This is the second part of EXTREME LAND, a research project developed by Luca Marullo (Parasite2.0) devoted to understand the moment of transition architecture is experiencing. It stems from the belief that today’s architect can’t fully explore the complexity of the present through the classic mediums of his practice, i.e. the architectural project or the built object. Through a series of dialogues and interviews Marullo investigates the practice of key figures that cross the boundaries between art, architecture and social sciences.
This second interview is with m-a-u-s-e-r *
Luca Marullo: What led you to go beyond the boundaries of contemporary architecture? You produce and speak about architecture using a high quantity of media such as space, installation, video, graphic, sound, text. Could you talk about this aspect? Did you get inspiration from any practice?
m-a-u-s-e-r: We are interested in the disciplinary – rather than professional – idea of architecture. That, these days, this interest is called “beyond architecture” is actually an effect of modern reductionism. This reductionism set up architecture as a profession, as a homogenized field with an educational system, professional association, regulation and standardization. This reductionism has emerged as both, good and bad, black and white, but, or rather therefore, it has never really liked architecture as a discipline that is art and science, material and myth, itself black and white (Loos’ design for Josephine Baker). As discipline architecture is, both, historical and contemporary, conceptual and formal, theory and practice, it is work and magic, realist and romanticist. For us, the most important aspect of the discipline is architecture’s ability to project other selves without cancelling former ones. That it could act otherwise, project other possible futures, or be (self-) critical is something that seems increasingly impossible regarding the profession. Therefore, in our work and also in our teaching, we try to emphasize disciplinary questions about space production, agency, publics, scale, translation, (artistic) environment, and of course media. Even though architecture has been connected to and depending on media, it lacks a serious media theoretical approach towards practice. How has architecture been transformed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s media invention, that is, the rendering around 1800? What architectural spaces could relate, in adequate or inadequate ways, to Internet culture and social media? Is speculation a media practice that rules not only finance but also (architectural) culture? We are very much inspired by such questions and by intellectual edifices dealing with them. We feel, these edifices are related to architecture in being materialist and mythical at the same time; we are referring to Walter Benjamin, Vincenzo Scamozzi, Evliya Çelebi, Aldo Rossi (in his autobiography), Zeki Müren, Boris Groys, or the Turkish teapot. In this sense, our work could be called conceptual. From this conceptual starting point we find media and forms for ideas, be that video, graphic, installation, or object. Of course, we are also inspired by the other arts, as they all take part in a disciplinary notion of architecture. We consider them as part of architecture, insofar as they are all dealing with space from different angles, in different scales and distances. We learn a lot from their methods, their absurdity, and their realism.
LM: From where does the name m-a-u-s-e-r come? From your website we can read that it’s the acronym of “micro architecture unit star energy ray”.
m-a-u-s-e-r: m-a-u-s-e-r is a very ambiguous name. It is the abbreviation of “micro architecture unit star energy ray”, a word cluster that is again connected to our obsession with the materialist and the mythical in the mediatized world. We feel that this is transported quite well in star energy ray. We also like that it sounds absurd, or at least cryptic. In this world of (over) explication, it is somehow nice to be called with a sequence of might-be-random words. Micro refers to a micro-political approach to architecture describing anti-professional or informal, small and subjective, often text based practices. The emphasis on these micro-political practices marks our attempt to challenge the general, large-scale, global homogenization of the various levels of architectural practice that has taken place during modernity. Mauser is actually a common German surname: we wanted to create an identity, which includes both of us while being none of us. We sometimes receive letters to “Herr Mauser”; also our landlord asked for the documents of Herr Mauser to add data to the contract.
LM: In this particular way and form to intend the figure of the architect I also feel a sort of critic and repulsion towards contemporary debate. What do you think about the architectural scene today? In 2012 show “Architecture without Architecture” you play with the title of the famous text by Rudofsky, talking about an architecture that “can be affirmative, or critical, or both at the same time.”
m-a-u-s-e-r: Bernhard Rudofsky’s successful MOMA show was actually called “Architecture without Architects”. It took place in 1964 and travelled the world for years. Insofar as it promoted Modernist/Western formal language through the lens of vernacular architecture from remote places, it was very much part of the internationalization of a style. Yet, there were also included examples of architecture that subverted the curatorial argument like a Trojan horse: named movable architecture there were photographs of a family carrying their canoe above their heads, or examples of vegetal roofs, woven places, and rude architecture. Thus, we always thought about this exhibition as both, affirmative and critical, and we started to develop collaborative works that could function in a similar way. There was a work that manipulated a 3d model of the Villa Rotonda in various ways through different algorithmic/parametric loops, adding up to an absurd pedigree of Villa Rotonda versions—a pixelated, a Voronoi, a melted version. At the end, the pedigree turned the algorithmic against itself, to expose it as an infinite regress. Then there was a work of 800 gesso models of 10 ordinary buildings from Stuttgart to take away as souvenir. We simply wanted to know, which was most wanted by popular demand. There were models of Le Corbusier’s houses at the Weissenhofsiedlung in Stuttgart, not of the building itself, but of its shadows. Building shadows as material forms was an exercise inverting his slogan of architecture as magnificent play of forms under light.
LM: Could you tell us about “OfficeUS” and your contribution to a kermesse that hardly detaches itself from an idea of the architect already in a crisis?
m-a-u-s-e-r: The architect has always been a heroic figure of crisis—crisis in the sense of the old Greek word for a decision situation. The architect is architect as long as she or he is in a crisis, in which she or he has to take a decision in a fundamentally uncertain, non-routine and open situation (within a specific spatial and temporal context). The crisis we are experiencing right now is arguably a crisis of the crisis. First, we do not longer believe in heroic figures, and second, we try to avoid uncertainty with professionalization and legal regulation. For us, the question is: can we reinvent the architect as a weak figure? Would the architect be stronger then? We won’t get into this now, but turn to your question about OfficeUS, the United States Pavilion for the 14th architectural biennale in Venice, curated by Eva Franch, Ana Miljacki and Ashley Schafer. We have been part of the collaborative architectural practice OfficeUS to work on the last century of U.S. architects working abroad. Starting from this research we speculated on future models for architectural practice, which most often turned out to be in-between works: between research and design, theory and practice, between medial formats … we hosted workshops with visiting experts, we gave lectures, developed publications, and threw parties. We also designed the website officeus.org. Concrete projects included critical and medial reflections on the Guggenheim Helsinki Design Competition (Guggenheim Cruises), a crypto-materialist treatise on the U.S. pavilion building, a project for a spa-embassy hybrid, etc.
LM: From where does it come your wide attention towards the world of the Internet? Today it became a rampant and almost nauseating cultural topic. In “How Architecture Learned to Speculate” you also talk about how the cultural debate “becomes fashion”.
m-a-u-s-e-r: The interesting aspect with the Internet is that it is actually both, in vogue and under the vogue: it is both, fashion (meaning all hypes and urgent topics of a certain time) and its infrastructure; it is both, the message and the medium. In this sense, it is a complex, all-encompassing, cultural phenomenon that we would like to understand in its effects on daily life, on architecture, and art. Even your aversion is very typical for fashion phenomena and part of why it is interesting. More generally, in our book How Architecture Learned to Speculate, we investigated how media and fashion are related, even mutually dependent, especially in art and architecture. Together, media and fashion constitute a powerful infrastructural dynamics, a form of mobilization that is not bound to any specific topic or object. On the contrary, this form of mobilization can be described as a continuous exchange of topics and values. We wanted to show how this form has almost come full vicious circle in modernity. We are all participating in this carrousel—the more, the more we try to avoid it. We are taking part with different degrees of success and failure. This is the moment, when the figure of speculation becomes interesting, a term we researched in relation to philosophical thinking, but above all, to financial economy, where it is defined in strategic means. Speculation is bound to strategy, insofar as it deals with expectation, timing, networking, and even risk. It may succeed or fail. What is most obvious with online culture is the strategic nature of all activities, be it star rating on AIRBNB or blogging. Data collection by Facebook is part of this culture, as is Google analytics. And the same is true for complete withdrawal. Architecture’s role in this media culture has been interpreted as that of a smart object or interface. We think, however, that this interpretation is again a reduction of what could instead be a challenge, compensation, subversion… an oversized computer desk, a feng shui instruction for your screen, a cave, a monastery, a fireplace.
LM: In “Meet-In-Real-Life” you made a group show from a four-day meeting with friends you met online. In this action is there a critical will towards the Internet world? Is there in your work a critic or a political vision towards the contemporary?
m-a-u-s-e-r: With Frankfurt based graphic designers fourfivex, we established meet-in-real-life, a place in Frankfurt to come together and collaborate with invited artists, theoreticians, designers, web programmers. The topic of the first meeting was IRL: (in real life), an Internet abbreviation. It signifies the physical, bodily space; it marks the somewhat artificial distinction between what is NOT Internet, but real, true life. In other words, IRL implies that the Internet is an immaterial, virtual, and unreal space, with increasingly abstract relations, a space under suspicion, as Boris Groys has shown. During the Frankfurt workshop we developed some small site-specific interventions, with which we discussed both radical views on the Internet: on the one hand, the belief in the emancipating character of technology, especially the Internet, as discussed by Donna Harraway in her Cyborg Manifesto. On the other hand, the critical observation that not only theoreticians, but also ‘normal people’ share: like a taxi driver in Istanbul who maintained: “Everybody is freaking out, what is going on in the world? People are so mean to refugees, there is a global financial crisis, and the Turkish government destroys the natural environment just to make money. Do you know why? Because of the Internet.” He continued: “Everyone feels that he has something important to say to the world and through the Internet… thoughts radicalize… fascist groups organize themselves while normal people play Farmville until late.” The critique includes political issues beyond the Internet; however, we agree with him on the aspect of attention. Competition in all fields be that religious, political, artistic, or architectural, has become hysterical with the latest communication technologies. Thereby, Ernst Gombrich observed a problem already in 1979: “Competition for attention can lead to the unintended consequence of simply lowering the value of what you have been doing before.”
LM: In Junk Jet merge a very concrete part of your research, which also finds an outlet in original ways to graphically imagine a magazine to convey contents. You said that “Junk Jet is interested in counter works (and counter counter works) of counter aesthetics, tunneling practices that show lack of any irony or fiction”. Could you tell us about the magazine and about the way you used that “counter”?
m-a-u-s-e-r: Junk Jet is our self-published magazine, an important part of our research and a collaborative platform that we associate, on the one hand, with a Russian jet train from the 1970ies (and our engagement with Russian conceptualism). On the other hand, Junk Jet can be referred to an American pudding brand (called Junket with really nice graphic design). It is published irregularly; depending on the topic, every issue comes in a different format, design, and with a special gift: a temporary tattoo for architects, a mirror mask, a remix with a download link… This means that content and form result from a conceptual obsession, and materialize in a specific print design. To name the topics of Junk Jet issues: failure and error, speculative architecture, flux-us flux-you, statistics of mystics, net.heart, and here and where. Answering your question about ‘counter’ with an example: The next issue is called “Things of Internet”, countering the ubiquitous term “Internet of Things”, which has become a phrase to explain almost everything so called smart — from the relations of objects to each other to architectural, technological or biological things. For us, it seems interesting to understand the Internet not only as a metaphor for being connected, but also in its physical appearance. The main question is how the Internet affects the physical world, how it produces its own material culture, habits, furniture, exercise balls. It is actually about the continuity of the digital and the physical space, with bruises, failures, compensations, and jokes. Another example: For the net.heart issue Junk Jet #5 we asked architects to redesign home buttons: you know these icons on websites to return to the homepage. The results are represented on a poster, which includes contributions by Ricardo Scofidio or NL Architects. We feel that these kinds of tasks are important relaxation exercises for the architectural discipline. Again they also include this micro-political layer, we have mentioned before. They oppose the professional homogenization of architecture with the lightness of the marginal. Junk Jet likes to foster the marginal, because it implies individual, even personal cultures, singularities, exceptions, rarities, subjective voices that are not flattened or joined under one instance.
LM: In the show “Spuren spuren Αθήνα—All in Golden Ratio” you held workshops with students between Stuttgart and Athens. You also involved theatre director Adelheid Schulz and architect Keller Easterling. Could you tell us about this exhibition and the interaction between the aforementioned figures and the workshops?
m-a-u-s-e-r: The show was the conclusion and the continuation (the attempt to avoid definitive conclusions) of a complex, experimental research on contemporary Athens. The approaches that worked on very different scales—on the infrastructural macro scale and on the fragmentary micro scale—were held together by the notion of Spuren spuren, which is German for finding but also leaving traces.
Traces can basically be defined through these two dimensions; they are most often tiny fragments that imply something big or complete. They are also object lessons, as they contain stories, desires, events, and actions. So they are again both: material and mythical. The workshops in Stuttgart and Athens investigated these two layers of traces that we found or left in Athens.
Together with theater director Adelheid Schulz, we re-read Aldo Rossi’s Scientific Autobiography—how he traced back his own work through the lens of his trips, or the other way round, how he left traces of his work on his trips. We also read German poet Friedrich Hölderlin, who wrote his poems in fragments and layers, and who melancholically loved Athens. Both, Rossi and Hölderlin performed this mythical-material search for traces, while leaving traces. They became our guides for Athens, directing us in five different tasks/topics; these tasks all bordered on the absurd, but offered a micro-scale observation, we were so much interested in: Snake, Beach Hut, Hölderlin, Desert, and Financial Crisis shaped different days of our time in Athens. For the Snake we had a simple task: Go to the Archeology Museum, find two snakes, consume one of them and bring the other out of the museum to hand it over to a new owner.
It was all about getting in contact with the city, its every-day life, its citizens, and finding/leaving traces, in the form of videos, finds, sounds, conversations, etc. Maybe we can call this a micro approach to the city. For the show at the Württembergische Kunstverein we kept our five topics structure and exhibited the traces we brought from Athens, again as traces, in fragments, providing access to narratives that we had in mind. We showed the collected material in the form of films, beach huts (there are no beach huts in Athens), a balcony; we offered Greek coffee, and led a workshop to learn how to construct a golden ratio, etc. For the opening we invited architectural theoretician Keller Easterling to give a talk on infrastructures, on global scale processes, on ‘macro currents’ that seem to be ignoring and, at the same time, affecting every single point in the world. We wanted to add this macro perspective to counter and complement our micro reading of Athens. It was a way to include both scales of cities today, and to collapse an abstract theory with concrete things, like a sugar pack or sponges (our traces).
We also collaborated with Iris Dressler and Hans D. Christ, the directors of the Württembergische Kunstverein, and important conversation partners who supported us with this project for that we are preparing a publication at the moment. So, it is ongoing…
Based in Stuttgart and Istanbul, m-a-u-s-e-r is a collaborative studio, founded by Asli Serbest and Mona Mahall in 2007, to represent the practice and research of the micro architecture unit star energy ray. Micro thereby addresses a micro-political attitude towards architecture, spaces, objects, and images. Star energy ray reflects the conditions of the digital world in which these spaces, objects, and images turn out to be but versions of themselves, or better, circulating fragments of the real: Real things that m-a-u-s-e-r investigates, again, in and through different media, in a chain of formats that expose the real as the absurd.
In this sense, architecture is the absurd collapse of concepts and contexts, abstraction and reification, idea and matter. As such, in the Chinese Encyclopaedia, described by Jorge Luis Borges, it would come right after the category of the animals that from a long way off look like flies.
m-a-u-s-e-r reflects and produces architecture in and through different media: as space, installation, video, graphic, sound, text, etc. They exhibit and publish internationally, among others at the Biennale di Venezia (2012, 2014), New Museum New York (2009), HKW Berlin (2012), Vancouver Art Gallery (2013), Künstlerhaus Stuttgart (2013), Storefront for Art and Architecture New York (2014, 2015); in e-flux journal, Volume Magazine, Perspecta, The Gradient–Walker Art Center, AArchitecture, Deutschlandfunk, etc. They are the authors of a book on the speculative character of modern culture, specifically, architecture (How Architecture Learned to Speculate, 2009); and the editors of Junk Jet, an independent magazine on art, architecture, and media.
They have been professors for media design (Mhmk, 2010–2012) before conceiving a master’s program for conceptual design (University of Stuttgart, 2013). Currently, they share the chair of foundations of design and experimental architecture at the Stuttgart State Academy of Art.