Mark Foster Gage on the Geothermal Futures Lab and Truth Effect
The Geothermal Futures Lab
Mark Foster Gage, SCI_Arc 2018
Mark Foster Gage, SCI_Arc 2018
JL: I want to talk to you about the aesthetic disruption of the real. How does your work through this new method seek to invent fiction and myth?
MFG: Well, the show that just came down at SCI_Arc, The Geothermal Futures Lab, was the first one where we really went whole hog. We were thinking about aesthetic disruptions of the real on multiple scales. It wasn’t just designing a building and saying it was like a bird emerging from the child’s hands or another one-liner like that, rather we had a kind of scientific narrative-event or collaborative narrative. Then we designed pieces based on the narrative and the object around that narrative and included things like props, staplers, lab coats, equipment, tanks of fire retardant gas, on and on from a prop supplier for cinema; and these are the same things that show up in movies all the time.
The idea was, like Damien Hirst, in order to create a reality it has to happen at multiple levels. But architecture usually just focuses on one level- the building. We thought, if we took the project to an extreme with narratives and detail to the point where we could even have a metal detector which doesn’t actually detect anything but would presumably detect magnets because you can’t take magnets into the installation, we could develop narrative at the micro to the macro scale and as a result architecture could expand the confines of its boundaries to encompass these things, kind of similar to what Damien Hirst did.
What all this produces in the viewer and from what I found listening to friends who knew from just the website that the show was totally bullshit or just because I told them it was totally bullshit is quite interesting. For instance, I just saw Jeff Kipnis and he said he actually really liked the installation. He said that he saw a typo where I mentioned “nuon” where I should’ve mentioned “muon.” Then he said he couldn’t tell if it was accidental or if I did it on purpose or if it was some other new particle that I discovered. So he entered in one-way, versus this group of Chinese tourists who came into the gallery while we were installing it, looked at the metal detector, looked at each other and then turned around and left like they didn’t even want to get involved.
Another woman came in and she took her phone out, put it in the bin and went and saw the show, then picked up her phone and just left. The guy who was photographing the show said he went through the whole thing and thought it was real. He realized something was up when he looked at a drawing and saw the My Little Ponies in it and then went back around and looked at everything again because he was looking to see if it was real or not. My mom flat out said she didn’t understand any of it. My brother is a chemist so he said that I got this and that wrong.
Where Calatrava says “my building looks like a bird and you can take it or leave it,” and one can say, “yeah I think it looks like a bird,” and the viewer is forced to enter it in one-way, for us we tried to provide a much broader spectrum of ways to engage the architectural project.
The people I described each had very different experiences. Some of them were completely repelled by the fiction. They didn’t even want to deal with it. Some people walked through it and then only at the end of the show realized it was a fiction so they walked through it again. It’s way more interesting for me to have people have these completely different entry points at which point their realities and their understanding of reality is changed. Who would ever go to an architecture exhibition and see a metal detector and then suddenly decide not to go in and see the show? We’re getting these vastly different responses from people and that’s good, because it means that architecture can elicit these responses. That excites me. There is no right or wrong response, nor do I want anyone to have a particular experience. It’s early-working with this material and its related to our Helsinki project in which we also wanted to elect multiple responses. We wanted people to have a variety of different readings about the project. That project wasn’t specifically para-fictional, rather it was trying to have so much symbolism that you couldn’t extract one thing as being correct. There was just too much meaning.
JL: If you had to do the entire project again but doing it physically was not an option how would you approach the project?
MFG: Good question. So we’re doing a monograph and we’re just about to turn everything in and we’ve been working on it for a long time. Robert Stern’s writing the intro and Peter Eisenman is writing the afterward. We have all of our images and we’ve tried to redo a whole bunch of them to make them photo-realistic so some people can’t tell whether it’s built or unbuilt. Under all the images in monograms, usually people put “built,” “competition,” “construction,” and so on but we are not putting any of that. We’re not putting any disclaimers; we’re just saying “Helsinki Guggenheim”. We aren’t saying that it’s a built or unbuilt competition because we want to introduce that level of confusion. For example people all the time say things like “Hey I went to Helsinki and I didn’t see your building. Where is it?” Or, “Hey, when is that thing you’re doing in New York going to be constructed?” They enter in a way that’s much more reality-based.
Of course I say to myself and to them, “It’s a competition,” but for some people it’s real. They think that we actually got the commission for Helsinki and they think it’s going to exist and that’s more powerful than it just being a competition entry because it expands their idea of what can be built. What else can this jar loose in our life?
JL: Is the power of the things you do in the feelings that you instill in people and the sensations and thoughts that they have around the project? Or is it something else? All these things seem to be operating in the realm of the individual and their particular sense of reality.
MFG: Yeah, you see, I think that’s the only way to address reality right now. If we can’t get people to believe in a single reality, which politics have proven recently, all you can ask people to do is reconsider the nature of what they’re fed as their own reality.
Now, I may not be able to convince my relatives that they should have voted for Hillary. But you can show people that the realities they’re being presented aren’t as cut and dry as they think. I don’t know how we do that in architecture. I just know that it’s in our framework and right now I feel like while we are working in this milieu it’s like shooting a sniper rifle with blinders on. It’s like trying to drudge up possibilities and seeing what the reactions are, not claiming that we are going to have any significant impact. For example, “If we all do this then all Trump supporters are going to become Democrats.” That’s stupid. But architecture has a tradition of dealing with reality. There are big changes in the way people perceive reality now and there should be some connection here with our work- with your work. Lots of artists are trying different ways including Damien Hirst and I’m interested in the trial and error experimentation and not claiming a particular outcome. I think that’s impossible. Maybe 50 years from now it will be possible to predict the work of aesthetic disruptions of the real. But now it’s just stupid to say how it may all turn out.
Architecture has addressed these problems with reality before and with significant consequences. The use of perspective in the Renaissance changed people’s world view from God-centric to human-centric and that was largely within the discipline of architecture. So, they did it! It took 250 years from early Renaissance to The Enlightenment, so what if we do it and it takes 250 years as well? The alternative is just to make some money, solve some client’s problems… But I’m much more interested in epic projects.
My boyfriend always wants to watch the new episodes of Homeland. But I can’t watch one episode of something ever. I have to have ten episodes ready before I get started because I want an epic thing! I’m not interested in little moves. I want to think about architecture at the scale of the millennium not a project. I’m more interested in being a Brunelleschi (laughs). Brunelleschi, you know, he had no idea what his work would produce 300 years later in The Enlightenment. I’m not saying I am Brunelleschi. I’m not saying we’re going to do something that would lead to something like what happened in The Enlightenment I’m just saying I’m more interested in putting things out into the without anticipating how they might come out, rather than have everything figured out and have it be built and know exactly what it’s going to do in the world. That’s the most boring proposition for architecture I can possibly think of (laughs).