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Student number: 10734489
11247: Architectural History and Theory: Current Events and Debates Seminar Leader: Kimberly Connerton
What is foremost important to note is that, as human beings, our individual notions of sexual identity are the product of all that we have learnt, witnessed, and inferred over our life span, and that whilst our context is an inescapable transformative influence, all that we have been subject to is also the result of countless reinterpretings of sexual identity formed from a multitude of belief systems. Ira Licht pushes this further, stating that "we join groups in order to encounter each other and find ourselves" (Licht 1975, 252), hence demonstrating that we form our identity based on the identities of others as well as our context, and suggesting that humans lack the ability to form an identity in isolation.
The concept that a piece of art or architecture can 'house' sexual identity and be a transformative tool for shaping that sexuality, whilst still at times maintaining a sexuality of its own seems somewhat absurd. Sexual identity in the 15th Century was privatised through various mechanisms in architecture, in order to reinforce the traditional patriarchal supremacy. The writings of Leon Battista Alberti, which served as architectural guidelines during this era, demonstrated structural and aesthetic techniques that would ensure that masculinity remained dominant. Although his discourse aimed to contain sexuality, by privatising it he unintentionally exposed a new sexuality. Through the introduction of privacy and isolation, the idea of the individual emerged. This emergence of the individual identity is evident clearly in the progression of art forms throughout the years, with each piece transforming both the identities of the audience and artist, as well as that of future art pieces, and how they are perceived. This small conceptual evolution exhibits a cyclical nature which gradually results in a change of mind set, and thus suggests that the ancestry of today's attitude towards sexual identity are quite likely linked somehow to works such as Alberti's, which stand in complete contrast.
The body art and music of the 1970's for example, serve to expose the true nature of our hidden identity - that which is most sacred to us; however these pieces also serve to divulge the identity of the audience members as voyeurs. Licht provides a reason for this shift in the content of art over the years:
"Since the middle of the 19th Century when church and state could no longer provide either ideals or patronage sufficient to support progressive artists, they turned increasingly to painting for themselves and the general public and subject matter shifted from classical myths, kings and cardinals to the individual and especially to the artist himself." (Licht 1975,252)
It was during this period that the artist came to be regarded as a "hero or moral exemplar", "an extraordinary being - genius, rebel and prophet", someone who has "something to tell us, something that we do not know or cannot express" (Licht 1975, 252). We accept the artists "ability to express fully, or even create, his self", believing that this can then be a "guide to ourselves" (Licht 1975, 252), however the same cannot be said for the architect, as his creations impact a far broader audience and are expected to be a culmination of identities, not just that of the individual architect. This does not imply however that architecture can therefore not house, influence or have a sexual identity.
During the Renaissance the archetypal image of the ideal male and female, reinforced by the patriarchal authority, imposed a strict distinction between the two genders, whilst also serving to shape the architectural structures of that time. Mark Wigley's Untitled: The Housing of Gender has effectively demonstrated that, through multiple mechanisms, Alberti's house aimed to enforce the "pre-existing law" of the husband, whilst unintentionally altering the descriptions of both genders. Alberti "naturalizes" the "male mobility in the exterior" and the "female stasis in the interior", not directly commenting on the "exercise of patriarchal authority" through architecture, but serving to justify the traditional roles of men and women (Wigley c1992: 332). By using the house, which was literally understood as a "mechanism for the domestication of woman" (Wigley c1992:333), as the physical boundary between the two genders, Alberti creates defined spaces that "literally produce the effect of gender, transforming the mental and physical character of those who occupy the wrong place" (Wigley c1992:334). Wrigley supports this argument by introducing Xenophon's text Oeconomicus which "naturalises and spatializes" gender:
"The gods made provision from the first by shaping, as it seems to me the woman's nature for indoor and the man's for outdoor occupations" (Xenophon 1897: 229)
To his intended audience, this statement convincingly expresses Alberti's belief that nature played a large part in such roles, and thus introduces the husbands role as the "protector" of his "genealogical claims by isolating the women form other men" (Wigley c1992: 336) Thus the house was a means of encasing his wife and housing his heirs, thereby ensuring his bloodline, a symbol of his authority. Although the male never spent very much time within the house, the physical centralising of his quarters inside the house enabled the husband to "arrange his affairs and place them so that all look up to him alone as head" (Alberti 1965, pp. 206). Alberti uses the study as a method to counter act this, allowing the man to occupy the "interior of the physical house, without losing his masculinity", and thus be the "centre of his web" like a spider (Wigley c1992: 339).
Alberti's allusion to "each thing in its place" (Wigley c1992: 340) suggests a set place even for the occupants of the house and hints towards those who venture out of this space as breaking an unspoken rule. To Alberti and the society in which he resided, a woman who was too concerned with the interests of men had supposedly lost her virtue, and could only reclaim this, and find identity, through submission to her husband, thereby ridding her of her dangerous desires. The feminine mind was seen as dangerously wild with desire, and thus femininity was seen as a threat, and needed to be tamed by men through marriage, which was compared to the domestication of a "wild animal" (Wigley c1992: 336). By leaving the protective house of her husband, a woman would become implicitly sexually mobile, as "women lack the inner self control credited to men" (Wigley c1992: 340). The house is used as a mechanism to establish this control, and thus "the role of architecture is explicitly the control of sexuality" (Wigley c1992: 336). However, I disagree that this control was "more precisely" to control just women's sexuality. For a man, spending too long inside the house amongst women was thought as "demeaning", and would result in a lack of "a masculine and glorious spirit", therefore the walls of the house were not only used to encase the woman, but also to protect and enforce the image of the ideal man (Wigley c1992: 335).
Alberti's complete "exclusion of sexuality" moves beyond just the control of gender identity as he moves to "condemn unruly passion for building: every part should be appropriate and only in the end is pleasure provided for." This maintains his argument that desire is dangerous as it disrupts the "natural" hierarchy, causing men to become slaves to women. Alberti's "resistance to sexuality" is present most literally through the separation of the husband and wife's bed chambers, where he first "veils" the space created for sexuality to be expressed within and then uses a secret door between the rooms to effectively form a "new sense of privacy." As an unintentional result of this a "new sexuality is produced in the very moment of its privatisation." Through the man's study, Alberti has epitomised this privacy, removing the male completely from sexuality and the effects of the female's desire, and immersing him in a "secret romance" with literature. This privacy served to fuel the idea of individuality, thus producing a new form of sexuality. Therefore, through Alberti's "privatisation" and attempt to control and define sexual identity, sexuality inadvertently gained an immense power.
Due to the evolution of ideas previously discussed, it would be fair to say that Alberti's own thoughts, in his Ten Books on Architecture, are an ancestor of the today's views on sexual identity. As evidence of this, similarities as well as differences between the two views should be present, such as the separation of the public and private, via placing the bedrooms away from visitors other than the occupant, and the variation between Alberti's separation of the male and female bedrooms and our subsequent uniting of the two. Modern day society has gradually become more accepting of variations in sexuality, moving to equality between all variations of gender, and has incorporated sexuality further into society than Alberti, with expressions of sexual identity not uncommon in public; however there are still limits to these expressions, based on rules predating even Alberti.
In The Archetypal dwelling, building individualization, Lucy Huskinson acknowledges the importance of buildings and in particular dwellings, as "participant[s] in the creative process of human beings" (Huskinson 2008: 35). They start to inform our identity, "designat[ing] the fundamental character of our being" and are "integral to our psychological well being" (Huskinson 2008: 35).
"The building we call home for example, is charged with meaning, because it is closely involved with the most intimate aspects of our lives" (Huskinson 2008: 35).
"It has witnessed our indignities and embarrassments, as well as the face we want to show to the outside world. The home that has seen us at our worst and still shelters and protects us" (Ballantyne 2002; 17).
Having said this, Huskinson also implies that although it is true that "the archetype of building as dwelling incites real transformation of personality" (Huskinson 2008: 40), this moves beyond just the 'home'. Religious, political, cultural and social buildings also serve to inform the self as part of a shared identity, which becomes interwoven with our existing identity. Thus architecture is "both artist and artwork. Just as we inform the design of the building, the building informs the design of us - of our personality, of our very being - in a shared process of individuation" (Huskinson 2008: 43). The importance of architecture is so ingrained within us, that it appears even in the most simple of everyday phrases, such as "being at home with oneself" or the "corners [of] the mind" (Huskinson 2008: 40).
As a modern piece of architecture Jean Nouvels Agbar tower fulfils its functional requirements whilst unintentionally holding a far more symbolic meaning (perhaps due to our sexually expressive culture), often being "described as phallic, [and] earning the structure an assortment of off-colour nicknames" (Craven 2010). Although Nouvel himself has never referred to the building as phallic, the language that he uses to describe the piece is rather suggestive. He states that Agbar towers is "an emergence, rising singularly in the centre of a generally calm city", it "is a fluid mass that bursts through the ground like a geyser under permanent, calculated pressure" (Nouvel 2010). The sexual identity being created here through both the audience's interpretation and Nouvels rather evocative language is undeniably strong. Interestingly enough however, whilst the public sees it more as a symbol of masculinity, Nouvel connects Agbar towers to the image of the mother earth, stating that it is the "architecture of the earth" (Nouvel 2010) and likening it to water, thus fusing it with a femineity despite its phallic resemblance.
Within her piece, Dis/playing the Phallus: Male Artists Perform Their Masculinities, Amelia Jones attempts to explain why occurrences such as Nouvels example of a "binary model of gender" (Jones 1994: 266) have become a normality within modern society. She begins by offering us an extremely convincing definition (not her own), that we accept as instantly correct when we discover that the source is the new Random House dictionary. Two definitions are offered for Phallus:
"1. An image of the male reproductive organ, esp. That carried in procession in ancient festivals of Dionysus, or Bacchus, symbolizing the generative power in nature.
2. Anat., the penis, the clitoris, or the sexually undifferentiated embryonic organ out of which either of these develops." (Jones 1994: 265)
Thus, whilst the phallus is most commonly perceived as of masculine origin, it also "implies a collapse of sexual difference into a nebulous, 'undifferentiated' pre-genital state" (Jones 1994: 265). Her paper "addresses masculinity as a negotiated system of identities that are accomplished through the ritual display of phallic attributes" (Jones 1994: 265). Using the phallus as an icon of individual sexuality, modern artists "exaggerate the attributes of masculinity affording power to the male subject in patriarchal culture" (Jones 1994: 265). Having said this however, there is a vast difference between the content that Jones shares and that which Alberti tries to enforce, and Jones puts the shift in the exploration of sexual identity and the phallus down to the "rise of the second wave of feminism and of the civil rights and gay rights movements" during the 1970's (Jones 1994: 266) and not down to an attempt to maintain a patriarchal dominance.
To demonstrate the gender duality of the phallus and of masculine art pieces themselves, Jones introduces Vito Acconci's works Seedbed and Conversions I-III. Acconci's performances allow the audience members to form an "identificatory bond with the performer", and Jones notes that the "effects [of such live performances] may well be more difficult to reorder of repress due to the temporal aspects of performance" (Jones 1994: 266). By determining his goal as "the production of seed", within
Seedbed, Acconci "makes the gallery the site for the production and display (although unseen) of male sexuality" however "the artist and his penis ... remain hidden in a mantle of art" (Jones 1994: 268). According to Jones Seedbed can thus be interpreted as both "masculinising - in its narcissistic empowerment of the performing male subject, and feminizing - in that his performative, masturbatory act positions him as object of (and desiring of) the viewer's desire" (Jones 1994: 268). In Conversions /-11/, Acconci physically brutalizes his own body, attempting to "transform it into a feminine one" (Jones 1994: 268). The pieces involve Acconci "pull[ing] each breast in a futile attempt to develop a woman's breast", as well as "walking running, jumping, bending over, ... all the while, attempting to keep my penis "removed", held between my legs" (Acconci 1972: 15). Jones suggests that this is Acconci's attempt at "tak[ing] apart systems of gender difference through performative displays of his sexual body" (Jones 1994: 268).
In reference to Acconci's "masturbating" piece, Seedbed, Lucy Lippard suggests that it was more than just "shyness" that hindered the bodyworks of women during the 1970's, "it seemed like another very male pursuit, a manipulation of the audience's voyeurist impulses, not likely to appeal to vulnerable women artists just emerging from isolation" (Lippard 1976, 252). This very feminist perspective contrasts with Jones' account of Acconci's work, despite the fact that Jones also views herself as a feminist. Lippard goes on to discuss the female body art from a strong feminist perspective, stating that the most fundamental alterations in the expressions of sexual identity occurred when "women began to use their own faces and bodies in photo-works, performance, film and video, rather than appearing as props in pieces by men" (Lippard 1976,252).
Hannah Wilke puts it very simply when she states that women during this period aimed to "make objects instead of being one" (Wilke 1976), although in doing so, they transformed themselves into objects to be viewed. Whilst this enabled self-exploration, and a new found freedom, it began by willing transforming oneself into an object to be viewed and desired. This is evident in the story of the first ever all-girls 70's teenage rock band, The Runaways. Their struggle to be noticed in a "male-dominated world of rock" (Oler 2010), perfectly demonstrates the transformation of sexual identity through music. Kim Fowley, The Runaways producer, knew that the world that he was trying to promote the girls in was male dominated would not accept an all-girl rock band easily. He was quoted as saying:
"Men hate women, women hate women, other women hate other women. Nobody cares; nobody is interested unless the female is an icon. The female is a goddess. The female as our mother earth - the women who gave us birth and says good bye on the death bed. You put all of that with guitars; it's all possible to sell" (Fowley 2010).
And so Fowley taught the girls how to be "female warriors with guitars," whilst remain sex symbols that would sell (Fowley 2010). Their "provocative image, which was augmented by the outrageous fishnets and corset Cherie wore for "Cherry Bomb," would lay the groundwork for pop star fashion we still see today" (Phillips 2010) and their music and success in the industry would pave the way for future female musicians to be recognized. The story of their rise to fame and their subsequent demise has since been published in three books and made into a film that was released in March 2010. The film demonstrates how the core ideals and lessons learnt from their experiences can be communicated and celebrated by a new generation of young women, thus forming an appreciation for what women previously went through to afford them the life that they have now, as well as enforcing an empowering image of femininity and a "who-the-hell-cares rocker identity grounded largely in butch sexuality" (Oler 2010). It demonstrates that womanhood "can Simultaneously be the source of so much vulnerability and power in the male-dominated world" (Oler 2010).
Whilst Novels Agbar Tower was perhaps an unintentional display of sexuality, there is no denying that extreme examples of architecture such as the Japanese 'love hotels' are blatant forms of sexual representation. Keeping the examples that I have provided in mind, I worry as to where our own society is heading, as although Alberti's thoughts appear outrageous, for the time in which he resided, these would have been perfectly understandable to both men and women. Freud broaches this topic in his
Parapraxes - Introduction. He makes a valid point when he suggests that "society believes that no greater threat to its civilization could arise than if the sexual instincts were to be liberated and returned to their original aims" and chooses to label it as "aesthetically repulsive and morally reprehensible or as something dangerous" (Freud 1916: 247). He suggests that although the individual is "supposed to join in the work of civilization", there is a risk that his "sexual instincts" may refuse to be used in this way (Freud 1916: 247). Freud appears to believe that society should recognize the "strength of sexual instincts" and the "importance of sexual life to the individual" (Freud 1916: 247), however it occurs to me that sexual identity would indeed be dangerous if given the type of power that Freud suggests. Each individual has differing views on what is acceptable in terms of their sexual identity, and it seems only logical that in order to balance conflicting ideas and prevent exploitation of others, some restrictions are necessary.
In saying this, I believe that the modern scientific technologies and findings, that continue to challenge the traditional beliefs that sexuality is determined by gender alone, are vital in establishing equality amongst all members of the human race. By accepting psychological sexuality as possible, society effectively blurs Alberti's clear distinctions between men and woman, proven not only by the acceptance of those with differing sexual orientations, but also by the merging of roles between genders. As art and architecture, context and identity are forever linked, the question now is what should we be expecting next, and how do we determine when we have taken things too far?
Jean Nouvels Agbar Tower.
Image from Craven, J. 2010, Agbar Tower in Barcelona, Spain, viewed 23 September, < http://architecture.about.com/od/find photos/igl Jean-Nouvell Ag ba r- T ower.htm >
Vito Acconci, Seed Bed, 1972, Galerie Sonnabend, New-York.
Images from Warr, T. 2000, The Artist's Body, Phaidon Press Limited, London.
Vito Acconci, Conversions I, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Image from 1997, Conversions, Electronics Art Intermi, viewed on 23 September 2010 < http://www.eaLorg/title.htm?id=1981 >
Vito Acconci, Conversions 1/, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Image from Marchetti, A. 2009, iL CoRPo OeLL'aRTiSTa NeLL'aRTe CoNTeMPoRaNea ViTo aCCoNCi, viewed on 23 September 201 0, <http://disegnoamatita.blogspot.com/2009_06_01_archive.html>
Joan Jett: Former rhythm guitarist and vocalist for The Runaways. Image from Oldham, T. 2010, Joan Jett, AMMO Books, LLC
Sandy West, Jackie Fox, Cherie Currie, Uta Ford, and Joan Jett: The original band members of The Runaways.
Cherie Currie flaunts her rather controversial corset which she first wore during their Japanese tour in 1977.
Image from Wane, D. 2010, The Runaways, viewed 23 September 2010, < http://therunaways.com/>
Acconci, V.1972, 'Body and Soul' in J. Kirshner, Acconci: A Retrospective, Mus. Contemp. A., Chicago, 15.
Alberti, L. B., & Rykwert, J. (ed.) 1965, Ten Books on Architecture, Alec Tiratni, London.
Ballantyne, A. 2002, Architecture: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Craven, J. 2010, Agbar Tower in Barcelona, Spain, viewed 23 September,
< http://architecture.about.com/od/find photos/igl Jean-Nouvell Ag ba r- T ower.htm >
Freud, 5.1916, 'Parapraxes -Introduction', in T. Warr, The Artist's Body, Phaidon Press Limited, London, pp.267.
Freud, S. 1910, The Origin and Development of Psychoanalysis', American Journal of Psychology, vol.21 no.2, pp. 196-218.
Fowley, K. 2010, Kim Fowleylnterviewon The Runaways - Part 7, Mevio, viewed on 24 September 2010, < http://www.mevio.com/ep i sod e/2 23 3 64/ki m- fowl ey-i ntervi ew-o n - th e-ru n aways-pa rt>
Heidegger, M. 1954, 'Building, Dwelling, Thinking", in M. Heidegger, 1975, Poetry, Language, Thought, Harper, New York.
Huskinson, L. 2008, 'Archetypal Dwelling, Building Individuation', in S. Rowland (ed.), Psyche and the Arts:
Jungian Approaches to Music, Architecture, Literature, Film and Painting, Routledge, East Sussex, pp. 35-44.
Jones, A.1994, 'Dis/playing the Phallus: Male Artists Perform Their Masculinities', in T. Warr, The Artist's Body, Phaidon Press Limited, London, pp. 265-9.
Jung, e.G. (Read, H., Fordham, M., & Adler, G. (eds)) 1953-1983, The Collected Works of e.G. Jung (CW), 20 vols, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.
Licht, I. 1975, 'Bodyworks', in T. Warr, The Artist's Body, Phaidon Press Limited, London, pp. 251.
Nouvel, J. 2010, Ateliers Jean Nouvel, viewed 23 September 2010, <http://www.jeannouvel.com/english/preloader.html>
Oldham, T. 2010, Joan lett, AMMO Books, LLe.
Oler, T. 2010, Daughters of the Kaos: The Runaways, Tammy R. Oler, viewed on 24 September, < http://tammyoler.com/da ug hters-of-the-kaos-the-ru nawaysl com ment-page-1 >
Phillips, K. 2010, Cherie Currie, Ken Phillips Publicity Group Inc., viewed on 24 September 2010, <http://www.kenphillipsgroup.com/Phillips/currie.htm>
Van Raaij, M. 2006, Penis, by Nouvel, Eikongraphia/lconography, Netherlands, viewed 23 September 2010, < http://www.eikongraphia.com/?p=294>
Wane, D. 2010, The Runaways, viewed 23 September 2010, < http://therunaways.com/>
Warr, T. 2000, The Artist's Body, Phaidon Press Limited, London.
Wigley, M. c1992, 'Untitled: The Housing of Gender', in B. Colomina (ed.), Sexuality & space, vol.l , Princeton papers on architecture, Princeton Architectural Press, Princeton, N.J., pp. 327-389.
Wilke, H. 1976, 'Intercourse with .. .', in T. Kocheiser (ed.) Hannah Wilke: A Retrospective, University of Missouri, Columbia.
Xenophon. 1897, 'Oeconomicus', in Xenophon, The Works ofXenophon, vol. 3, Macmillan & Co., London, pp.229
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