Tag Archives: art

Blind Beauty

It goes without saying that I liberally rant about the superficial, ego-laden sect of architecture that I am so ethically opposed to.  And chances are, that will not be changing any time soon.  However, I will concede that occasionally I am all but overtaken by the simple beauty of some works—and their ability to evoke emotion in an artful way.  Viewing this short film, The Third & The Seventh, by Alex Roman reminded me of this concept: that while beauty is indeed subjective, we as humans are innately moved by beauty.  For me, this film evoked a sort of melding of disciplines: suddenly the lines between art, architecture, and music became blurred—and I was simply immersed in a collage of forms, textures, light, shadow, sound, and life.

If you can spare twelve minutes of your life, prepare for mind-numbing bliss…

The Third & The Seventh from Alex Roman on Vimeo.

Part of my love-hate relationship with architecture stems from my own personal experiences—being greatly affected, emotionally and viscerally, by my physical surroundings.  I can say without a doubt that I have firsthand knowledge of architecture-induced sensory overload.  I’ve experienced everything from nausea to tears of joy and pain to panic attacks to hairs standing on end to pure and utter bliss—all as a result of my surroundings.  While my reactions may be an example of extreme visceral responses, certainly this phenomenon is a human condition, albeit to varying degrees.  The sensory experience is a crucial aspect of how we encounter architecture, in that all of our senses are utilized in perceiving the essence of a place.  It is not only about vision, or what we see—but about smell, acoustics, tactile qualities,  and how the volumetric properties of a space make us feel.

The validity of this multi-sensory experience was brought to the forefront of my mind after reading this article about blind architects.  What?  Blind architects?  How is that possible? The two architects profiled in this article had been practicing architecture prior to losing their sight, so while they had foundations from which to stand on, the fact that they could continue working is testament to the legitimacy and importance of invoking the use of the other senses while designing.  Perhaps (and likely) the loss of sight forced these architects to truly hone and become more aware of their other senses, as well as how a building evokes emotion based on senses other than vision.

Beauty is not easily defined, as it is very subjective, and with multiple senses in action as we perceive, different people are bound to have different reactions.  But there is no denying that we as humans seek beauty—in landscapes, in music, in art, in architecture.  Beauty alone does not make good architecture, but beauty is not irrelevant.

And after all of the sensory overload I have personally encountered, I will never restrict my perception of beauty to that which my eyes can see.

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I Heart Grit, Grime, and Graffiti

I’ve always had a fondness for graffiti, and the vibrance it adds to an urban landscape.  One look through the library of photos I’ve taken as a traveler will clearly indicate that urbanity, including the grime and grit that come with it, is attractive to me.  Add that to my propensity for all things controversial, acts of defiance, and artists gone rogue, and it’s no surprise that I am one who loves graffiti.

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Rome, Italy | Photo by Audrey Alverson

What some may see as vandalism and defacement of property, I see as valuable additions to the visual landscape.  It’s not even about whether I “like” the actual art.  It’s more about the act—and the fact that a city awash with graffiti is, to me, a city with color.  I mean that both literally and figuratively.  In the figurative sense, it is about activity, life, participation, and a general lack of homogeneity.  It is about artists who are willing to be defiant in order to make a statement.

So when I see colorful, artful graffiti given such disregard as to be painted over with flat gray paint—something akin to what I imagine prison walls to look like—I see the transformation from life to death.  Participation and activity turned into absence.  Vibrance and color that become dull and drab, with an air of corporate cleanliness.

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Rome, Italy | Photo by Audrey Alverson

My current interest in this topic was inspired by a recent New York Times blog post about the removal of graffiti along the High Line in New York City—a process that has been both lauded and criticized.  The High Line, in many ways, is an urban-reform success story: a formerly abandoned railroad line converted to a park, offering views of the city from its elevated perch.  But the recent and impending removal of graffiti from most of the High Line’s neighboring buildings has left many feeling that a key element of the site’s history, and part of the city’s grit, has been wiped out—or painted over.

While graffiti has been around since the days of Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire in the form of inscriptions and cave paintings, modern graffiti gained prevalence during the twentieth century—much of it expressing political activism.  It is graffiti’s connection with hip-hop culture, however, and their concurrent births in New York City that bind the High Line’s graffiti to its history.  Given that the High Line was abandoned in 1980, at virtually the same time as the birth of hip-hop, the graffiti on-site provides a true visual indication of the time in which it was abandoned.  In essence, it is part of the story of what it once was.

So is it appropriate to essentially “wipe the slate clean,” particularly in a city like New York that is truly America’s most diverse and colorful city?  And a city that is as much about its grit as anything else?

The iheart project, a self-proclaimed “exploration of symbols, a love affair with representation,” painted its signature iheart symbol at the High Line in November 2008—both as an homage to the already present street art, and in protest of its rumored removal.  The process of High Line’s transformation—from graffiti-covered, abandoned railroad to pristine city park—is well chronicled and photographically documented on iheart’s website.

It kind of breaks my heart (no pun intended) to see this transformation.  I find the whole location much more beautiful, and most importantly, interesting, prior to its “cleanup.”  I see it as one thing to give the space validity within the city’s context by making it usable, but to completely alter it to the point that it has no resemblance of its former self?  I don’t get it.

Graffiti is inherently controversial: It is seen by some as art; by others as vandalism.  In all fairness, I would say it is both.  But vandalism or not, the act and the art of graffiti are inevitable elements of a city with any amount of cultural diversity.  And its acceptance—or not—is, to me, an indication of a level of respect—or disrespect—for both diversity and art.

A vibrant urban environment has personality, culture, and diversity—which can come in many forms.  Are we trying to uniformly strip our cities of this life?  Is being pristine better than acknowledging cultural differences within a city?  And a big question: How do we define art and beauty?

One person’s dream is another’s nightmare, and one person’s art is another’s trash, but I happen to be a lover of all things urban—including grit, grime, diversity, culture, and street art.