weeknote 15

Oxford Corner House network analysis diagram by Cedric Price: a project management tool he adapted for his own purposes in his projects (1966).

These weeknotes haven’t exactly been weekly. I’ve been struggling with blogging when I’m thick in work. I’m heavy in a mix of chapter-paper-article on Cedric Price’s Oxford Corner House and find that it’s really hard to translate ideas outward into something short, immediate and public.

I’m a thesis writing advisor this year at Art Center in the graduate Media Design Program. One of my colleagues refers to blogging and writing about the design process as “being a public academic.” I’m looking forward to talking more to her about it, not to mention actually doing it so that I’m doing what my students are. I realize that it’s one thing to teach students about writing, blogging and presenting their work in written form, but it’s another for me to do so publicly — to let whatever audience comes by into your messy creative processes. Is it that I feel vulnerable? That’s less it — maybe it’s that all of a sudden, people are dropping by and the house is a mess and I haven’t showered and there’s not much to eat. It feels like it’s not organized enough to give someone an idea. What if we thought of writing as desk crits, something we do in design and architecture, and less as publishing?

Right now, I’m in the thick soupiness of writing about Cedric Price’s Oxford Corner House — the point where I feel like I hurl clay up on a table to make enough of it so that I can sculpt it away. At the same time, I’m writing a dissertation chapter, a paper for the ACSA “Responsive Architecture” session and an article for Design Observer’s Places journal. It’s all based on work I did in the archive and almost nothing has been written about the project, so I’m going through hundreds of documents and drawings, trying to come up with my own narrative for the project. It takes a lot of time to just create a narrative, let alone synthesize and contextualize it. I’m making headway.

For Tim Maly’s 50 Posts about Cyborgs project, I wrote “A Network of Constant Interactions and Communications,” the first of two pieces on cybernetics and the arts. This one is a brief bit on cybernetics as groundwork for another on cybernetics and architecture. I’ll write more about Cedric Price there, too.

The project I’m doing for Institute for the Future has begun. I’m greatly enjoying with Anthony Townsend and Jake Dunagan on it and applying some of my areas of research and expertise to a fascinating subject. We’ll be getting ready for a big kickoff next week.

There’s lots more: the upcoming Google Zeitgeist conference, where I’m doing the pneumatic tubes Ignite talk, a talk at Adaptive Path in 9 days on information and architecture, and a heap of deadlines. And there’s trying to be a more public academic, so I’ll write here more.

weeknote 14

(Fred points at one of the presentation boards for Japan Net. This is one of the nicest parts about being at the CCA: the discussions that happened when other people stopped by to see what I was looking at, or that happened over their material.)

My fellowship at the Canadian Centre for Architecture ended last week. It was a stellar month. I realized every time I walked in the door, I wore a grin and my pace quickened as I headed down the hall to the Study Centre. I will very much miss the place and the people, both the scholars and the people at the CCA.

The overall goal of my trip was to look at the projects that Cedric Price did that had something to do with information flows and communication. In reality, that could mean all of his projects, but given the enormity of his archive, that wasn’t going to be the case. I mentioned previously that I looked at Generator (the subject of my master’s thesis) and Oxford Corner House (a proto cyber cafe info hive from 1966), but I also saw Magnet (a set of urban interventions to instigate different interactions throughout London, 1996), the Birmingham and Midland Headquarters (which reused parts of Oxford Corner House, 1968), Price’s own information storage system for his office (punchcards and a possible computer), Japan Net (series of info pods for Kawasaki, Japan), and McAppy (a construction site safety program, project management system and portable, prefabbed construction huts).

I did not set out with the goal of finding this, but I think Price was truly an information architect — that is, an architect whose main material and media was information. (I also believe he came across the early use of the term “information architecture” in 1968, in an article in Datamation.) Every project begins with this collection of data; the key activities have to do with the structuring of that data and information into categories — and then into physical communication and circulation in the form of a design for a building. He didn’t build many things and it leads me to believe that his practice had more to do with the sum total of all the data and information and drawings and texts and correspondence and charts.In any case, there’s a ton of material to work through that hasn’t really been analyzed or published about, with a few exceptions. I’d like for Price to be as well known to the technology/design community as Nicholas Negroponte and Christopher Alexander are.

In other news, I went to my 20 year high school reunion. It was as weird as I’d expected but also, great fun. Best of all, I reconnected with my high school best friend. It’s been a hard year for friendships and it felt wonderful to realize that Nicole is there and beautiful and doing well.

Tomorrow, I fly back to LA. I’m pondering doing a juice fast. I’m looking forward to going running and getting back to eating healthfully and sleeping well.

weeknote 13: greetings from montreal

Greetings from the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal! I’m here on a Collections Research Grant to use the Cedric Price Archive. There are about 30 scholars in residence right now from the US, Canada, Italy, France, Spain, Belgium and points beyond, some younger, some more advanced, some traditionally academic, others less traditional like Geoff Manaugh of BLDGBLOG. That doesn’t even include the curators, archivists, librarians and other people who work here — they’re lovely as well. When you walk through the Study Centre, you never know what’s going to be on the tables… Susanna, from Venice, found a drawing of Peter Eisenman’s House VIII, not published. Zubin, from Montreal, is trying to make sense of the narratives in John Hejduk’s Masque drawings. Geoff found Oilstrike, a game sponsored by BP from 1970 — the irony. Samantha Hardingham, the one person in the world who publishes extensively and intensively on Cedric Price, was here this week as a part of her long research project in which she is looking at every single project he did. In any case, it’s a wonderfully convivial experience and a total delight to be here.

While I’m here, I’m looking at several Cedric Price projects that deal with information and technology, most of which have not been published about to any great extent. These include some crazy projects: a 1966 proto cybercafe for Tottenham Court Road in the Oxford Corner House; a 1967 design charette called Atom for a new town around a nuclear reactor that would have a “town brain” and a “life conditioning” unit that would educate its citizens; the British and Midlands Headquarters that incorporated the information flows and planetariums from the Oxford Corner House project — and Cedric Price’s own plans for an information storage and retrieval system to be used in his own office. It extends the work I did on my master’s thesis, which examined Price’s Generator project– a 1976-79 plan for an intelligent set of cubes on a landscape that would get bored if not moved and recombined.

On Monday, I presented to the scholars here on the Oxford Corner House project, a talk titled “Storage of Information Becomes Activity” — a note scribbled on a drawing from a different project, but that seems to indicate so much of what Price is doing with his kit of parts buildings, the mobility and the information screens and the learning and the computers. I’m coming to the conclusion that Price really did see architecture as information architecture in a very literal sense: a structuring of information, an organizing of it into activities, and then an organizing of architectural objects and tools to accommodate the movement through these informational exchanges.

The archive is a treasure trove and it’s a delight to look at more projects than just Generator, for which I was here in 2006. Some of it is laugh-out-loud funny, like the image above of the Inter-Action Centre, one of the few things that Price built (built 1977, demolished 2001) — or the letter that not only requested information on hovercrafts, but a demonstration. Some of it is amazingly futuristic, like the information flows and technologies suggested for the Oxford Corner House. I’ll publish bits of it here as I crunch through the material.

Finally, Montreal is one of my favorite cities. I’ve been here three times, twice in 2006 in late fall (brr!) and once for Design Engaged in 2008. This time, I’ve had a chance to relax into it– though I’ve been too socially busy to relax. It’s beautiful in summer, one reason why I decided to do the fellowship in July, not October. Where I’m staying on the other side of Mount Royal, there are huge maple trees and rolling hills. It all draws to a close in just under a week, when I go to Minneapolis for my 20 year high school reunion. (Shaking head.) That’s going to be its own archive.

weeknote 12

Finally another weeknote…

First, I finished my dissertation proposal. If you’re interested in reading it, you can find it here. They are tricky beasts, proposals are — they are arguments for something you have yet to write and research. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, every time I’d sit down to write the proposal, I’d start trying to write the whole dissertation in miniature. Finally, though, it came together (as noted, thanks to Ms. Vertesi’s help).

I presented and defended the proposal before my committee– Christine Boyer, Ed Eigen, and Axel Kilian — and another professor I’ve worked closely with over the last several years, Spyros Papapetros. Also in the room: 10 or so students from my PhD program, two from art history, and another professor in the architecture school, Miles Ritter, who shares my love for technology. The critique was really solid. I know what the holes are in the proposal and was happy that the committee and other audience members found them all.

Critique is an excellent thing. It’s scary, yes, but it’s an honor to have good people engage with your work in an intense manner. I learn so much from the dialogue about it, whether in a defense (such as with my general exams or as in Thursday’s presentation of the proposal), or in conversations with the people in and around my PhD program. It’s also been important to learn how not to be defensive in a critical situation.

Some of the questions and suggested approaches that came out of it: looking closely at the rhetoric that Nicholas Negroponte, Cedric Price & Christopher Alexander used; considering a number of figures around MIT & the Media Lab; looking at the influence of Noam Chomsky and linguistics; probing the difference between computation and the computer and how that affects architectural practice.

Wow. I guess I’ve been busy. Also in the last week or so, I:

  • Spoke at the Network Architecture Lab at Columbia University on a panel discussion about Infrastructure — it was part of the Networked Publics lecture series
  • Wrote a piece for the catalogue of the  HABITAR exhibition Laboral in Spain on the 1970 Software exhibition, 1840s telegraphy and the annihilation of space and time through distributed intelligence
  • Worked with a friend who graduated from Ivrea on the copy for her company’s product concepts
  • Spoke in the lecture series at the University of Chicago in the History of Science department, thanks to a kind invitation from department chair Adrian Johns. (My subject: Poste Pneumatique.) Okay, so that was three weeks ago. Afterwards I was in LA for a few days to visit my boyfriend.

What’s ahead? My brother gets married on Grand Cayman Island next weekend: a week from today, I will be scuba diving with sting rays. (How I love diving! And I never really go.) Thereafter, a visit to San Francisco for the first time in a painfully long time to attend the Institute for the Future Tech Horizons conference, plus a few days in LA.

weeknote 11

Have to admit, I’m feeling a bit bland. I got back to Princeton on Wednesday, a day late due to issues with my flight. There are worse things than an extra day in Los Angeles, so jdf and I went to Sam: Johnson’s Bookshop (across from Mitsuwa and Santouka’s yummy ramen). Last Wednesday night, I returned to Princeton in enough time to hear part of Sam Jacob (principal of FAT) as a part of the student lecture series. I’ve caught up with my classmates here, sorted through the gossip, dusted off my desk and my apartment, and met with my advisor. Another computer crash (kernel panic) sent me to the Apple Store for repairs. I think my computer chooses to attack me when I most need it to be reliable. Sigh.

Tomorrow, I will give my advisor five pages of an eventual 15 page or so dissertation proposal. Writing isn’t the problme: I have tens of thousands of words. The problem is whittling it down. What needs to go in? I’m realizing that a dissertation proposal is not a dissertation, it’s not a chapter, it’s not an article– it’s an argument for my next two years, sure, but also, it’s a treatment– a means to sell everybody on the idea. So the problem right now is that I have 10 pages, not 5, and they’re not the right 10, and they don’t include the 25 pages I wrote last month. Here’s hoping I find the right ones.

In terms of running, I now run a mile nearly a minute and a half faster than I did six weeks ago, and at that, over four or five miles — this time on the Tow Path near my apartment. The speed increase was enough of a surprise that I doubted my Nike + sensor, but I know the route well, and I am indeed 10% faster than a month ago. (Note that someone drowned in the canal yesterday—that explains the ambulances and boats and police: do not cross tape)

Aside from writing, ahead of me this week: Dennis Crompton Mike Webb from Archigram will give a Media & Modernity talk at the Princeton School of Architecture tomorrow night. On Friday, the Center for Architecture, Urbanism and Infrastructure (where I am a fellow) will host Mobility and Accessibility: Twenty-First Century Infrastructure, both a public session and an invitation-only seminar on Friday and Saturday.

Next week: I’m giving a talk at the University of Chicago in the History of Science department on the 16th and the University of Wisconsin-Madison—my alma mater!—on the 19th. More about that later.

weeknote 10

Listening to Peterlicht and sipping a glass of grüner veltliner on my last Sunday in Venice. I smell like sunblock even after a shower. It’s my last Sunday in Venice after being here for six weeks. It’s been anomalous and unusual, but good. I’ve missed Princeton and will look forward to the start of springtime there, to immersing into my dissertation proposal and chapter.

There’s South by Southwest. I need to write about that separately, especially about the panel I moderated: “Maps, Books, Spimes, Paper: Post-Digital Media Design.” This was the 13th year I’ve attended SXSW, the 12th I’ve spent on the advisory board. It was huge and messy and very inspiring. I didn’t know that it would offer that to me this time around, but it did. More on that soon.

I finally succeeded at updating, redesigning and moving Girlwonder to WordPress from Movable Type. I’ve had the Girlwonder domain since 1997 and websites of my own since 1995), but I vacillate between a personal site and a site that I create about my work, my interests and my professional presence. Over the last 6 years, I’ve had several sites– the latest of which is Active Social Plastic— that I used for writing on architecture, urbanism, social networks, literature. The inspiration for Active Social Plastic came from how Enrique uses Aggregat 456, his outstanding blog, for essays. I wanted to experiment with keeping separate the personal content. It turned out that I updated both sites less frequently. But also, it seems that the right mode for me is a hybrid, a blending of personal and academic/professional. Moreover, people readily know Girlwonder. So: I’ve blended the two sites. I’ve redesigned, though not quite as much as I’d like — the color palette needs work. After 8 years on the platform, I’ve left Movable Type for WordPress because it’s easier for me to redesign and manage. I also have an About page for the first time in a long time and will include more professional information there as well — articles, CV and such.

My writing continues on my dissertation proposal. When I go back to Princeton on Tuesday, I will be focusing very heavily on it, with the hope of presenting it in the first half of April. There’s not much to say till I finish it.

I wrote a remix piece titled “Today We Operate on Objects” for #lgnlgn that derived a set of rules on objects out of “The Great Gizmo” by Reyner Banham and “But Today We Collect Ads” by Allison and Peter Smithson. Rather than writing an essay, I wanted to create a set of operations from the two pieces that could be applied to objects. My overall body of work keeps coming back to how we interact with objects, whether 19th century interfaces to the postal service, or history of social networks, or digital systems, or holistic systems.

LA has been good in terms of art. We saw the Learning from Las Vegas exhibition at MoCA — a subject I devoted time to my first semester at Princeton in the Learning from Levittown seminar (the lost studio). We’ve been to the Rachel Whiteread drawings exhibition at the Hammer — lovely to see her working process in action. I saw her drawings as layers that build up to a final, cast and sculptural work.

It’s also been good in terms of architecture. We saw the London Eight panel and opening at Sci-Arc, with Peter Cook, CJ Lim, marcosandmarjan, Pascal Bronner and several other architects associated with the Bartlett. I loved their work: drawing as architecture in its own right is a subject dear to my heart, but found the panel discussion annoying. There were entirely too many people on stage, and the moderation dulled down what might have been much more interesting. A few days later, I returned to Sci-Arc to see my friend Michael Kubo speak about architectural publishing practices. The following night, I joined Alissa Walker at the Unplanned exhibition at Superfront LA and 2D3D: Fast, Cheap and Out of Control, a show on architectural drawings at the Woodbury University’s Hollywood Gallery. I liked the work at Unplanned (kudos to my dear friend and former classmate McClain Clutter for his work), but it could have been as easily perused online or in a book (much of it, at least). Interesting that LA has two shows right now on architectural drawing.

Meeting people here who teach and write about architecture and design is heartening and frankly, fun. It also inspires me to write more here — part of the reason for the website move and redesign. I’m curious to see what the next weeks will bring.

weeknotes 07 to 09

I got behind on my weeknotes as I’ve been dealing with some personal business and caring for someone after a surgery, both during the hospital stay and beyond. (Everything went well.) As a result, my productivity isn’t quite as speedy as it’s been of late. I’m not sure it’s going to be all that great this week, given that I’m heading to South by Southwest tomorrow for my 13th time. I’ve been on the advisory board for SXSW Interactive for 12 years. It’s the only thing I do every single year (I don’t even celebrate the holidays with my family with this much regularity). I’ll write more about SXSW separately and instead recap my anomalous couple of weeks–weeks that have less to do with generative systems and more to do with running, yoga, and hospital art collections.

First, Cedars-Sinai Hospital. I certainly didn’t expect to be blown away by the art in a hospital, but there was a stunning collection of small-numbered prints and sculptures created in LA or by LA artists in the 1960s-80s. Claes Oldenburg prints from September 1968. Ed Ruscha sketches in the 1980s. One of my favorites in the ward on the 8th floor: a poster from the 1965 Art and Science exhibition at the Albany Institute of History and Art. The nurse was kind enough to show me how the pneumatic tube system functioned, something that made me nearly giddy, given my fascination with the subject.

I wrote an article on Cedric Price’s Generator for the next issue of Crit (the theme for which is “Architects without Architecture“). It got me thinking about Price–the subject of my master’s thesis — will fit into my dissertation on generative systems. Bryan Boyer asked me, in response to my list of qualities of generative systems, what didn’t qualify. The key is that they’re generated from some set of algorithms. Simple question, one I need to sort out.

Finally, running. Since I arrived in LA, I’ve been running several times a week. Although I’ve been running for a little over a year steadily, this is the greatest mileage I’ve accumulated. I ran the most disorganized 5K ever on Saturday and managed to come in 4th among women runners and 11th overall.Yesterday, I ran 6 miles, the furthest I’ve ever run. In fact, I don’t get winded and yesterday’s long run didn’t even make me sore. Maybe that’s because yoga causes me so much more pain: I went to three yoga classes in the course of a week. You’d think that Venice is made of yoga studios and marijuana dispensaries, with incidental restaurants, shops and Intelligentsia coffee. Anyway, maybe I’ve become one-of-those-people, but there are worse things. I’ve never been in such strong physical shape.

weeknote 06

Enough with the snow. I’m in Los Angeles, or more precisely, Venice (and I missed the third snowstorm in 10 days in New Jersey). I will be shifting my time to be here more than not in the next several months, an audition for whether I might fully move here later this year. I’ve been running on the beach boardwalk in the mornings, something I ordinarily do later in the day. In the afternoons, I write. I’m pondering adding yoga to the mix since I have enough energy for it during the day. The sunlight here is beautiful and my freckles are out for springtime.

My dissertation is focusing ever more on generative systems. I’m working on the dissertation proposal and this week, I’m writing about what constitutes a generative system. Rather than turning out formal prose, I’m just writing between 1000-2000 words, written quickly. It feels lighter this way and it captures my insights better.
I’ve been doing a close reading of Nicholas Negroponte’s The Architecture Machine (1970), J.C.R. Licklider’s “Man-Machine Symbiosis” (1960) and Warren McCulloch’s (ready? this is long) “Toward some circuitry of ethical robots or an observational science of the genesis of social evaluation in the mind-like behavior of artifacts” (1956). In this case, I’m using some of the methods I followed when I worked on a paper about Adolf Behne’s work in the 1920s and the notion of the apparatus… I suppose that this isn’t too different, since Negroponte is all about generative apparatuses.
So what is a generative system? Here’s a broad list of attributes I’ve gathered so far.
  • Intelligence
  • Contextual (context-sensitive, context-appropriate)
  • Adaptive and adaptable
  • Bridges dissimilarities
  • Evolutionary
  • Symbiotic
  • Unfolds over time
  • Has disposition and agency
  • Appetitive  (it absorbs from the environment around it — a word that comes from the McCulloch piece)
  • Capable of learning
  • Social
  • Communicates in (somewhat) natural language
  • Self-organizing
I need to group these and boil them down: these come from the work of a few figures in architecture and information theory, cybernetics and AI. The funny thing is, as much as I will apply these attributes to architecture, they apply to a certain attitude of systems in general. (I suspect that we should build systems today to strive for more of these attributes.) I’ll take the initial framework and bounce it against the work of the people in my case studies: Christopher Alexander, Cedric Price and Nicholas Negroponte. It’s nice that I’ll get to take on the most exciting aspects of my master’s thesis research on Cedric Price.
Next week, I’m aiming to start pouring content into the actual proposal with the plan to finish it at the beginning of March. There are other things that may compete with that, in reality, but I’m trying to keep enough structure and momentum going so that it carries me forward.

weeknote 05

It’s the second snowstorm in a week and right now, it’s the strange moment where I can feel the pressure change and sense the rest of the front that’s about to hit. They’ve closed Princeton today–in fact, they’ve closed most of the East Coast, from the sound of it, which also means that Enrique’s dissertation proposal won’t happen till next week and the Richard Sennet-Eyal Weizman-Teddy Cruz lecture will be rescheduled for tomorrow. During Saturday’s snowstorm, I baked bread, made coq au vin for hours in the slow cooker, started sewing a dress, and dyed my hair. Today will be geared more toward work and toward my own dissertation proposal.

First, I passed my general exam! It was a two-hour, closed-door critique of my work by Beatriz Colomina (head of the PhD program), Christine Boyer (my advisor), Ed EigenSpyros Papapetros and Brigid Doherty. It was very positive. I found it fascinating to see how the commitee drew links and connections through the body of work I had presented. It was apparent to them that I had a method and a clear set of interests (though the method is not as clear to me as it is to them–I inhabit it). They actually said that they enjoyed the papers — that’s the word they used. The committee thought my work needed to be theorized better and that media theory seemed to be useful (I have a meeting with the fabulous Tom Levin tomorrow to discuss). They thought my research paper — the one that will undergirds my dissertation — was the weakest, but I knew that: I had gone through 11 drafts of it and it was out of control. But that indicates to me that I have found the right topic for a doctoral dissertation. Overall, I got useful feedback that I can apply to both the larger scale of my work and the smaller scale.
The whole process of the general exam, from selecting papers to revising and expanding, to editing and presenting, really boosted my confidence — something I did not expect. It made me realize that I have a genuine body of work rich with research questions. It gave me a chance to see the common threads passing through the work: the things that tease me intellectually and won’t let me go. I now have all of these ideas of things I look forward to working on in a career, not just a dissertation.
I’m also ready to get back to writing, not just for my own work but out in the world. Maybe it’s time to start writing a column somewhere? We’ll see.
I’m grappling with two different directions on my dissertation proposal. On one hand, I can write about the introduction of the computer to architecture. There are three themes: methodology, representation, and generation. But really, it’s the generative systems that I think are really interesting. I have an idea about how architectural computing becomes computing architecture, how it on one hand ends up as ubiquitous computing, and on the other, as spatial metaphors for computing. There are reasons to do both: one is a straightforward dissertation; the other really ties together my big questions but might be harder to convince an architectural committee. I’m helped by the fact that much of these things happened within MIT’s architecture school, where the Architecture Machine Group existed and the Media Lab still resides (even if they don’t cross over at all with the history/theory/criticism part of the school). Talking with my advisor, Christine Boyer, will help: she listens well, she was at MIT in the period that I’m researching, and she’s done a good job of steering me the right way.
I keep coming back to haptic and physical engagement with space. Nicholas Negroponte & Richard Bolt’s 1977 Spatial Data Management System is really interesting in that it gave rise to the desktop metaphor, but what really intrigues me is the importance of “motor-memory reinforcement” — the notion that by physically putting something somewhere, or by going somewhere, it reinforces memory. They give the example of Simonides, the Greek poet famous for his ability to memorize long oratory. Negroponte explained in 1986, “His secret was to tie each successive part of a to-be-remembered poem or speech to a specific locale within the mental floor plan of either an actual or imagined temple. For each successive subsection of the talk to be given, the orator would mentally walk from place to place within the temple, rehearsing the appropriate material before some specific piece of statuary.” (Stewart Brand, The Media Lab, 1987, 138). This points out what eBook readers get wrong: the physical, haptic engagement of reading. It also points out a key question of what “future of reading” projects miss out on: the physics of authorship.
There’s so much possibility in that idea! It’s not about creating a metaphor, or a bookshelf on a device — that’s done and usually, done poorly (the iPad is no exception). It’s also not a gestural mode of interaction with a device — but what would happen if we created things that help us learn by our own movements? I’m going to work more on that in the coming days and share my thoughts about it.
I’m going to light some candles, invoke some hygge, and watch the snow fall… and write. I’ll let you know where this puts me next week.

weeknote 04

I’m finding that as I sit down to do my weeknotes, it’s as much about what’s coming up as it is about what I’ve just done. That’s probably to be expected, even though last week was exciting and relaxing and enjoying Mexico City.

The key thing is that my oral exam for my generals is tomorrow (or rather, in about 13 hours): it is a two-hour, closed-door critique of my work by Beatriz Colomina (head of the PhD program), Christine Boyer (my advisor), Ed Eigen, Spyros Papapetros and Brigid Doherty. All are professors I’ve taken courses with and all are major heavyweights in their disciplines. There are very few times in your life that you get this kind of feedback — my master’s thesis defense is really the only other time — and the next time will be my dissertation defense in a couple of years. It’s terrifying. I’m working through not being defensive and remembering the critique is a good thing. Oh yeah: it is something that one passes or fails. It’s never a foregone conclusion.
Okay, so back to weeknotes. Last Saturday, I flew to Mexico City, where Jesus de Francisco was directing a commercial. I got to be an accessory to the whole enterprise (read: tourist and onlooker). Despite spending 15 years in design and creative fields, film and television are new to me. There were so many layers of things: Motion Theory (the production company), the agency, the client, the local production company in Mexico, the talent from Mexico and the UK. I watched an estate in Mexico City become a midwestern backyard and a rooftop in the Centro Histórico transform into a Brooklyn loft rooftop. I lost track of how many people were on the set — 50, perhaps? So much fast activity and thinking on one’s feet. The day that I got back, Motion Theory won a Grammy for the Black Eyed Peas video, “Boom Boom Pow” — back-to-back with the Grammy they won last year for Weezer’s “Pork and Beans” video.
Mexico City was a treat — messy and strange and neverending and exciting. I met Brett Schultz, thanks to Lia’s kind introduction, and visited Yautepec, the gallery he runs with his girlfriend Daniela. Currently, a show called “Shoot” is up, showing he work of Thomas Jeppe, Jason Nocito, Ola Rindal and Paul Schiek’s work. It’s a part of an international exhibition with different photographers showing at different galleries around the world. Brett showed me the wonderful bookstore Conejo Blanco that we happened upon on the way to the mezcaleria (mmm). I had mezcal that had been cured with chicken breast. Go figure.
The architecture blew me away, particularly the concrete architecture of Pedro Ramírez Vásquez — the architect of the Mexico City Olympics in 1968 and the World Cup in 1970. He designed the Museo Nacional de Antropología in 1963 and the amazing Basilica of Guadalupe in 1974-6, which we visited by accident and I’m so glad I didn’t miss. It turns out that Enrique is related to the architect. In fact, the city in general blew me away, and I spent a fair amount of time just looking at things: looking out the windows of the hotel at the volcanos, the buildings, the presidential helicopters, the trees, the smog, the light, the low slung residential buildings in La Condesa, the concrete architecture all over the city, the 1956 Torre Latinoamericana skyscraper. There’s nothing quite like it. I hear rumors that the next Postopolis will be held in Mexico DF– I’d love to go back.
In the next several days, after I recover from my oral exam, I’ll post pictures on Flickr from the trip. I’m also beginning to work on my dissertation proposal — it will incorporate the feedback I get tomorrow. My hope is to present it on March 10, in advance of South by Southwest and spring break at Princeton, which means that I have a very intense and busy month ahead of me.
Please think good thoughts for me between 2 and 4 p.m. EST. Wish me luck!