Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Strategies against architecture #2

It is a sobering reflection to think that Brent Wong's 1970s period of "Regionalist-painting-with-Levitating-Architecture" is as close in time to his inspiration -- Ernst's Monument Aux Oiseaux series from 1927 -- as it is to today.*

By "sobering reflection", of course I mean "excuse to drink more pints of Voltaic Armadillo Doppelroggenbock". Fortunately we were at the Old Entomologist at the time when the subject came up, for Bar-top Slot-Car Racing and Architecture in Science Fiction Night.

The future will be spherical
Tigris had just remarked how easy SF writers have it... they can get away with a few broad indistinct verbal brushstrokes when they want to conjure up an urban setting of the distant future, or with description by exclusion -- itemising a few things that the buildings don't look like (if "buildings" is the right word) -- and letting the readers' minds do the bulk of the work. Another Kiwi vouchsafed that it's not so easy for the cover artists. Swearing Bob's comments were strongly-worded but not entirely relevant.

Case in point: Damon Knight's brief word-picture of the New City in "Beyond the Barrier":

spectral blue globes
For many years I have maintained a vivid source memory of first encountering the word "congeries" as part of that description, in 1977, reading the Gollanz edition with the yellow cover. But the word is not to be found in any on-line version, so the experience must have occurred in another time-line... either that, or I recall it from Leiber's allusions to 'The Bubbles Congeries' (the adjunct to Circumluna) in "A Specter is Haunting Texas". Leiber had acquired the word (as was the custom of the time) from H.P. Lovecraft with his "shapeless congeries of protoplasmic bubbles" and his "rather large congeries of iridescent, prolately spheroidal bubbles" and his "congeries of iridescent globes, yet stupendous in its malign suggestiveness". Excuse the digression.
The other futures will also be spherical
Speaking of digressions, the Whackyweedia entry on B-the-B goes off on an odd architextural tangent on its own and cites a 1966 critique of / manifesto for entropic affectless Minimalist art, written by someone who evidently thought that the book's descriptive passages captured the new sensibility.
Robert Smithson has argued that Beyond the Barrier is an example of science fiction in which architectural examples are presented that have nothing to do with science or fiction, but instead suggest "a new kind of monumentality which has much in common with the aims of some of today's artists."
This kind of nullification has re-created Kasimir Malevich's "non-objective world," where there are no more "likenesses of reality, no idealistic images, nothing but a desert!" But for many of today's artists this "desert" is a "City of the Future" made of null structures and surfaces. ... In Damon Knight's Sci-fi novel, "Beyond the Barrier," he describes in a phenomenological manner just such surface-structures: "Part of the scene before them seemed to expand. Where one of the flotation machines had been there was a dim lattice of crystals, growing more shadowy and insubstational as it swelled; then darkness; then a dazzle of faint prismatic light-tiny complexes in a vast three-dimensional array, growing steadily bigger." This description has none of the "values" of the naturalistic "literary" novel, it is crystalline, and of the mind of virtue of being outside of unconscious action. This very well could be an inchoate concept for a work by Judd, LeWitt, Flavin, or Insley.
Smithson doesn't even cite "The Voices of Time" and I suspect that he had not actually read a lot of the SF of his day.

All this was really just an excuse to post these two architectural SF covers which have been cluttering up my mental collection. Credited to Michael Whelan and Peter Goodfellow.

Bonus birb memorial:

* Wong is still painting, focusing on meticulous landscapes beneath radiant, sublime skyscapes, without the surrealist gestures of 50 years earlier.

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