future.surface.(text)ure, 2003

“future.surface.(text)ure” Art in General – The Armory Show, New York

Commissioned by Art in General, around the time of its 20 year anniversary, and in conjunction with the exhibit “Reconfiguring Space: Blueprints for Art in General,” which was a two-phase competition to redesign space at Art in General. The one hour long video artwork on DVD served as a multiple released at a benefit in association with this exhibition, and was then presented at Art in General’s booth at the Armory Show.

Video Stills:

Project Description:

future – The time or a period of time following the moment. Events that will or are likely to happen in the time to come. A prospect of success or happiness. Likely to happen or exist.

surface – To apply a surface to something. To work a mine near the surface. For information or facts to become known. To rise to the surface. To come out of hiding.

texture – The feel, appearance, or consistency of the outer part of a substance. A rough or raised finish. The tactile quality of the surface of a work of art.

text – A work, regarded in terms of its content rather than its physical form. A piece of written material regarded as conveying the authentic or primary form. Computing data in written form, especially when stored, processed, or displayed. A script. A work chosen or assigned as a subject of study. A textbook. A passage from the Bible or other religious work, especilly when used as the subject of a sermon, or lesson. From Latin textus ’tissue’, from text – ‘woven’.

future.surface.(text)ure explores Art in General both as a building and as an institution, using the ideas of future, surface, texture, and text. Though non-narrative, it borrows elements of the theories of Mircea Eliade, historian of religion and founder of the Chicago School, to weave an hour long video collage about architecture, time, and meaning. Other influences include Futures Studies, Environmental Psychology and Interstitial Urbanism, recent work on architecture and terrorism, as well as theories of digital and relational architecture.

The work applies multiple simultaneous surfaces through video mixing, layering and collage. The images are at times hypnotic and disorienting. They seem liquified, dematerialized, and are used to make the familiar seem strange. Certain qualities in the video even suggest the spy, thriller, or horror movie genres. A man in a trench coat walks briskly past, clutching a valise. The camera in first person perspective, crouches, peering slowly around corners, through doorways, and up staircases. The whole thing has a real, gritty, Downtown New York, Lower East Side feel. Yet it also evokes the future and the digitization of experience.

According to Eliade there are two kinds of time, “sacred” and “profane”. Profane is the mundane everyday existence of linear time with a past, present, and future. Sometimes we can have encounters which take us out of the normal and open us up to another level, or plane of existence – an expanded timeless awareness. Shamans are said to be able to travel to this timeless, sacred, or origin time, but anyone, regardless of religion or lack there of, can have this kind of revelatory experience. When we do, we can be exposed to the fundamental organizing principles of meaning in our lives. The idea is that a kind of axis mundi opens up a transition point between planes of existence. Suddenly multiple times exist simultaneously and a kind of permeable surface opens where boundaries dissolve and we cross over to this other state. A different way in, than using the front door.

For Eliade these sacred crossover encounters or “Hierophanies” give structure and orientation to the world. Profane time/space can only be divided up geometrically, it has no qualitative differentiation and thus no orientation. Treating something as sacred is in contrast to treating something with disrespect, irreverence, or even simply undue familiarity, and it is a way to identify value. As the word “sacred”, in all languages, universally denotes to cut, to set apart, to mark off, then future.surface.(text)ure seeks to make manifest what Art In General is, and what sets it apart.

Futures studies attempts to to gain a holistic and systemic view by examining not only possible but also probable, preferable, and “wild card” futures. It tries to make us aware of our unexamined assumptions through novel approaches. These include “backcasting” which, (unlike forecasting that tries to predict the future based on current trend analysis), approaches the challenge of discussing the future from the opposite direction. This issue of future, time, and alternative approach is very much at the heart of future.surface.(text)ure.

Environmental psychology is an interdisciplinary field and defines the term environment very broadly to include social settings, built environments, learning environments and informational environments which can all be studied together. In the book from the Interstitial Urbanist school of thought entitled “The Ordinary City” the urban world is described as a site of co-presence of multiple spaces, multiple times and multiple webs of relations, tying local sites, subjects and fragments into globalizing networks of economic, social and cultural change. In both areas of study this notion of simultaneous overlapping networks of experience occurs, and the idea is echoed in the structure of future.surface.(text)ure.

In the post 9/11 world, the danger of architecture being a target for terror resulted in new kinds of urban anxiety. This in turn led to an increase in the sometimes totalitarian technological systems for monitoring and control in the name of safety, and a new kind of architectural paranoia. future.surface.(text)ure focuses on this issue by highlighting related infrastructure such as security monitoring systems with power, alert, and armed status lights, telecommunications wiring, fire extinguishers, fire alarm pull boxes, and even features like the uncommon new frequency of helicopter surveillance in the neighborhood.

future.surface.(text)ure also explores notions of data space, and how Art in General as an entity inhabiting architecture positions itself and networks out into the world, as well as how the institution is working with artists and architects on visions for the future. This includes an awareness of how marketing works as a kind of rewriting and fictionalizing to tell a mythic origin story of an institution. In the video, physical surface texture is divided into grid structures and text pixelates in and out of legibility, suggesting the digitization of architecture and communication.

Infrastructure can be defined as the basic physical and organizational structures needed for the operation of a society or enterprise and future.surface.(text)ure focuses, in great detail, on a long list of infrastructural elements including light switches, track lights, water and sprinkler pipes, heating pipes, electrical conduit, stand pipes, fire escapes, stair rails and uprights, signage, rigging hardware, expanded metal mesh window guards and more. It also lavishes extended moments on extreme close ups of basic construction materials including concrete, diamond plate steel, expanded metal mesh, and brick.

Architectural design and urban planning are big subjects but ones which tend to reduce the rich physical materiality of lived experience into a set of restricted concepts associated with design. Buildings become toy objects and fundamental experience is vacuumed away in order to create an efficient and streamlined environment in which to plan. This reduction has many positive effects, freeing the mind, and allowing one to conceive totally new notions about materials and spacial relationships. But it also has a negative side in that we no longer see the “there” which is recorded in memory, the “not new” of the rusting fire escape, and the scuffs on the floor that document the passing incidents of human presence.

In our mundane existence we often see architecture in relation to our immediate use of it, going to a meeting in the office or installing an artwork in the gallery. It is easy forget that the timescale of architecture greatly outlasts us. Urban structures survive on a longer time scale than the “people-years” of the short lived human inhabitants who briefly pass through them.

Through extreme close up videography, cutting, layering, and video filtration, future.surface.(text)ure looks at the social, temporal, and spatial ordering of Art In General. By de-structuring and turning upside down, and inside out, it seeks to reach a new and altered perspective. Lonely, elegiac, contemplative. The video becomes a sacred journey into the heart of this Lower East Side mainstay, to find orientation and meaning.

While exploring the back way of Cortlandt Alley we hear dogs barking, reggae music with it’s relation to spirituality and with its strongly accented subsidiary beat, and we see the puffs of steam rising from vent pipes, and the profusion of steel bars which make up the complex network of fire escapes. As the camera dangles down sixty feet to the street below, swinging to and fro, we can feel the pulse of the city hiding below the surface.

future.surface.(text)ure seeks to provoke an epiphany regarding our place within the larger scale of the physical existence of the city. The minute unseen details of urban infrastructure flow past us, like ghosts in a visual poem about the built environment – an architectural elegy for a lost New York.

You Are Here, 2003

You Are Here – architecture, retail, and locality:  an art installation and live audio/video performance contemplating the neighborhood of SoHo and the nature of shopping and retail design, created for the Diesel Denim Gallery, a clothing store where 70% of the space is devoted to the presentation of art, and which is located in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City.


Project Description:
There are seven basic elements of the installation:

1. Foam Core Wall:
A 40 foot long by 12 foot high fake wall built from 1/2″ Foam core. It is a one to one scale replica of the actual wall opposite to it, but in mirror image. The wall promotes the idea of the store existing as much in the design phase as a foam core white model as it does in the “real” phase. The mirror image is also a kind of reference to the mental inversion of the “Gruen Transfer”.

2. Floor Sticker:
The 22 foot long vinyl floor sticker with a red dot and the phrase “You Are Here” refers to both the placement locator help found on maps in public spaces, but (like the foam core wall) also serves to suggest that the shoppers are not in an actual space but a space modeled around them and to control them. As though they are ant sized in a model box designed to look like a store. The fact that part of the sticker seems to be sitting underneath the actual brick interior wall of the store serves to further dematerialize the structure.

3. Plexiglas Plaques:
Six hanging C prints on plexiglas 32″x48″ which contain elements of text, and when taken together say the following: “Shopping can be a disorienting experience. Have we found the right place to fulfill our dreams? Where are we in socio-architectural terms when we are in Soho shopping? You are Here.”

4. Clothing rack hanging Plaques:
1/8 inch thick, 24 inch by 30 inch mat white plastic plaques, designed to hang among the clothing that was being sold. These are intended to be roughly the same size as the garments themselves and are hung on hangars, just like the clothing. Text written in black marker in Seven different languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Korean, gives pointed information about the historical development of retail architecture and the effects on shopping. (This turned out to be a particularly effective intervention in that Soho is filled with tourists and with so little support in the US for foreign visitors, they strongly gravitated to, and took interest in, something written in their native language.)

5. Map of retail development and in-store design:
A 73 inch wide by 77 inch high hanging map printed on the vinyl used for architectural “building wraps” (the very large scale billboards on the exterior of buildings) displaying visual details about the interior and exterior of the store, details about the individual interventions in the installation, text info about the neighborhood and the history of shopping, and time lines for the Evolution of Retail Mechanisms, Retail History, and the Diesel Denim Gallery. Important developments such as Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace, and the first know use of mannequins are noted. The history is tracked into possible futures including synthespian sales staff.

6. Satellite view of the store with data overlay:
Hanging print of Satellite view of the neighborhood along with data overlay relating to retail space use in the neighborhood of Soho.

7. Interactive 3D Fly through:
A computer and projections at the back of the store, behind the foam core wall containing an interactive 3D fly through of the store with slabs floating in space giving information on everything from the number of daily visitors to the store, to the amount of air that passes through the air conditioning system each month.

8. Video projection:
Video projection from three projectors, of the video collage made during the live mix performance, Which included a walk and drive through of SoHo, close ups of design details about the store, text on retail Design, live video of the audience in the space, and 3d fly through of the info time lines.

Project Description:
When I was first approached by curator Sebastien Agneesens about the possibility of creating a work for the Diesel Denim Gallery I thought, what kind of artwork could possibly stand up to the retail environment and not get eaten by it, not turn into advertising for the products around it? I decided the only likely work would take on the structure of retail architecture itself, as a subject, and though it would still be ground up and consumed, it might transmit its meaning virally in the process.

As is pointed out in the brilliant and encyclopedic tome “The Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping”, shopping is everywhere these days. The museum, the airport, the nightclub, the university. Shopping is blending with or replacing, almost every kind of urban activity and has become one of the main ways we experience life in a city.

Though shopping is one of the most temporary and unstable types of urban activity, contemporary cities are attempting to use it as the main building block or foundation for civic life. Shopping is not a viable alternative to fundamental communal activities and services, because it doesn’t necessarily last. Shopping has a vital place in society but should not be made to do the job of institutions.

Shopping architecture is cheaply made because like fashion it must constantly change. Buildings can last for 5000 years, but shopping architecture is currently typically viable for only about 3 years before it must be completely transformed into something new.

The timeline for retail development is so brief that stores go from model to completion to obsolescence in almost no time at all. Retail architecture is ephemeral, lasting a brief moment. Existing as much in the design and model phase as in the actualized phase, the store itself is there for such a brief time in historical terms as to make it like a momentary reflection, like a model, hardly real.

Even when realized, retail architecture is often so cheaply built as to be a facade. Like a Hollywood back lot. Like a movie set.

The store exists as much as data as it does as physical building materials. Realtime information tracking, computer modeling of consumer behavior, constant monitoring of shoppers through multiple forms of surveillance media. The store as a virtual and data construction is much larger and more real in some ways than the puny physical location. Even the idea of “brand” and the projection of brand out into the world as advertising can be considered part of the virtual extension of a store.

But the physical locale has its advantages and has a depth and breadth unknown to the virtual trackers. The window washer who wants to address issues of race with passers-by. The gum on the sidewalk that records a trace of the life of a breathing person at this locale, the stone, the iron, the rain on your face. The beauty of being alive in the present moment.

Shopping spaces are designed to delight, but also to confuse and mesmerize. In retail architecture huge amounts of time, money, and research is devoted to this. Scripted disorientation is used to actively confuse shoppers so that they become more susceptible to making impulse purchases. The Gruen Transfer, (named for the first shopping mall designer,) is a psychological state where movement slows, eyes glaze over, jaws slacken and the mind temporarily ceases to function properly because it is experiencing too much input. The exact distance in feet and the number of seconds it takes to induce this debilitated state is actively measured in contemporary retail design.

In ancient times there was a market outside the borders of the city. People went there to exchange goods. There was no buying and selling organized inside the town. In the current era shopping is one of the major forms of urban activity. Imagine a modern city where there was no shopping. What kinds of activities would you do in a city like that? What would be important? What would you care about and devote time to? What might constitute meaningful civic and urban interaction?

Shopping, like advertising can’t simply be discontinued because it is being used in contemporary society to fill deep seated needs, and there are currently few social structures to replace it. If we at least begin to become aware of the lengths to which designers go to alter our consciousness as we go about the process, then we can begin to shape our own outcomes from the experience.

Toward this goal, the project records, through multiple forms of digital media, the local environment in the neighborhood surrounding the gallery. It gathers, in this case, intimate details of life in Soho, New York. In addition it creates an architectural and mediatic intervention into the actual space. Research on the historical development of retail, information flows, the nature of shopping and the meaning of place is presented in dynamic visual, audible, and textual form, heavily layered and worked.

Media forms include a stripped back 3D computer model of the entire store with text replacing products, a 3D data map of retail and shopping, satellite photographs, digital video, still photography, and audio samples. All these mediatic elements are combined in an A/V performance work created live, in the gallery, and then subsequently on display for the duration of the installation.

Shopping can be a disorienting experience when we are offered so many possibilities regarding place, design, and personal style. Have we found the right place to fulfill our dreams? Where are we in local, architectural, geographical, virtual, and cultural terms when we are wandering around in Soho, shopping? The project gathers the mediatic traces, then lays it all out for you. At the Diesel Denim Gallery – YOU ARE HERE

Concept and realization: Paul Clay with curator Sebastien Agneesens
Live Video Mix: 
Video – Paul Clay 
Audio – Arrow Chrome
3D Data Mapping: Jose Salinas, Architect, founder of Knobs Design
3D Animation: Paul Clay, Willyum Delirious, Jose Salinas
Publicity for Fictive: Berit Fischer, Naiying Kuo
Installers for Fictive: Julie Allen, Mark Power, Chang-Jin Lee, Yukiko Hayakawa
Translations for Hand Written texts: Jose Salinas, Yukiko Hayakawa, Sebastien Agneesens, Berit Fischer, Julie Allen, Chang-Jin Lee
Curated by: Sebastien Agneessens – Formavision
Special thanks to all the people at Diesel, from those at the top who approved this thing to those who did publicity, install, letting us in after hours, and supporting us as we did the work. You made this event possible. Thank You.

You are Here is a project of Fictive, a loose constellation of multi-disciplinary art creators, and a kind of fictional arts collective founded by Paul Clay and composed of whoever happens to be working on aproject at any given moment.