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Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Artist Must Act as a Bridge—a Political Operation

"In the specific field of architecture there has been the most flagrant betrayal of the principles that informed the whole modern movement, which were first interrupted by the Second World War, and then later abandoned as 'outdated'.
     In this cancerous avalanche of disorientation everything is swallowed up, dissipated—rapidly ageing into total obsolescence and losing its meaning. In this way 'wild' architecture trounces Antoní Gaudí... the true values of Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona Pavilion of 1929 would require precise historical research, yet the original meaning of Le Corbusier's architecture is given barely a passing thought and Frank Lloyd Wright's on the way to losing all of its original communicative force.
     Art is not so innocent. The grand attempt to make industrial design a motor for renewing society as a whole has failed—an appalling indictment of the perversity of a system... The current debate has shed light on the way that design has been used as the tool of a system...

     ...Any attempt to combat the hegemony of technology...must contend with the structure of a system: the problem is fundamentally political and economic. The idea of renewing society through art, a Bauhaus credo, proved to be a mere utopia—a cultural miscalculation or a means of salving the conscience of people who themselves wanted for nothing.  From these beginnings, it has developed into a kind of rampantly proliferating metastasis...the bankrupt utopia of a technocratic inteligentsia who, in promoting 'rationality' over 'emotionality', have emptied the concept [of planning] of its meaning, fetishistically converting it into abstract models that equate the world of statistics with the world of humans.
    If the problem is fundamentally political and economic, then the part played by the 'agent' in the field of 'design' is, despite everything, crucial. It relates to what Bertolt Brecht called 'the ability to say no'. Artistic freedom has always been 'individual', but true freedom can only be collective. By this I mean a freedom that recognises social responsibility and that breaks down the barriers put up by aesthetics... The strategy of 'non-planning'—a romantically suicidal reaction to the failure of the technocrats—must urgently be countered by a strategy for planning our environment...
     ....The corrupt mechanisms of real-estate speculation, the lack of provision of low-income housing, the profit-seeking proliferation of industrial design—of gadgets, objects that are for the most part unnecessary... We must develop a collective consciousness—any diversion at this time is tantamount to a crime... If it is the role of the economist and the sociologist to offer objective analysis, then the artist must act as a bridge connecting not just with the intellectual but with the engaged public...
     What we need to do now is to start again, from a new reality. One thing however is certain: those who concern themselves only with a small segment of society, those who are content... those who don't care to make a noise—they are definitely on the 'opposing side'.
   It is a mistake to want to eliminate collective reality in the name of aesthetics at any cost. All rebellions and avant-gardes have their basis in aesthetics, regardless of any assertions to the contrary... it is important to accept things that are aesthetically negative and to make use of them when necessary: art (like architecture and industrial design) is always a political operation."

— Nina Bo Bardi, "Planning the Environment: 'Design at an Impasse" [Malasartes 2, 1975/6], translated from the Portuguese by Anthony Doyle and Pamela Johnston, in Stones Against Diamonds (AA Publications, 2013), p86-90.