Was wondering what was up when I saw all these post (collected below) by different blog authors all referencing Alison and Peter Smithson’s, But Today We Collect Ads and Reyner Banham’s “The Great Gizmo“.
Including 765, Loudpaper, dsgnagnc, Strange Harvest, a456, and Kazys Varnelis among others.
However, in this (excerpted below) post Kazys sort of lets the cat out of the bag…and since Kazys post was a few days ago I figured what the hell…
“In passing, she mentions leagues and legions, an online group of young on-line writers (I may be the oldest of them… shudder) . The long post I made the other day about Banham’s the Great Gizmo and the Smithsons’s “But Today We Collect Ads” and the first Networked Publics panel were the first forays into this work. Expect more!”
Plus, Twitter has been all abuzz with the hashtag #lgnlgn
So here is my meta-contribution/compilation to the first round of their work.
First my thoughts on the two original source, which I had never read before.
On Alison and Peter Smithson’s, But Today We Collect Ads
Centers mainly around the question of why certain folk art objects, historical styles, or industrial artifacts and methods become important at a particular moment, which cannot easily be explained. “Advertising has caused a revolution in the popular art field.” A theme illustrated by this little couplet
Gropius wrote a book on grain silos,
Le Corbusier one on aeroplanes,
And Charlotte Periand brought a new
object to the office every morning,
But today we collect ads.
The Smithson’s furthermore suggest that when it comes to the crafting of society architecture has something to learn from the profession of advertising. If only scale and success, for “Mass-production advertising is establishing our whole pattern of life – principles, morals, aims, aspirations, and standard of living.”
On Reyner Banham’s, The Great Gizmo
A great companion piece is this review in Harvard Design Magazine by Wouter Vanstiphout. Wherein Wouter writes, “Being a historian and an observer, Banham presents his program of urban dispersion by gadgetry not as something new and original — as did his architectural avant garde contemporaries at Superstudio or Archigram — but as a valid historical tendency, as something real that has been going on for ages, that has a tradition, and that is happening at this moment somewhere near you.“
In The Great Gizmo Banham links American essentialism to a frontier portability. The portable gizmo is and has always been American in nature. In fact he goes so far as to say if a rural happiness exists in America it owes its existence to the American embrace of the gizmo and industry. Moreover, the gizmo is the tool which enables this rural happiness to be experienced by all. It is the great democratizer particularly because of its cheapness/ubiquity along with the fact that such objects “leave craftmanship behind them at the factory“. There is also striking similarity between the Smithson’s praise of mass-advertising and Banham’s belief that the Sear and Roebuck catalogue is “one of the great and basic documents of U.S. civilization and deserves the closest critical study”
Banham seems to suggest that gizmos relationship to the city is one of anti-infrastructure. At least in the massive, physical sense of the word. In comparing the distributive reality of the gizmo to the old static style infrastructure/existence of American cities like Boston, Philadelphia or NYC, Banham implies that a suburban distributed urbanism more closely resembles the contemporary (but also historically authentic) American life style.
Finally, a quick reaction/summary to what 765, Loudpaper, dsgnagnc, Strange Harvest, a456 and Kazys Varnelis wrote.
765 ties the two original texts together with the title of his post “But today we collect gizmos” in which he explores the metaheuristics of gizmos. He notes that when it comes to the study of heuristics “Someone’s got to decide whether to hit the Black Box with Maslow’s Hammer or Occam’s Razor.”
In her post “agriculture takes command” Mimi of Loudpaper explores the intersection between the American embrace/fascination of/with the gizmo and the growing trend of urban agriculture.
Quilian in “But, Today Ads Collect Us (but, we can hack them)” suggests that blogger.com is a virtual gizmo and explores the ways in which advertisers make use of digital and social media platforms to turn “us into mini-conduits of their message…Daily life as commodified data“. This has had the perhaps, unintended, consequence of creating a new spatial practice. In this context Quilian writes “hacking, or the re-configuration of systems to work in ways other than what they were intended to, has become the favorite tool of activists against the commodification of our digital and physical spaces“. He closes with a quote from the essay “Spatial Practices in the Margin of Opportunity” by architect Markus Miessen, in which Miessen declares “Today’s spatial practice not only uses experimental research related to transient conditions of urban society, but also applies physical and non-physical structures in order to change and alter specific settings“.
Sam Jacobs of FAT in “More Scenes In Cartoon Deserta” explores the connections between deserts, Wile E Coyote and Roadrunner cartoons and the role of gizmos in both. I particularly enjoyed the 10 Rules of the Roadrunner Universe he lists which were defined by Chuck Jones the series creator. I also, found this passage striking,
“We identify with his constant, ridiculous Banham-esque optimism in design. If ACME products did the job they said they would, the precarious balance between Roadrunner and Coyote would be set out of kilter, and the narrative would end. Coyotes schemes – like strapping on a pair of rocket powered roller-skates – are doomed to fail because design perverts his natural state.”
For, when placed within the context of Baham’s belief of the close link between American essentialism and gizmos, it suggests that perhaps the biggest problem facing American’s today is our over reliance on gizmos. Specifically, because their design perverts our natural state.
Enrique in “Story of an Eye (and Another Eye, and Yet Another Eye)“, goes real meaty and uses Banham’s original text as a starting point to explore among other things Bruce Sterling’s concept of atemporality and Dürer. He starts with the contention that atemporality has a direct relationship to network culture in that, “It is a way of using the very tools that network culture offers us (via social networking sites, music, film, et cetera) to develop a way of thinking about history that is wholly contemporary.” Enrique also believes that Banham’s “The Great Gizmo” is in fact itself an example of atemporality. He concludes with a suggestion, that we embrace atemporality. Yet, he also proposes a re-naming of the practice to atemporalize, atemporality, as it were, “let’s use a really atemporal (and oxymoronic) term to describe our practice. I’m thinking of the term “new traditionalist” here not because it invites a certain kind of revisionism, but rather because it allows me to remember something I heard once. How fun! Yes, it was the clarion call of the true New Traditionalists.”
And in his post “Today we Collect nothing” Kazys argues that what the Smithsons proposed and Banham did, is no longer possible or certainly as easy. For, “Network culture levels out the differences between high and low. The transactions are constant and if our access to knowledge isn’t perfect, it’s awfully close. There’s nothing to collect anymore, no sources out there that are unknown to architecture.” Yet the contemporary futurity proposed by those authors is now dated, “Our lives have been thoroughly transformed by gizmos, but our architecture is much the same“.
Girlwonder in “Today we Operate on Objects” looks at objects and provides a listing of some operations. Actions or characteristics which can be applied to objects. She uses the term “set of operations“. Are operations the same as surgery? Can an non-object be operated on?
Finally, Robert Sumrell in “But Today Ads Collect us” suggests that in this world of portable electronic devices and third-party smart phone apps, adds have flipped the script. Whereas the Smithsons believed designers should emulate the power of ads by collecting and dissecting the knowledge behind their construction, it is through the power (or rather reach) of the gizmo that ads collect and thus learn from us.
So what then can we say as a conclusion?
All the remixers acknowledge the facts as described by the two texts. Ads and the gizmo are key lenses through which one can analyze both the past, contemporary or even atemporal American existence. Yet, they all explore different topics. Moreover, they believe that ads and the gizmo can either be used (or hacked) or are using us. Which is it?
Perhaps, both? We use the Gizmo, it uses us. As for American essentialism… Advertising and commercial culture aren’t an American invention. Perhaps, the “Great Gizmo” is though. If only because the individualistic nature it allows us to perpetuate. Some see a future in distributed Gizmo everywhere urbanism. I would argue that the Gizmo should be embraced, not for it’s distributive, but rather it’s attributive and also connective effects. Meaning, the Gizmo isn’t the future, we all are.
This is why the Gizmo is not just an object. We use a Gizmo it operate on us, most of the time. Or we use it to operate. However, we rarely, operate on ourselves. Although increasingly, that is the end point. Of the Gizmo=Us=American Essentialism. Is America itself a Gizmo? No. Or rather not one. We are a collection. If anything that is our strength. Well, not that we are Gizmos, but that we are Gizmo’d. As in out. Too many. Or not the right ones….