Upside down Mies house

    Finally, Mies's Glass House will be built upside down!

    Years ago artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovallé (who has made several films on Mies's work), told me he wanted to build Mies's unbuilt 50 x 50 house

    (photo of a model)

    on the plaza of the Seagram Building in New York - upside down! I waited for that. Now the project goes forward, in another of my favorite locations. I only wish it were full size. And right side up? Or do I just mirror Manglano-Ovallé's perversity?

    So much of Mies's work does seem like it could be upside-down. It often features a horizontal symmetry, such as the bookended onyx in the Barcelona Pavilion.

    The Farnsworth House itself is symmetrical top and bottom, and then at times the water mirrors it again.

    This mirroring nature of Mies's work catches us off guard, surprises us. Often architecture is symmetrical left to right, usually not top to bottom. His works seem to have been unfolded, and left open, in the act of telling us something.

    He gives us strong horizontals, new ground planes on which to begin afresh, he also gives us these invisible lines in between, even more Platonic and ideal than the ones he builds. You feel a rhythm, as always in his work, between there/not there. And you experience and feel that dialectic. Being and Nothingness.

    As here in this existential photograph of a dwelling in search of a soul - Mies's Barcelona Pavilion.

    Table, ottoman, and don't you often see pairs of Barcelona chairs across the glass table mirroring each other? This is even more interesting when individuals are sitting in these industrial, repetitive, symmetrical frames. I like to see twins sitting across the table.

    Mies's corners offer mirrored images, of themselves

    He is splitting open the world, like a book.

    Sometimes of reflections.

    When the sun shines brightly in summer on Mies's travertine on the ground and bounces back up the light seems to be from below, disorienting us. At Crown Hall the steps are white travertine, then the reflective floor inside is dark and but the ceiling is white. We lose which way is up. How about the ceiling of Crown Hall hung from trusses above rather than supported on columns? That is inverted. The Lake Shore Drive apartments also feature travertine on the plaza, the sun bounces off of it and the white paint on the underside of the ceiling above reflects it which puts you if you're there in the middle in some kind of floating space. The building itself seems pulled from above as much as it is anchored on the earth.

    So why not see what a Mies house looks like upside down?


    Which takes us to this press release:
    Inverted Glass House is Centerpiece of
    MASS MoCA Installation by Iñigo Manglano-Ovallé

    (North Adams, Massachusetts) Iñigo Manglano-Ovallé's Gravity is a Force to be Reckoned With, a major new installation, will open December 12, 2009 at MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) in North Adams, MA. Inspired by Mies van der Rohe's uncompleted 50x50 House (1951), Manglano-Ovallé has constructed a half-scale version of this iconic Modernist glass-walled house and inverted it, so that its ceiling becomes its floor. All interior elements, including Mies-designed furniture and partition walls, are installed upside down.

    Subtle bits evidence indicate the presence of a mysterious narrative within the flipped house: a cup and saucer lie shattered on the actual floor of the sculpture, as if fallen from one of the inverted tables. A cell phone, sitting precariously on a table, seems poised to fall; on its screen play a relentless series of video messages that seem to call out to the absent occupant of the house. The viewer is left to piece together this haunting, incomplete narrative.

    The mysterious tableaux links Manglano-Ovallé's installation to what is widely regarded as the first science fiction novel, Yevgeny Zamyatin's We (1921). Set in a futuristic world where individual freedom does not exist and all inhabitants live and work in transparent buildings, the novel tells the story of a state-employed engineer who falls in love with a terrorist and ultimately finds himself in a desperate state. The tale culminates in the engineer futilely attempting to destroy the monolithic power system, banging his head on glass walls.

    Filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, said to have been inspired by the Zamyatin novel and Mies van der Rohe's drawings for glass skyscrapers in Berlin, set out to make The Glass House (1930). Eisenstein intended the film as his first Hollywood studio production, but his aim to shape it into a cultural satire of America ultimately prevented its production.

    Manglano-Ovallé has long been interested in hybridizing layers of meaning from multiple systems of knowledge (architecture, literature, film, science, art) into singular and moving physical experiences that pose as many questions as they answer. Gravity is a force to be reckoned with (or The Glass House) brings together seemingly diverse, but historically charged, narratives from 20th century cultural practice. As much an event and an action as a work of sculpture, Manglano-Ovallé's work subjects modernist political and aesthetic ideals to a new kind of transparency, allowing us to see them upside-down and to reevaluate both their dangers and their possibilities in a contemporary context.

    Accompanying film

    Manglano-Ovallé's 2006 film Always After (The Glass House) (2006) will screen in conjunction with Gravity is a Force to be Reckoned With. Functioning as a prelude to his new work at MASS MoCA, the film is about the end of utopian transparency. Always After documented an actual event but was not orchestrated. Inside a building, massive windows have been broken, and someone is slowly sweeping up the shattered remains. From a floor level perspective, the viewer sees the legs of an anonymous audience and hears the sound of broom-swept glass. The location, action, and incongruous audience sounds are unexplained. What is clear is that the viewer has arrived late, always late, always after.

    Companion Exhibition

    Opening November 28, 2009 and running through May 16, 2010, neighboring Williams College Museum of Art will exhibit Manglano-Ovallé's Juggernaut. In this new film linking the enormity of our modern industrial presence with our surroundings, the pristine, gleaming white salt flats near the El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve in Guerrero Negro, Mexico, are disturbed by a menacing and thundering human intervention.

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