I'll Just Lay Here And Decay Here

Poking around through back issues of Log a while ago, I found out that there was a name for what the folks in architecture have been doing for the last few years in Knowlton Hall. Back in 2017, Michael Meredith had described this general tendency – Instagram-ready, dominated by gradients, gifs, gags – as being characterized by “indifference.” Meredith described his own work with Hilary Sample as MOS, along with various younger practices carried on by assistant professors and visiting critics, as working in a vein that is fundamentally not important, that does not solve problems, that does not even really push anything forward. Rather than giving a TED Talk or establishing a bespoke “lab” on climate change, for example, MOS wastes time cataloging scale figures and manufacturing soap falsely attributed to Lilly Reich. At most, they rouse themselves to crafting awkward little houses for clients to plunk on properties in the middle of nowhere.

Let’s be clear: with the time they save not worrying about ethics, MOS and their cohort are able to make things that are truly and deeply wonderful. They happen to be things that seem to have the potential to actually excite young people about architecture, since their weirdness actually converses with the material and digital weirdness of the broader world of things – little apps, little pamphlets, little plastic figurines. That being the case, “indifference” as a tag seems exactly wrong to me; they are in love with their world of things, to the exclusion of engaging with the social and ecological energies that tie that world together.

Perhaps to that point: earlier this year on Instagram, Meredith was back on the manifesto horse, except now the concept had become dumb architecture. The initial round of responses: “I feel this from the very bottom of my heart” (3 likes), “THE IRONY” (4 likes), a longer rebuke for using ableist language (“Hoping we’ve all learned by now that ‘jokey’ bigotry is still bigotry,” 18 likes), “Fucking Hell America is a mess” (28 likes), a stray chorus of clapping hands, wouldn’t-you-says, and caught-you-outs. From Fred Scharmen: “Is this really the best time for this?” (8 likes)

Meredith’s musings about going to ground, having a private discussion, evading the trouble overhead, matches rumblings I’ve heard around these parts about justifying a tenure case by participation in a small circle of discourse. In an uncharitable mood, I’d say that it looks as though everyone pushed off a roundtable or a lecture series by a woman of color was taking his proverbial ball home. After all, who is it who gets to profit and advance through participating in a small circle of friends?

To that point, it is telling that Meredith’s “acceptance of nondesign: the banal, generic, and unoriginal; the weak; the antidramatic” can only be justified through kinship with what he sees in a certain group of 1950s artists: a “gamesmanship with conventions, techniques, and history.” That is, they proved their belonging, and their worthiness to profit, through genuflecting to established culture; a gesture Meredith repeats. 

Meredith sees such artists, having been faced with societal intolerance and repression, as charting a comfortable middle path between “overzealous conviction” (“‘jokey’ bigotry is still bigotry”) and “embittered passivity” (“THE IRONY”). Like Rauschenberg or Cage, Meredith’s school of indifferents are true speculative realists: they want to render the world in front of them, because they love the world in front of them. Who could object to Rauschenberg or Cage? Looking back, they don’t seem checked out; they did things worth doing. But indifference in architects seems impossible not to read as guilt; we could otherwise accomplish something, except that we don’t care to.

Since it’s been three years since someone fired the starting pistol, who will volunteer to do indifferent landscape? Why not me? It would be a great relief to be indifferent. I already do gifs and gags and I know well enough how to make gradients in Illustrator. I wouldn’t have to pretend to be interested in what I’m really not. (Meredith is very insistent that you can leave sun angles out altogether, which works for me since I’ve never liked doing those.) If I do not bother to be indifferent, it would be in the certainty, in the conviction, that my own indifference would be mirrored by the world back at me.

(April 2020)