09/04/2012

Electronic Music Festival begins at SFMOMA’s Phyllis Wattis Theater on evening of 09/06/2012

• ‘A Tribute to John Cage’ on view at SFMOMA’s Koret Visitor Education Center from 09/17/2012 – 10/30/2012

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and Seth Horvitz at SFMOMA’s Phyllis Wattis Theater on evening of 11/01/2012

• Seth Horvitz

o American composer and artist of electronic and experimental works

o He deals with dynamics between nature, machine, and human perception.

o 2010 – Eight Studies for Automatic Piano uses computer processing to compose pieces that distort, iterate, and complexify over time [Study no.4 for Automatic Piano]

Ryuji Nakamura, cornfield (angled view), 2010; Courtesy the artist

Field Theory’s Emergence – Architecture

o Paper Architecture of the 1960s and 70s

•  ‘Paper Architecture’ employs concepts of the ‘field’ to imagine new potential spaces and impacts for and of architecture. Designing utopias, these architects take influence from art praxes of the same period, which focus on concepts and essences through formal techniques.

•  As proposals that aim to remain unrealized, paper architecture put forth radical experiments for the future of the built environment. The work of avant-garde pioneers like Constant, Archigram, Superstudio, and Archizoom illustrated abstract architectural worlds unable to exist just yet.

Constant’s ‘New Babylon’ elevates the space of inhabitation so that it floats above the existing world.

Archigram proposes megastructures with various systems for new built environments to grow – like mobile architectures.

Superstudio puts forth a monumental structure that moves around, through, and above the earth.

Archizoom expands on the ‘field,’ beyond their fellow paper architects. Their design moves past its utopic potentials and criticisms, amplifying its surface value. They designed homogenous living spaces without boundaries.

•  Drawing offered a liberating and political mode of architecture praxis. Through the medium of drawing and painting, these architects could allude to new ways of living.

Ryuji Nakamura, cornfield (front view), 2010; Courtesy the artist

o 1966-74 – Archizoom – No-Stop City [Archizoom link]

•  Archizoom – radical architecture movement in Italy in 60s and 70s

• Merging the academy’s interest in radical politics (‘68) + pop art

• Created ‘superarchitecture’ as “the architecture of superproduction, of superconsumption, of superinducement to consumption, of the supermarket, of Superman, of super-high-test gasoline. Superarchitecture accepts the logic of production and consumption and makes an effort to demystify it.” [Varnelis, “Programming After Program,” footnote 20]

• Approach to Architecture

• “The praxis of architecture was envisioned as an expanded field, surpassing the act of simply making buildings” [Varnelis, “Programming After Program,” p.87]

• Architecture as free expression, as research project

• Researching environment, pop-culture, and the city

•No-Stop City

• First published in Casabella in 1970 as “City, assembly line of social issues, ideology and theory of the metropolis” and then in Domus in 1971

• “Archizoom developed No-Stop City, like Superstudio’s contemporary Continuous Monument, as ‘purely cognitive,’ aiming for ‘a level of clarity beyond that of reality itself.’ For Archizoom, No-Stop City performed a scientific analysis of the contemporary urban condition, simultaneously utopian and dystopian, that is, beyond good and evil, employing the ‘abstract, theoretical, and conjectural’ tools of architectural representation.” [Varnelis, footnote 28]

• Design – Merging Urbanism and Architecture

o Their design of ‘No-Stop City’ proposed an endless city that integrated architecture with consumer goods.

o Repetitive elements, multiple centers, quality-less city, open and unbroken, catatonic environment, organized like a factory or supermarket, free space.

• Factory and supermarket were models of “structures, potentially limitless, where human functions are arranged spontaneously in a free field, made uniform by a system of micro-acclimatization and optimal circulation of information. Inside it there exist no hierarchies.” [Varnelis, footnote 39]

o Interior spaces, artificially air-conditioned and lit offer new living environments, communities, and territories.

o “Considering architecture as an intermediate stage of urban organization that has to be overstepped, No-Stop City establishes a direct link between metropolis and furnishing objects: the city becomes a series of beds, tables chairs and cupboards; the domestic and urban furniture fully coincide. To qualitative utopias, we oppose the only possible utopia: that of Quantity”[Branzi of Archizoom]

o The city no longer required concentration to function; electronic media enabled the connectivity previously established by the city. Total dispersal was now possible, dissolving rural and urban, inside and outside. The infinite and undifferentiated interior system that could now “encompass the earth” [Varnelis, 88]

• Critique

o Modernism hadn’t worked – flexible spaces, outmoded technologies had not produced the future or an avant-garde compliant with its ideals

• Archizoom introduced an expanded role for the architect – no longer was he just a constructor of objects but now a “technocratic ‘coordinator of human and technical resources’” in “the new trans-urban condition” [Varnelis, footnote 45]

Sol LeWitt, Incomplete Open Cubes, 1974; Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund; © The LeWitt Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Influencing Contemporary ‘Field’ work

o Architecture

• Like their predecessors in Superstudio and Archizoom, architects of the 1980s and 90s created spaces of seemingly objective proportions. Systemized and infinitely extendable, their possible worlds appear to lack subjective experience and take on a ubiquitous scale. Lebbeus Woods, Daniel Libeskind, Stan Allen, Zaha Hadid, and others, reinstated ‘paper architecture’ into the discourse of architecture. Transcending the disciplines of architecture and art, they explored ideal and imaginary spaces.

• Woods on Libeskind’s Micromegas

o Voltaire – Science Fiction – the unknowable – Small/Large – Distanced self-reflection – perspective

• Woods on Woods

• [SEE: Stan Allen, ‘Field Conditions’, Points + Lines: Diagrams and projects for the city (1999), pp. 92-103]

o Field conditions as a system of rules that generate infinite resultants

• The Expanded Field of Architecture – Landscape and Urbanism

• Where site and non-site mediate

• “The realm of architectural engagement [has been] conditioned by the realization that landscape design and architecture are no longer inhibited by outmoded site contextualities. A way had been opened by contemporary artists and sculptors to liberate space, in terms of an ‘expanded field.’ As early as 1970 Robert Morris effectively redefined minimalist sculpture in his Notes on Sculpture II, in which he ‘disposed once and for all with the object as such varying conditions of light and spatial context.’ Site-specifics, was it became known, was equally relevant to architecture and landscape, in both public and private spaces, purusing a clear minimalism. What was surprising was the amount of time it took for such concepts from art to take root in the associated areas of architecture and landscape.” [Michael Spens, “Site/Non-Site” 2003, p.8]

o Flows

• “Another challenge to architecture emerged, namely the rising preeminence of networks over built structures. The microcomputer, telecommunications, and pervasive computing combine with the bureaucratic landscape of what Ulrich Beck calls ‘second modernity’ to shape a formless and immaterial shadow world” [Kazys Varnelis “Programming After Program,” Praxis 8, p.83]

• Manuel Castells calls it ‘the Space of Flows’ created by invisible forces

• Cellular Automata

• A model of micro-structuring in mathematics, physics, biology, comprised of homogeneous and tessellated parts that change over time. Cells exist in a grid with each working within a fixed rule (a mathematical function) and responding to neighboring cells, which both determine the possible states the cells can change into. The rules apply iteratively.

• Concept discovered in 1940s, though expanded beyond academia in the 1980s

Comparing Works – Art, Architecture, Then, Now, In the Exhibition, and Not Included

o Archizoom [No Stop City] + Ryuji Nakamura [Cornfield] + Stan Allen [The First 2500…] + Marsha Cottrell [Black Powder]

• Infinite and Objective space

• “A bleak, infinite grid of featureless structures extending to the vanishing point and beyond.” [Varnelis “Programming After Program,” p.87]

• Abstracted Language

Cottrell and Archizoom both use punctuation and letters to signify a dispersed environment of abstract objects that creates a ‘swatch’ of the ‘field.’

• “Initially, No-Stop City took the form of Homogenous Living Diagrams, typewriter generated fields of periods punctuated with a point grid of Xs that demonstrate the quantitative origin of No-Stop City” [Varnelis, p.88-89]

• Employing a similar systemization of lines + marks as LeWitt

• [Archizoom link]or [‘Blog Images’ folder]

• [Marsha Cottrell video link]

• Cottrell’s Black Powder… comes from an Arthur Rimbauld poem, Phrases

• [Ryuji Nakamura link]

Marsha Cottrell, A Black Powder Rains Down Gently On My Sleepless Night (detail), 2012; iron oxide on mulberry paper; Courtesy the artist; © Marsha Cottrell

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #761, 1994; Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Robert L. Beal, Enid L. and Bruce A. Beal Acquisition Fund, Catherine and Paul Buttenwieser Fund, with additional funds donated by Charlene Engelhard Troy; © The LeWitt Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

o Tauba Auerbach [50/50 Floor] + Sol LeWitt [Wall Drawing]

• Random

Tauba Auerbach [website]

o Via ‘information theory’ – branch of mathematical philosophy. Maximum information and minimum meaning (like static from a TV set). No deliberate message

o TV snow is a visible expression of randomness

• “They are images of the constant flux of information in which we are immersed every day but which, lacking the relevant sense organs, we can only access through technological translations.” [Will Bradley “The Woods Are White or Black – We Will Never Sleep” Chaos: Tauba Auerbach, p.54]

• Her Static works freeze the endless ‘storm’ of TV snow into beautiful moments that the viewer can extensively ‘read.’

• Seen as one of the few sources of randomness but, as Auerbach discovered, there are patterns.

o Auerbach is interested in the phenomenon of randomness. It dissolves origins, clear causes to the effect of its random resultant.

Sol LeWitt

o He invented a system to make decisions, structured by illogical (or random) conditions

• Anti-expressionist device

o “Nearly impossible for a human being to act randomly…The use of the idea of random s meant to preclude the conscious placement of elements to form a pattern” [Andrea Miller-Keller + Sol LeWitt interview]

Tauba Auerbach, Static 6, 2008; © Tauba Auerbach


• Tauba Auerbach’s product is unknown and unpredictable – based only on rules and follows limitations.

• Sol LeWitt seeks a finite set of possibilities, as potential combinations of elements. He doesn’t see the infinite as having a place in his art

• Role of the Artist

• “The artist’s intervention [is] understood as a trigger for a controlled series of unpredictable effects” [Bradley p.55]

Sol LeWitt

o Similar to Pollock, LeWitt developed a matrix of lines that dissolved decipherable form. LeWitt’s matrix abstracted the ‘art object.’ Executed by assistants through instructions. “Demonstration of the obsolescence of drawing” – industrialization of drawing and representation [Foster et al, p.651]

o Title is obscured instruction – “These are ways of using language to describe a precise location, like geography. I think of them as my poetry.” [Sol LeWitt]

o Musical score that could be redone by anyone – can exist in multiple places at the same time

o The wall drawings are ‘portable’ in a sense

o “The artist must allow various interpretations of his plan” [Sol LeWitt quote: Alexander van Grevenstein, Wall Drawings 1968-1984, endnote 8]

o Co-existence of meanings – plurality

• Chaos v. Order

• “The interface between the imagined but unresolved mathematical order and the chaotic surface of our understanding” [Bradley p.55]

Tauba Auerbach

o Mathematical definition of ‘chaos’ describes “the tendency of certain systems to exhibit extreme sensitivity to miniscule factors and to amplify the impact of those factors with breathtaking speed and consequence…Chaos is unpredictable but is never random or indeterministic” [Chris Jennings, “Strange and Quiet Noise” p.56]

o Entropy – “the inevitable decline of order” [Jennings p.56]

o Chaos theory – ‘deterministic chaos’

• Finding organized systems in conditions difficult to discern as organized

Butterfly effect (1961 – meteorologist Edward Lorenz)

o Defined in Auerbach’s book as (quoted):

• 1 – complete disorder

• 2 – the infinity of space or formless matter from which the cosmos evolved

• 3 – behavior so unpredictable as to appear random, owing to acute sensitivity to initial conditions or small changes

• 4 – Ancient Greek – a vast chasm, a void, an abyss

Tauba Auerbach

• [Chaos by Brian Sholis]

• Auerbach is “concerned with dissonance and our attempts to resolve it” [Bradley, p.54]

Static pieces “might seem like the final condensation of John Cage’s famous assertion that ‘I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry’” [Bradley, p.54]

50/50 pieces

o Binary principle

o Perfect balance of light and dark tones

Richard Barnes, Murmur 1 November 15, 2005, 2006; Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund purchase; © Richard Barnes

o “These gray zones extend to gray matter: the human brain itself appears to occasionally move toward the edge of anarchy.” [Brian Sholis, “Random Rules” p.59]

Sol LeWitt


o Sol LeWitt Video of Wall Drawing at SFMOMA (July 5 – August 17. 1975) by Skip Sweeney + Bob Klein of Video Free America [see video in SFMOMA Library]

• Each individual wall drawing can be read together

• Idea v. Realization

o “He uncouples the Idea from the material realization by conceptualizing it in another medium (language) which differs essentially from that used for its embodiment in a drawing” [Jan Debbaut, “The Words and the Drawings,” Sol LeWitt Wall Drawings 1968-1984]

o Idea becomes more important – its materialization as able to be repeated (thinking to Walter Benjamin)

o “Renders superfluous the cult of the ‘objet d’art’” [Debbaut]

• Language

o “A given system of signs must make it possible to analyze things right down to their simplest elements; it must be able to unravel things back to their origin. But it must also show how the combinations of those elements become possible and how the complexity of things has sprung from one idea” [Michel Foucault, The Order of Things]

o “Conceptual art is an art in which language dominates” [Bernice Rose quote: Alexander van Grevenstein, Wall Drawings 1968-1984, endnote 15]

• Scale of the room

o Physical properties of a wall – theatrical, decorative purposes

Peter Jellitsch, STB/S16 (12 Fragments of 3 Moments in a Horizontal Formation), drawings in progress, 2012; Courtesy the artist

o Peter Jellitsch [STB…] + Rafael Lozano-Hemmer [Homographies]

• Quantifiable + Programmed

Peter Jellitsch

o Uses motion algorithm to analyze wind directions and air forces that occur around high-rise buildings

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

o Programming without teleology – non-linear

• Relational

• Produces the seemingly natural and the ambiguous

Vectors moving in relation to surrounding movement

Peter Jellitsch

o Each work performs as a sequence in a series of drawings

o Vectors act as an intertwined flow, moving together

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer [R L-H]

o ‘Relational Architecture

o Against the term ‘collective’ and instead for ‘connective’

o Collective presupposes one interpretation when R L-H supports many readings, perceptions

o “’Relational’ emphasizes the dematerialization of the real environment and asks us to question the dissimulation” [Jose Luis Barrios interview with R L-H in Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: Subsculptures, p.16]

o ‘Subsculptures’ are different than Relational Architecture but he doesn’t have a specific definition

o “it has to do with contagion matrices” [R L-H, p.16]

o Chaos Theory – fractal pattern – non-linear phenomena

o “Multi-perspectival flow that unfolds in various dimensions…’possibility’ as a form of construction” [R L-H, p.16]

• Disruptions, imperfections, errors, defects

• Jellitsch and Lozano-Hemmer both exploit their works’ imperfections – Jellitsch through the use of his hand drawing and Lozano-Hemmer through human interaction.

• Produces the unexpected

Peter Jellitsch

o Translating digitally generated information into analog drawings in order to extract differences between the digital and analog outcomes as well as the repetitions of movements in its reproduction.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

o “The resulting effect are patterns of interference very similar to those that can be seen, for example in a tank of water into which various drops fall” [R L-H, p.16]

o “I like discrepancies, the remainder in a division, and rounding errors. I find modularization boring and homogenizing” [R L-H, p.16]

• Not based on Chance

• R L-H sees John Cage and Marcel Duchamp as pioneers of chance but he argues that random cannot be created from mathematics or technology and therefore he deems it uninteresting. Uncertainty or unexpected processes is where he focuses and suggests others focus

Field Conditions installation view, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2012; photo: Matthew Millman

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

• “Foucaultian concept of technologies for the gaze” [R L-H, p.5]

o “My installations almost always ‘watch the watchers,’ as Daniel Garcia Andujar would say” [R L-H, p.16]

o Panoptic – predatory – surveillance cameras

o Art can listen and see its viewers – it has a life – autonomy

o “Pieces listen to us, they see us, they sense our presence and wait for us to inspire them, and not the other way around…The work is a platform and yes the platform has an authorship, but it also has its points of entry, its loose ends, its tangents, its empty spaces and its eccentricities.” [R L-H, p.6]

o “Exploring the culture of paranoia” [R L-H, p.27]

o Scott Snibbe + Gravilux [iphone, ipad app] + Semiconductor [20Hz] + Reas [Process 7] + Katie Paterson [History of Darkness] + Tauba Auerbach [Static 6]

• Contemporary techniques – data processing, sensors, etc.

Scott Snibbe

o Gravilux: interactive deformations on a gravitational field

• Data Visualization

o [Ben Fry Interview]

• Representation of instant within infinite processes

• “Deleuze offers the term ‘perplication’ to describe…the visualization of concurrent ideas that appear to be the same yet different at the same time. As ideas mature in time, they can be represented as instantiations – blips on the radar screen. They are developments of a theme, self-intersecting prominences and subversions occurring at different times in any muse while maintaining a common thread. In other words, the visual representation is a pictorialisation of our mental space. Rather than regard our thoughts and theories as part of a linear continuum, we might regard them as forming a landscape of turmoil where subconscious and conscious ideals and desires interweave. In rendering this landscape as a perplication, I am positing this as a continuum having no lateral boundaries, in which subconscious thoughts interweave through each other, emerging as the conscious anywhere that it becomes uncovered. This rendering is therefore an extracted section from this landscape, a liminal representation of a state of mind not necessarily calm at any particular time.” [Mark Burry, “Between Surface and Substance,” AD: Surface Consciousness, 2003, p.14]

• Visualizing the invisible / incomprehensible


o 20Hz

• See “Inaudible Cities” or “Brilliant Noise” from Semiconductor: Worlds In Flux DVD for more

o Earth’s magnetic activity displayed

o Considering what lies beyond our inhabitable space

Katie Paterson, History of Darkness, 2010; © Katie Paterson

Katie Paterson

o [Paterson show currently at Bawag Contemporary]

o ‘History of Darkness’ project shows images of darkness from different moments and places in the universe. They are completely black and are arranged according to distance from the Earth – from 1 to infinity.

Tauba Auerbach

o Picking up electromagnetic waves from atmospheric interference and electronic signals

o Exposes the field of invisible and inaudible noise that constantly surrounds us in all directions.

• Swarm Theory [National Geographic Article on Swarm Theory]

• The intelligence and complex systems of groups and group-making

Richard Barnes [Murmur] [website]

o [SFMOMA Collection]

o [‘246 and Counting Exhibition’ at SFMOMA]

• Reas

o [Link to Project with Aranda/Lasch + Yeasayer]

• Aranda/Lasch [‘Tooling’ Pamphlet Architecture 27][website]

o Programming codes and scripts that ‘make’ architecture

o [Link to iconeye.com interview]

Lebbeus Woods, Conflict Space 2, 2006; Collection SFMOMA, Gift of Aleksandra Wagner; © Lebbeus Woods

Lebbeus Woods and Dwayne Oyler, Terrain (earthquake architecture), 1999; © Lebbeus Woods and Dwayne Oyler

o Lebbeus Woods [Conflict Space] + other Woods projects…[like piece with Dwayne Oyler – Terrain (earthquake architecture) – 1999] + Zaha Hadid [The Peak – 1983]

• Floating element jutting and moving through space

Lebbeus Woods

Zaha Hadid

o Competition for Hong Kong Peak – intensity in the 1980s British colony

• Reduced to abstract elements

• Reconceiving of the architectural landscape

Lebbeus Woods [Woods on Woods]

o “In our contemporary urban world, with its aggregates of buildings that become in themselves artificial landscapes and contexts—entirely displacing the natural—the architect’s role would seem to inevitably expand beyond designing built single objects. Also, in our contemporary world of environmental and global ecological concerns, it is clear that even the design of single buildings has broad consequences and must be framed in those terms by their designers.” [LW blog]

Zaha Hadid [Zaha Hadid link]

o “Hadid sees her competition-winning design and other recent results, notably Bernard Tschumi’s La Villette scheme, as emblematic of a far-reaching change sweeping through architecture today: ‘A lot of juries have begun to feel, with a lot of architects, that we cannot end the 20th century with this increasing pessimism, this incredible nostalgia of postmodernism. Something has to be restored in terms of enthusiasm and optimism” [Lance Knobel, “At the Peak of Optimism,” Domus 642 (Sept 1983) p.7]

• Archizoom

• Accumulation of elements and objects as the creation of the built environment as well as blurring the distinction between furniture, architecture, and urban space. Archizoom did this; Woods and Hadid appropriate this method.

Field Conditions installation view, (Lebbeus Woods) San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2012; photo: Matthew Millman


o What are the implications of ‘field theory’ today? In the future? In Art? In Architecture?

• ‘Field theory’ engages questions of singularity, of interconnectivity, of immediacy, and of contingency.

• Their exponential rise over the past 50 years

• Are individuals, architectures, or objects isolated (or no longer isolated) from their environments and contexts?

• What are the implications of constant connectivity?

o What forms of connectivity are emerging?

o What forms of connectivity are receding?

o How is the built environment changing because of this?

• Network theory [Article on Network Theory]

• Structure or pattern of relationships between entities

• Lozano-Hemmer pointing out his dislike for ‘collectivity’ term and his use of ‘connectivity’ instead

o Group becomes less important, relationships and dynamics between entities becomes more important

• Art

• Interconnectivity of art pieces, whether medium, reference, or time differs

• Referential

• Site, scope, and parameters of art piece is exploding – urban space, online, performative, in-between mediums (or multiple)

o Nick Cave (photo, wearable, costume itself)

o Public Art projects

Mierle Laderman Ukeles – Touch Sanitation projects (art, urban space, social issues)

o ‘Bodies in Urban Space’ collective

• Architecture

• Site, scope, and parameters of architecture is exploding – new kinds of practices that merge architecture, urbanism, and landscape, more emphasis on research, phd’s in architecture is more popular, interest in larger impact of architecture on social, political, theoretical, ecological, material issues

o Interboro

o MASS Design

o Landscape Urbanism

o Teddy Cruz – border between countries as architectural issue

o Design-Build firms

o Design-Developer firms

o Action-Network Theory

Bruno Latour, Arjun Appadurai, and other anthropologists intermingling with architects about concept that inanimate objects hold a history of experiences, peoples, cultures, etc. in its making and being

o Why is SFMOMA Architecture + Design department is putting together this exhibition?

• Exposing the interrelation between art and architectural representation

• Inventive, imaginative, explorative

• Limitlessness of architecture and art

• SFMOMA is an institution that pushes the boundaries of the creative fields, extracts cultural trends persistent in these fields, and provokes us to consider their potential implications.

Tauba Auerbach, 50/50 Floor (detail) installed in _Field Conditions_, 2012; © Tauba Auerbach; photo: Matthew Millman

Joseph Becker is SFMOMA assistant curator of architecture and design. Field Conditions is on view now through January 6. This Thursday night, November 1, join us for a conversation with Rafael Lozano-Hemmer on radio technology and other subjects, followed by a performance by experimental composer Seth Horvitz. Details.

Leave a comment

Please tell us what you think. We really love conversation, and we’re happy to entertain dissenting opinions. Just no name-calling, personal attacks, slurs, threats, spam, and the like, please. Those ones we reserve the right to remove.

Sign Up

Join our newsletter for infrequent updates on new posts and Open Space events.
  • Required, will not be published

Dear Visitor,
We regret to inform you that Open Space is no longer active. It was retired at the end of 2021. We sincerely appreciate your support and engagement over the years.

For your reference, we encourage you to read past entries or search the site.

To stay informed about future ventures or updates, please follow us at

Thank you for being a part of our journey!