QED II, part two: Inchoate affinities
The second Q.E.D. II emphasized R. M. Schindler’s definition of “space architecture” as a way of thinking through questions of gender. Curator Kim Rosenfield associated the “radical flow” of the Schindler House with the way her work, and that of the panelists’, engages with these questions. Rosenfield chose Yedda Morrison and Vanessa Place as her fellow panelists, and Andrea Quaid moderated.
Schindler’s way of building differed from most architects’, and this is clear from the moment one steps into the Schindler House, where the Q.E.D. II events were held this year. As Esther McCoy, Schindler’s assistant for a time and LA-based architecture writer, said, “Who else had let the land dictate the house, rather than imposing the house on the land?” For McCoy, this mode of thinking about space is distinctly Californian, an interesting insight to consider when we think of Les Figues as a press. Cofounder Vanessa Place’s work, Boycott, of which we heard a section at this event, certainly refuses these kinds of predetermined impositions, or, more accurately, flips the place from which the pattern is imposed. Insert component X in place of Y, see what new formula emerges. Let the land determine the house rather than sculpting the land to fit the house. Might we think of Place’s conceptualism as working to perpetuate the kind of reversals Schindler’s space architecture insists on?
The question of gender as a construction, as biological, as part of what makes a “self,” was at the center of tonight’s conversation and readings. Rosenfeld answered questions from a series of cards “on the fly” as a way of engaging with Schindler’s idea that architecture can be seen as the structure of objects of the mind. The kind of paired openness and contingency that operates as a remedy to preconceived narratives was represented formally by her prewritten questions and improvised responses. In three rounds, volunteers from the audience asked questions to which Rosenfeld responded with a kind of rambling precision of intent reminiscent of the space she stood in. She referred to the house itself as a “house of thinking” that might allow one to stand outside “known structures of society”; a container akin to conceptualism, I’d argue. However, equally important is the fact that this space is one of incessant movement, or becoming, of openness. But openness does not necessarily imply lack of containment, but rather an interrogation of the container itself and the functions it serves. As Rosenfeld asked in answer to one of her questions, “How many selves are built up in me … how do we make a self?”
The notion of these divisions, and the difficulty of constructing a self, also emerged in Place’s reading from Boycott, which takes different feminist texts and replaces all female-gendered pronouns with male pronouns. For the panel, she read from her version of Valerie Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto. Place’s project works especially well with this text — recall the famous moment in which Solanas declares the male, with his xy chromosome, to be an incomplete female, now rendered as “the male as incomplete male.”
One might argue that Place’s change-up reconstructs one of the primary aspects of Solanas’s critique: that in turning the “male condition” into a “philosophical dilemma,” men “give stature to their animalism, grandiloquently label their nothingness their ‘Identity Problem.’” Indeed, during the Q & A session, Place stated she began the project thinking about Lacan’s statement “the woman does not exist.” By making the conversation a conversation about men only, by inviting us to see the split subject, the divided self, in each statement, does Place reinsert us into the always male-centered philosophical discussion of the subject? I wondered this as I listened, stopping short at the line “eliminate men and men will shape up.” It’s one of the places, as Place discussed, in which you find yourself trying to figure out where the “woman” was (Solanas, as we know, was not too kind to non-groovy females, although she thought they might be capable of reform if men were eliminated). We’re still not sure to what extent the SCUM Manifesto operates as satire, but it reaches a pinnacle in this respect with the aforementioned line. What, we are forced to ask ourselves, does sex mean to me?
A confrontation with one’s own desire to reinscribe the binary of gender on this text is characteristically at the center of Boycott. And what better way to bring the question of this binary, the way it operates in a feminist context, than to remove that context altogether by redacting all the women? In the case of Solanas’s text, it also deprives us of any refuge from the author’s violence; in the original text, we might take comfort in the idea that at least the women might be saved. In Place’s text, violence overspills its boundaries and exposes the way in which it can’t be contained by language. The same, of course, is proved true for gender. Yedda Morrison read from an email correspondence with Rosenfeld from 2008, when Morrison was a “new mom and feeling quite isolated.” The topic of the emails, she noted, came to be what she calls the “feminized self.” In this case, gender is framed as “architecture with a purpose.” Morrison sifted through the year-long correspondence to discover themes, or “constellations,” as she called them. Being middle-aged, being mothers, and being artists/economic workers emerged as central topics. Questions of selfhood ran throughout. The experience of middle age is framed as the emergence of a “shadow self,” and in the mirror, Morrison sees both the “blank potential of the face” and the “specter of the aged/aging woman.” The harsh features of the “father” begin to take over the “prettiness” of the mother, which brings on the sensation of the face “never having solidified.” The mother, too, appears as “two-faced” when considering “the face between her legs.” The meditation concluded with a series of questions about famous women writers such as Joan Didion, Doris Lessing, and Anne Carson. “Do they have children / are they otherwise coupled?” Morrison asks. “Were they ever considered ‘hotties,’ and where do they get their money?”
I would argue that Morrison’s reading presents us with an architecture of anxiety about the “feminized self.” The shadow self seems to be self without “prettiness,” something she connects with the mother’s genetic contributions. Potentiality is contained in the face’s blankness, or its failure to solidify along the lines of this feminized self. But what’s the difference between a two-faced and a blank-faced self?
In a two-faced self, like the familiar face of one’s child, there are two known selves of a sort. But the face with a spectral character, which seems more connected to “blankness,” aging, progression toward death, might seem to open up some “speculative futurity” about gender or selfhood in general.
The notion of this “speculative futurity” was emphasized by moderator Andrea Quaid, who saw the linkages between the three readings as related to kinds of “inchoate affinities, a kind of hope or futurity imperfectly formed.” She linked this notion to that of conceptual writing with the notion of “it is what it is.” To which Place added, “now, and the now keeps changing.” If gender, she added, has been seen as the question, what if we are to view it as a “historically convenient answer” to the kind of “semiotic weight” a body seems to have?
1. McCoy’s essay on Schindler, collected in Piecing Together Los Angeles: An Esther McCoy Reader, ed. Susan Morgan (Los Angeles: East of Borneo Books, 2012) can be found at Artbook.
3. Solanas, SCUM Manifesto.