2. Mask : Transparency and Opacity
Vladivostok may be taken as a critical and melancholic vision of contemporary urban society. The catalog of figures that introduces the work is an accumulation of characteristic social and urban types--institutions, social roles, building types, public spaces, and machines--costumed and scripted as self-propelling automata who perform their parts regardless of the presence or absence of an audience or victim. The guillotine of the Public Punishment Tower drops in a regular rhythm throughout the day although "the town never executes anyone." The book unfolds as a sequence of disjointed but interrelated tableaux in which Hejduk arranges his troupe to portray an analogous city that is a primitive, archaic, and originary version of the contemporary city. These timeless scenes--at once familiar and strange--make visible the mechanisms of social formation and deformation. In situating this analogous city in and out of time, Hejduk teases into the foreground the urban, institutional, and architectural texts through which life is constituted and played out. The carnivalesque re-presentation of the technologies of social administration turns them into spectacle and thereby makes them into sites for public discourse and, potentially, redemptive reoccupations and imaginative transformations. The radicality of this work registers in the degree to which the images disturb, unsettle, and prompt critical reflection.
Hejduk's architecture, in both its drawn and built forms, exercises a peculiar and haunting power over the imagination--a power that resides primarily in the architectonic economy of mask--which is achieved by interlocking representational and non-representational techniques, combining the mimesis of types with various formal and expressive tactics. The thinking that Hejduk undertakes in Vladivostok leaves behind not only a portrait of urban and social bondage but also a portrait of architecture bound to the shells of thoughts about itself Like a film about the making of a film, Hejduk's Vladivostok is a book about the making of a book, depicting an architecture about the making of architecture. Of course, this statement needs to be immediately qualified, for there is nothing rationalist about Hejduk's architecture. Nor does it participate in the modernist self-disclosure of construction, material integrity, internal order, or function. Instead materials, means of construction, and internal order are rendered mysterious while being signified. The lesson taught by Hejduk's architecture rests in his unsurpassed skill in constructing such mysteries and in leading the viewer into a state of contemplation about society and about architecture's role within it--a critical and distanced contemplation that has neither beginning nor end and that defies logical progression, taking instead a myriad of detours and digressions that circumnavigate, but never quite locate, truth or meaning.
Though my interest is primarily in Hejduk's architectonics, a great deal of the power of Vladivostok derives from Hejduk's ability to set title, text, image, and architectonic in provocative relationship to each other, without one dominating the other. Hejduk skillfully maintains the gap between signifier and signified by calling on the beholder's imagination to construct bridges or to dwell in the abyssal gap of meaninglessness. To demonstrate their arbitrariness as signs, it is significant that two of Hejduk's actors have appeared in different roles. The House of the Painter in the Berlin Masque also played The Old Farmer's House in the Lancaster/Hanover Masque; similarly, The House of the Musician in Berlin was The Widow's House in Lancaster/Hanover.