Out with the old, in with the new
Redefining architecture, imagery, and text: Evolution of meaning from forms of the past
"The new is made comfortable by being familiar, since it is seen as having gradually evolved from the forms of the past."
Where do we live amongst a place to hold our most authentic commitments of everyday life?
Sculpture in the Expanding Field by Rosalind Krauss
Krauss seeks to classify and define specific areas of visual practice with language. He talks about the definition and categorization of a sculpture and how it went downhill and evolved during the Postwar American art period. Similar to any cultural term, the meaning of sculpture and painting has been manipulated and twisted.
The new is made comfortable by being familiar, since it is seen as having gradually evolved from the forms of the past.
He talks about the ideology of the new with vanguard aesthetics, originating of covert messaging. Sameness calls to evoke a model of evolution where there is a place for change. For example, by the 1960s, minimal sculpture first appeared as an aesthetic experience and people were uncomfortable for that change — with the persuasion of Constructivist fathers who claimed the forms weren’t that strange — people were reassured by people with ‘past’ experience. Humans seek familiarity and consistency as a strategy of historicism for reducing anything foreign from “time or space based on what we already know and are”.¹
Krauss uses a grid of structured oppositions to separate different ways of knowing and building a sculpture in precise ways. It is inspired by a sculpture’s own internal logic that has a set of robust rules adaptive to different contexts. He categorizes the sculpture as historically bounded, not universal. A sculpture functions as a commemorative representation that is figurative and vertical, not abstract or mysterious. It inhabits within a place that is symbolical and understood. The grid of structured oppositions is a schema to contrast the different oppositions of what defines a sculpture, with variables such as not-landscape and not-architecture. The closer to the variables, the closer the object is to a sculpture. The other variables are in place to outline how far off it is from a structure, in contrast with a site construction.
While Krauss is identifying the art of a sculpture, he uses a design system to propose a logical structure of historical processes. Firstly, he maps the structure and then uses history to explore questions that explain the problem— and finally, address the root cause.
Between by Victor Burgin
(is not to be modern to know clearly what cannot be started over again?)
— Roland Barthes, ‘From Work to Text’
In contrast, Burgin, is breaking barriers, combining genres and idioms to critique the ubiquitous political and ideological power of images through advertising, photography, and documentary work. He uses contemporary cultural theory, instead of focusing on traditional aesthetics. His work reflects that the location of the future is uncertain between gallery and book, visual art and theory, image and narrative, and reader and text.
Why work, as a socialist, at all within the art institution? Isn’t the art institution irretrievably bourgeois? How can you morally justify working in it?
The ideological power of images and text shows that design is a value in itself — because designers help project the economic base in society — if they aren’t conscious of the work they’re producing, they’re contributing to the endless cycle of being part of a cog in a machine by reproducing ideology of maintaining the status quo — biologically and ideologically. As a child, we learn “to accept without a second thought as natural and interchangeable.”² Design has the power to change beliefs about the world, ourselves, and others — because what is ideological is human-made and iterative.
The cultural stereotype of woman is a passive and dependant creature whose emotions rule her reason and her aim in life is homemaking and motherhood.
Krauss is conscious of using ‘images of women’ and even more, constantly battling the patriarchy of turning ‘women-as-image’ which reflects the social construction of the self. He notes that “femininity is itself a product of representations, overwhelmingly produced by men” because the cultural stereotype is constructed and not natural.²
Despite their different models, both Krauss and Burgin are intent on expanding what we define as sculpture, or a book, and art and design — they show that art and design are not bounded, rather joined with psychology as they work together like puzzle pieces to create a system of what defines design’s value, visually and socially.
Expanding on Burgin’s contemporary cultural theory, I can break down the meaning of ‘malls’ to understand the origins of design’s social value and women’s role in consumerism. The original meaning of ‘malls’ is defined by the experience of strolling — the in-store experience. Shopping malls involve changing consumer behaviour by creating the habit of strolling as merchants seek you out and integrate consumer culture into your life individually and collectively³. Shopping malls weren’t intentionally planned — clever people didn’t decide that suburban people need to get a life and have some social interaction at a place of meeting⁴. Originally, the mall was a community center for people to gather and form interactions and shop as a cultural activity⁴. Shopping malls have exponentially evolved into the center for consumerism with digital e-commerce experiences — where people spend most of their time and spend even more. Similarly to tech corporate culture, the workspace is designed with a fun open-concept, reducing the differentiation between work, play, and home, so that you actually enjoy staying at work — and work even longer.
As a long-term vision, I think the design of consumerism and commerce has potential to enable social and cultural change for anyone to access, purchase, sell, trade, and rent goods regardless of gender, race, or class. According to the history of real estate, ownership of land could only be purchased if you were a tribal leader, king, or landlord, who were predominately men⁵. Since anyone can have access to purchase homes, women are empowered to work and live independently. Whereas, before women would be required to have a husband or man to own the house under their name to receive shelter — the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
In conclusion, Krauss defines the art of a sculpture using a rigorous design system, to propose a logical structure of historical processes. Firstly, he proposes mapping the structure and then using history to explore questions that explain the problem — and finally, address the root cause. Whereas Burgin uses a contemporary cultural theory reflecting the psychological processes of his design work in imagery and text, showing design’s value, visually and socially.
- Krauss, Rosalind. “Sculpture in the Expanded Field.” October, vol. 8, 1979, pp. 31–44.
- Burgin, Victor. Victor Burgin: between. Institute of Contemporary Arts, 1986.
- Abaza, M. “Shopping Malls, Consumer Culture And The Reshaping Of Public Space In Egypt”. Theory, Culture & Society 18.5 (2001): 97–122. Web.
- Feinberg, Richard A. and Jennifer Meoli. “A Brief History Of The Mall”. Acrwebsite.org. N.p., 2016. Web.
- Beattie, Andrew. “No Longer Nomads: The History Of Real Estate”. Investopedia. N.p., 2016. Web.