Kitsch or an Evolutionary Conclusion

Kitsch or an Evolutionary Conclusion

Dora Budor’s performative piece The Preserving Machine, first appeared on the scene in 2018 at the Finnish museum EMMA (Espoo Museum of Modern Art). The intervention rescued certain materials from the museum itself that had fallen into disuse, and by means of a plastic enclosure supported by a series of metal uprights, generated a new habitat for all those local remains. To give greater authenticity to this new ecosystem, the Croatian artist released an electronic bird as a new inhabitant of this space that had perfectly managed to adapt itself to the environment. On the one hand, this experiment shows that disused architecture can be considered an optimal compost for the creation of new architectural spaces. On the other hand, an even more disturbing conclusion emerges: the piece shows us how the boundary between the natural environment and the anthropized environment is increasingly blurred, or has been practically non-existent for a while.

The scientific community is increasingly defining the current geological period as the Anthropocene, i.e., the period that replaces the Holocene or last postglacial period due to the impact that our species has had on terrestrial ecosystems. In fact, it is considered that there is no ecosystem that is not irreversibly disturbed by human action. Most forest species have been manipulated for our use, fields have been sown by species that supply our consumption system, forests have been deforested and depleted to obtain their resources, and so on. It is not uncommon to find on certain beaches new minerals whose substances include traces of plastics or small manufactured metal parts, traces of microplastics in our blood, or animals adapted to absolutely anthropic environments. What is normal in this period is an indissoluble hybridization between the human species and everything else.

In the same year that Dora Budor presented the aforementioned piece, the following photograph, which we will now comment on, appears. In it, a line of objects can be observed in a darkened place, illuminated only by a focused light beam as if it was a car with the high beam headlights on, those which at night, illuminate any nocturnal animal that tries to cross the road. Among these ‘creatures’ certain structural similarities can be observed, sharing the same skeleton but with different physiological mutations, as if they were races of the same species or species with a similar chromosome structure. Looking at them more closely, it can be seen that this structure is based on the Frosta stool marketed by the multinational IKEA, which in order to give shape to these creatures, legs have been removed or added, stools have been joined together or only the shape has been respected. The studio that carried out this set of furniture is the Barcelona studio TAKK. As the authors themselves mention, the most interesting thing is that the functionality of the stool has been dismantled to generate a new chair language in the pseudo-anthropized context in which they are located. The skins that cover each of the structures are made with different materials; some of them are materials from the place and take root in the soil, others favor the pollination of different insects found in the garden where they rest, others have more to do with the human socio-cultural context than with the environment, etc. Somehow in this kitsch style that defines the materialization of these little monsters, there are complexities that are difficult to assimilate by other means.

It is in TAKK where the two concepts mentioned so far converge: the hybridization that occurs in the environment with the arrival of the Anthropocene, and its formalization through kitsch. Although this style during romanticism is defined as a hypertrophic style, which only seeks the effect (and not art) through the artifice of images and references without any kind of rigor, there is the paradox that, in the capitalist system in which we live and which has favored the Anthropocene, the use of the artificial and the heterogeneous (or bastard), has become the most natural and most authentic way of understanding art.

In fact, many of the stigmas that were applied to kitsch in the 20s and 30s of the last century have been disappearing or even becoming relevant and positive elements with the transition of society to postmodernity. If authors like Theodor Adorno or Hermann Broch considered kitsch as culture and not as a high art, or considered it an incessant flight towards the rational (understood rational, as a simple imitation of other styles and arts)(1), nowadays both culture and imitation are two essential dimensions for creation. So much so that kitsch has ceased to be only an aesthetic style and can be redefined as an envelope in which to develop life.

Proof of this is the pavilion made in 2017 by Mireia Luzárraga and Alejandro Muiño, creators of TAKK, in a wine estate on the bank of the Ebro River. This pavilion has similar elements to the pieces referred to above, but adding the function of being an inter-species space to organize a picnic (not so different from the one developed by Dora). It has a wooden ribbed structure that is repeated around the same centre. Above it rises a profusely ornamented crown on which a series of flowerpots rest. The enveloping lower part is composed of a set of discrete diameter ropes that tie the horizontal rings that stiffen the ribs. These ropes are adorned with a mixture of polyurethane foam, native flowers and synthetic flowers. This project aims to be a meeting place for humans to lie down and eat inside this artistic intervention while the different species of birds in the pots do so, and insects pollinate the native flowers. The kitsch appears here as a constellation of inputs with which the work has been endowed and that, in principle, lack any relationship, but nevertheless, all of them coexist in an unprejudiced manner. Swallows, ornaments, inter-species, capitalism, the problem of the hierarchy of food, bazaar flowers, wreaths, etc. All these concepts and nouns are endowed with importance when observed from the reactionary capacity of the effect (2), which is nothing more than the essence of kitsch.

It is thus demonstrated through these interventions that this cosmogonic and inclusive capacity of kitsch ceases to be an aesthetic component and becomes a kind of neural network that connects a multitude of hitherto distant concepts. As the engineer Abraham Moles enunciated in the 1970s, «[kitsch] is one of those types of relationship that man maintains with things, a way of being rather than an object or even a style» (3). Therefore, where kitsch may have the greatest architectural application today is in the space that hosts the most programs and functions of those around us: the home. TAKK carries out, in the year 2021, The House of the Day After, an experimental dwelling in which nowadays concerns are put to the test. Both it and the subsequent exhibition held at the H2O gallery in Barcelona, represent the concerns derived from living in an interior dwelling in Madrid in the XXI century. The house is made up of three boxes inserted one into the other, like a set of matryoshkas that are attributed a specific function. The outer box, like much of TAKK’s work, is a structure that supports the rest of the program. This box is intended to serve as a semi-outdoor space, with certainly industrial aesthetics and arguably harder by the appearance of materials of mineral origin, where the intrusion of vegetation is allowed through the contact of this with the house.

The intermediate space is conceived as a winter house. This is where most of the actions that take place during the day, such as cooking, working, playing, or just being, happen. The materials in this part of the house become more intimate, with a predominance of vegetal materials such as pine wood and cork. The space seeks the de-hierarchization and abstraction of its rooms to break the patriarchal stereotypes that underlie the interior of the houses «[kitsch] uses prefabricated words that with their power become rigid until they become clichés, to be later dismantled and reused» (4). The last of the spaces is the most intimate. A communal room in the shape of an Asturian granary that is detached from the rest of the house through wooden legs, in order to emphasize its isolation and to generate a passive air conditioning of the space. This box is again ornamented to distort the hetero-patriarchal stereotypes that indicate that the ornament is feminine and weak.

As architect Torres Nadal points out, «[housing] responds to architectural attitudes of high biological complexity, directly linked to estimated, calibrated, and evaluated environmental data». It is an oxymoron in itself that travels between material, emotion, technical data of comfort and dismantles one by one the stigmas that have conditioned housing and domesticity since we began to worry about it in the early twentieth century. It is the house that Dora Budor would have made with the remains left to her by society in general and not only by EMMA.


Notes

1. Broch, H., Kitsch, vanguardia y el arte por el arte . Barcelona: Tusquets, 1970, pp. 31.

2. Benjamin, W., El kitsch onírico. En Benjamin, W. (autor.); Obras.Libro II. vol. 2. Madrid: Abada, 2009, pp. 23.

3. Moles, A.A., El kitsch. El arte de la felicidad . Barcelona: Paidós, 1971, pp. 11.

4. Broch, H., Kitsch, vanguardia y el arte por el arte, cit., pp. 10.


Bibliography

Adorno, T., Teoría estética . Madrid: Akal, 2004.

Calinescu, M., Cinco caras de la modernidad. Modernismo, vanguardia, decadencia, kitsch, posmodernismo. Madrid : Tecnos, 2003.

Sarasola, B., La reproductibilidad técnica y el kitsch: ecos de dos debates estéticos, artículo online SciELO, 2019.

Torres Nadal, J.M., Arquitectura in-dependiente. Alicante: UNIVERSIDAD DE ALICANTE. SERVICIO DE PUBLICACIONES, 2019.


Authors

AMA is an architecture studio formed by Itziar Molinero Miranda and Jaime Gutiérrez Armendariz based in the Basque Country. Their interest lies in combining architectural practice with research, blurring the differences between the two and focusing on an imaginary that explores everything from the domestic to the most archetypal and timeless references, understanding architecture as a transversal and interdisciplinary exercise capable of providing formal solutions to everyday problems.