Stats

Following: 64

Favorites: 7

Video: 3

Images: 5

Audio: 0

Bookmarks: 0

Blog: 2

Thome M

born in: San Jose, CA
lives in: Chicago
Thome is a sarcastic fellow that likes to consistently radiate with a healthy mix of wit and philosophical seriousness. He has submerged himself primarily in art history-based research and writing, curatorial studies and practices, gender theory, micro-blogging, and short story writing.... [more]

show all Collections

Viewpoints

Add Your Views
Please to comment.
 

Works

view by:
Collections
rss

Blog

Artists


Categories

Architecture
Postmodern Architecture
Architectural Theory & Criticism
Feminism

Themes

Feminine
Political
In Your Face
Feminist
Industrial

Tags

Feminism
Architecture
Yonic
Vitruvius
Alberti
Filarete
Digiorgio Martini
Diane Agrest
Smurfit Stone
Dan Graham
Performance Art
Installation
Conceptual Art
Gerda Meyer Bernstein
Artistic Discourse
Liberal
Conservative
Industrial Design
Lighting
Sculpture
Interior Design
Rock Music
Extremity
Fashion Designer
Haute Couture

 


 


Anti-phallic architecture isn’t something widely discussed in any realm – be it in art history or gender studies – perhaps because it is rarely both intentional and on a grand scale. Metropolis areas, though beginning to dabble in the creativity that post-modern architecture brings with it, tend to keep with the style of their already established skylines. Increasingly tall buildings with facades that alternate between classical, gothic, and modern seem to resonate high with city planners and most of these buildings continue on in the Vitruvian tradition of symmetry and proportion. It seems unlikely that an intentionally feminist building would earn the grants and permits needed to be constructed amongst the recognized New York skyline. Feminist architecture seems, for the time being, to be limited to the quieter and trendier environmental architecture that has been dubbed “green building.” Still, one shouldn’t forget about Chicago’s own Smurfit-Stone building, the sky scraper on the corner of Randolph and Michigan Avenue with the steeply slanted roof. Chicago urban legend has dubbed this building the “Y” building, or more bluntly, the vagina building. This myth is easily evaporated by the statement of the skyscraper’s architecture firm claiming that “[The designers] never had that thought in mind. It was never their intention. I assure you, absolutely not.” Regardless of this piece of information, utilizing the idea that this building seems to serve in direct contrast to the ideals Diane Agrest sets in her theory of the suppression of the female sex body through traditional architecture, it can be argued that despite of intent, the Smurfit-Stone building functions as a piece of feminist argument by “accidentally” circumcising Chicago’s phallus-heavy skyline with an anti-phallus. 


Since the early eighteenth century, the urban environments of our country have paved the way for the rest of the world as far as capitalism, technology, and innovations go. Chicago and New York, in particular, competed in a very literal way to disprove the statement that the sky’s the limit. As the cities developed outward, new technological advancements in the field of architecture enabled them to also develop upward. The skyscraper, originally a term for the main sail on a sailing ship, has no official limitations as far as a definition goes. In general, a building, no matter how tall or short, is considered a skyscraper provided that it clearly stands out above its surrounding environment and significantly changes the overall skyline of the city it resides in. These relatively modern structures undoubtedly continue on in the established system of rules of architecture presented by the likes of Vitruvius, Alberti, Filarete, and DiGiorgio Martini. 


Diane Agrest examines the teachings of these historic architectural masters in developing her theory of the sexist nature of architecture. Vitruvius, the classical mind that would influence construction a world’s history over, posits the issue of the human body as a model for architecture in which the symmetry, proportions, and center of the building and city should correspond with that of the human body – the human body, after all, is seemingly in divinity-approved perfect proportion and symmetry. Alberti, the Renaissance author of Ten Books on Architecture, extends this anthropomorphic ideal of buildings in his works which served to ultimately increase the influence of Vitruvius’ initial teachings. It isn’t until the works of Filarete and DiGiorgio Martini, however, that the original ambiguity with regards to the intended gender of the ideal building and city is eliminated and made explicit that the “human figure” is actually synonymous with the male figure with regards to proportion and symmetry. Agrest argues that both of these men also seem to strive to eliminate and suppress the inclusion of the female sex by assigning typical female gender roles to the men involved. For example, the architect, a man, becomes pregnant with an idea, carries it to term, and finally gives birth to a building, also a man. It is then also man that continues to give “maternal” nourishment to the building and to the city. It is because of all of this that Agrest argues that the female sexual body is completely repressed by the male sexual bodies that world-wide rise in phalluses in the metropolitan areas that also serve as central commercial and capital arenas. 


The vagina building breaks free from this infrastructure in a way that is brilliantly subtle yet powerful enough to produce a massive urban myth in which most people that hear it seem to take as truth. The subtlety enters in a few ways, the first being the fact that the architects didn’t seem to notice that the building might be interpreted in the way that it has been by various onlookers, or, rhetorically speaking, audience members. Evidently the city didn’t see it this way either and allowed for the structure to be built. Another mean of subtlety includes the structure as a whole; it is, ultimately a skyscraper that actually is a phallus in its own right, it does, after all, protrude upward to dominate the sky above it. And yet it is perhaps one of the closest things to a structural and noticeable vagina that can exist – to be realistic yonic architecture, which is the opposite of phallus architecture, would be built in to the ground and would hardly be grounds for a rhetorical artifact. 


This female building, the way it is, has snuck in to the Chicago skyline, pretending to abide by the gender-biased Vitruvian standards. With its’ suggestive reproductive organ aimed towards the sky, it breaks through the suppression inflicted by male architecture theorized by Agrest and word of mouth continues to heighten this building as a legitimate, though accidental, piece of feminist rhetoric. 


 


 

“Great post! I never knew my home city had such sexually themed buildings. Any insight into the John Hancock building? (sorry, but I couldn't resist)”
Posted over 4 years ago
Add Your Views
Please to comment.
 


Artists


Categories

Mixed Media
Conceptual Art
Installation Art

Themes

Political
Death
Feminist
Contemplative
Conceptual

Tags

Gerda Meyer Bernstein
Feminism
Architecture
Yonic
Vitruvius
Alberti
Filarete
Digiorgio Martini
Diane Agrest
Smurfit Stone
Dan Graham
Installation
Performance Art
Conceptual Art

 


Gerda Meyer Bernstein’s piece Marginalized consists of a fully deployed military parachute lying on the ground to act as the foundation for the twenty-two burlap-wrapped mannequins that rest on top of it. The mannequins, upon closer examination, are all women and the finger tips that sometimes escape the confining canvas also reveal a spectrum of ethnicity. The intended setting for the piece is a darkened room with the piece being illuminated entirely by four green floor-level spot lights. Though the themes of politics and race have long since been mastered by Meyer Bernstein in her artwork, this piece introduces a new theme to the activist’s rhetoric, that of gender. Specifically, sex plays a pivotal role in Gerda Meyer Bernstein’s installation Marginalized by combining a variety of literal, metaphoric, and allusive elements to represent the unceasing oppression faced by women across the world.


This piece is unarguably about women. They are the literal subject matter of the work and it doesn’t take an expert in iconology to deduce that the female forms are being oppressively confined by their form-fitting burlap body bags. In previous pieces, Bernstein Meyer has utilized a deployed parachute to represent the idea of safety net and that concept seems to extend itself in to this piece. The twenty-two women lay in their circular safety net, each one presented in a different pose. Their identities are anonymized by the canvas, and they are presumed to be dead. This equation that makes up Marginalized results in a depiction of women that have been and continued to be restricted by societies who presume that by giving women less rights, they are, in a sense, protecting them. The real result, of course, is women dying through the suffocation that these inflicted ideals cause. Former professor of philosophy at the school of the Art Institute of Chicago, Maureen P. Sherlock, writes briefly about the piece and presents an alternative interpretation. she says that, “the figures, rather than being corpses, are cocoons, biding their time in the protection of the nest, until a future awakening.” This interpretation suggests women’s potential for a future awakening in to a world that presents one’s equality and integrity as a feasible goal. 


Though this piece has yet to debut in a public forum, it has existed privately in the artist’s studio space, where I recently had the opportunity to view it, since 2006 and is presented in the body of her work included in a recent exhibition catalog. The history of Meyer Bernstein’s piece has, in essence, mimicked the concept of examining the role of women in history. Both women’s history and the artist’s piece have, fundamentally, been alluded to and presented in two-dimensional mediums; but, both have also had to wait to be fully realized by a wide audience. General history, until second wave feminism, was based almost exclusively on the males who, given their arguably unlimited opportunities, dominate the foundations of countries, wars, and revolutions. Women were hardly mentioned, and if they were, they were depicted as the support to their male counterpart or as a masculine rarity. Gerda Meyer Bernstein’s piece, in the same way, exists only as a brief allusion in a Sherlock essay and as two images that hardly do the piece justice. It’s current setting compared to its future setting may also suggest the formulated feminist theory that discusses the private versus the public; specifically, that a woman’s place is historically argued to be in the privacy of the home and not the public world of politics and economics. Where as it took a movement to unleash the specific study of women’s history on college campuses in the early seventies, it will take the right moment and opportunity for Meyer Bernstein to allow this piece to escape its own burlap imprisonment and reveal itself to the public. Although these parallels were probably unintentional, realizing the closeted history of this piece serves to gender it by indirectly associating it with women’s oppressive history and followed, hopefully, by a women’s movement and steps towards liberation. 


Gender very clearly defines this piece and it comes as a surprise that this is the first installation of activist-artist Gerda Meyer Bernstein that the theme has infused itself into. Her works have continuously presented her private experiences and connections to the public via literal, metaphoric, and allusive elements. Exemplary of this are the themes of race and the Holocaust that have manifested themselves in several of her installations in order to relate her personal experience as a Jewish person and her family’s tragic experience with internment camps to that of the public. Meyer Bernstein being who she is is how several of her pieces seem to come together, and it’s no different with this piece where the direct experience of being a woman is painfully depicted through both its’ literal and metaphoric visual representation as well its subtle allusions and mimicking of the histories it serves to present.


Since the original publishing of this essay, Marginalized made its debut at a solo show hosted by DePaul University’s Art Museum in the Summer of 2008. 





 

Add Your Views
Please to comment.
 


Favorites

view by: