apposing the shells of architectural thought

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Hejduk's drawings of the House of the Suicide reveal something of what he absorbed from the modern researches into nonrepresentational modes of communication outlined above. They show him testing the psychological and associational affects of different formal arrangements in the detailed way of seeing promoted by Endell: studying alternative locations and dimensions for the openings, angles and length of the spikes, division of paneling, and color. Focusing on his design practice, one might conclude that Hejduk has successfully converted the formal devices of modern architecture into theatrical performance, discharging claims to ontology, and placing them instead in the service of new social needs and programs, that are, themselves, attempting to work through the legacy of modernism. But, if we focus on the objects, it remains uncertain as to whether they signal a renewal of architecture or simply its ruin. While Hejduk has written of the imminent collapse and death of the "discipline" of architecture, even the tone of this text remains ambiguous, oscillating between ominous prediction and the barely-restrained desire for a phoenix-like rebirth.34

Hejduk has found himself, somewhat uncomfortably, on the threshold between the modern and the postmodern, between the era in which artists were thought to produce works through internalization, absorption, synthesis, and distillation, generating new states of energy like a thermodynamic engine, and an era preoccupied with the mediations of knowledge, systems of signification, communication, and power, in which work itself is being redefined as arrangement, manipulation, and regulation within given networks rather than as original production. Like many so-called critical architectural and artistic practices, Hejduk hovers somewhere between these two domains, still dependent on the institutions created for the modern autonomous artist (schools, museums, publications) and still operating as a consciousness lurking outside the matter at hand--a voice without an audio hook-up.

Vladivostok is a melancholic portrait of architecture's disciplinary dependence on the past, especially the recent past of modernism. It is a performance in which the authors and subjects of inherited architectures have been exorcised from the shells of their thought. Depleted and emptied out, what remains is an inventory of mute and (finally) opaque objects, architectural elements, and formal devices, which Hejduk deploys in the most skillful and decadent manner-decadent in the sense of being self-consciously at the end of an era and deliberately reworking the "achievements" of that era now heading for ruin. But, for all his tilting toward the postmodern and his embrace of allegory and theatricality, Hejduk remains locked in the model of artistic production based on individual "absorption" and "pouring out." He resists deploying his exorcised material in the contemporary theater of everyday life where it could interact with other systems of mediation--those binding social externalities that are "really" the only sites available for the rebirth of critical and transformative contemplation.

34. John Hejduk, "Architecture and the Pathognomic," in Architecture and Urbanism 01, no. 244 (January 1991): 124.




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