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Willfulness and Chance / Work in Progress


Willfulness and Chance / Work in Progress
By Thom Mayne -

“I have forced myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste…” asserted Duchamp in 1945; in doing so, he summed up a significant model for artistic production, where heterogeneity and conflict are fore-fronted in order to circumvent a priori design and open up diverse interpretations. Subverting traditional modes of artistic production and rejecting the autonomous authority of the artist.
Duchamp invented stoppages, a singular line of yarn dropped into place, using the contingencies of gravity to looks for variation in form. Chance became an active participant in and valid point of departure for artistic creation. Both within and outside of the context of artistic practice, chance maintains this immense and fatalistic rhetorical power over human self-determination, alternatively responsible and representative of the unfathomable in everyday life. In the face of integral cultural destabilizations in the early 20th century, the incorporation of chance into art making processes marked a general cultural shift away from rationalizing Enlightenment ideals and unifying social agendas. These early 20th century artistic ventures are not just experimental in the metaphorical sense; in order to locate and interrogate artistic agency in a painting or sculpture, exercises in chance had to be staged within a controlled experimental model. Hans Arp’s paper collages were an example of a very simple system of interacting elements - torn paper, gravity and the ground. The final work was a consequence of the random placement of the dropped paper, in order to, in Arp’s words, reject all mimesis and description and to give free rein to the “Elementary and the Spontaneous”. Jackson Pollock created a similarly limited system, where the finished composition of flung paint was controlled by the viscosity of the medium and the highly repetitive extension of his forearm. Both Arp and Pollock continue the use of experimental processes laid by Duchamp as a way to resist predominate cultural or artistic paradigms. The possibility of utilizing contingencies as a method of arranging and organizing a space (paper, canvas, or otherwise) has manifold implications outside the art world, liberating chance as an organizational strategy and reconstructing the boundaries between the subjective and objective.

With a proliferation in sciences and mathematics of chance, such as quantum mechanics, statistics, probability, and game theory, the latter half of 20th century was broadly preoccupied with locating and describing indeterminacy as an object of study.
The movement towards establishing a classification for random behavior repositioned indeterminacy as a fundamental aspect of the organization of physical matter, social behavior, and biological processes. This scientific approach to the analysis of complex systems established a framework for describing the unpredicted interaction of elements within a complex system, where the overall character cannot be deduced by the behavior of any one of its components in isolation. These strategies have become increasingly relevant in our work, through their ability to connect social, economic, and tectonic forces to a generative design process. Within this context the organization of elements is a consequence of unique conditions and combinate operations.

Robert Venturi writes very famously on complexity, speaking for my generation of architects coming up in the 60s who turned towards redundancy, ambiguity, and vitality over the exhausted and reductive functionalism of the Modernist paradigm.
Beginning his book/manifesto Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture - and basically in the same breath - Venturi also denounces incoherency and arbitrariness as the markers of incompetent architecture. The problem at hand is to develop solutions which grow from direct causal links to context, in order to enable an architecture promoting differentiation and conflict (my reading of him).
The work presented here is the result of twenty years of experimental inquiry into the role of chance behavior as a component in organizing (making coherent) and systematizing our own work. Our research emerges from an interstitial space between the productivity of art practice and the descriptive properties of scientific study, emphasizing a process-based strategy that accommodates intentionality and contingency. Rather than focusing on an artist’s use of chance as an expressive strategy, our interest has focused on the potentialities of new organizational opportunities and adherence to the processes comprising the generative basis of the work.
Most recently, this has taken the form of an ongoing series of three-dimensional constructions generated from a matrix of four primitives, the DNA matter of the project. The combinatory methods order a defined site, focusing on arriving at highly differentiated final constructions such that each iteration demonstrates a clear perceptual difference from other constructions in a set and thus forms morphological families. The combinate forms produced in the 3d environment are followed by the drawings, which act as open-ended interpretations of the constructed spatial conditions. Working within the digital environment, the linear direction of the artist-drawing-model formula is reversed. The interplay of willfulness and chance disperses agency between artist and material in an effort to create a generative system that enables diversity in form and interpretation while maintaining overall coherency. The work’s organizational quality is evaluated by the combinatory consistency in the system by which we organize the elements and by the properties of the elements themselves. Ultimately, we’re looking for new models of coherency that expand the limited organizational types available within the practice.
From our earliest projects (Venice 3, Sixth St. Residence), the focus on relationships, connections, and adjacencies has been essential. An exploration of overlaying systems in the Crawford Residence (California, USA, 1990) was utilized in constructing the site, an organization that resulted in a syncopated, rhythmic interchange of spaces that replace or reshape the convention of typology.
While the Crawford residence approached the idea of overlapping systems from a planometric standpoint, the ASE Design Center (Taipei, Taiwan, 1997) initiates the process in three dimensions. The digital design environment laid the groundwork for developing a notion of using highly differentiated primitives (point, line, and plane) as a way to organize space, accommodating contingencies (found space) and rethinking the invention of spaces that accommodate functional demand. This is the first project identifying primaries as the building blocks for an integrative system, attempting maximum differentiation to respond to diverse programmatic conditions. The collision of these systems results in a controlled irregularity in the series of spaces, producing sight lines with increased diversity.
The Giant Interactive Group Corporate Headquarters (Pudong, China, 2010) is a synthesis of the ground/building blurring that defined the Crawford Residence and the combinatory methodology used in the ASE Design Center. Using site as a context for challenging typology in combination with systemizing primitives, the hybridized scheme pursues heterogeneity at an urban scale out of a desire to approach the diversity, the complexity, the richness of spaces that you would find in an historical city, with the understanding that what is intriguing in space is the accidental rather than the designed condition. The formulation of these types of projects - the Crawford Residence, ASE Design Center, and Giant Interactive Group Corporate Headquarters - are both implicitly and explicitly connected back to the ongoing series of abstract constructions. In both tangents, I am looking for methodologies of arriving at the complex, the differentiated, and the idiosyncratic, exploring the potentialities of processes that enable randomness, accident, and contingency to exist in simultaneity with the rational and the intentional.

Thom Mayne



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