Remake/Remodel: Mike Rickett’s The Vessel

Mike Ricketts, The Vessel, 2013, video still

Mike Ricketts, The Vessel, 2013, video still, image courtesy the artist

 

All buildings are predictions.

All predictions are wrong.[i]

The Fun Palace, Cedric Price and Joan Littlewood’s proposed centre for London’s Lea Valley, was to be a fluid framework that would engage and educate the masses liberated by incipient technology. It was to be a ‘university of the streets’[ii], with one promotional pamphlet for the space promising ‘Kunst Dabbling, Genius Chat, Clownery, Fireworks, Rallies, Battles of flowers, Concerts, Science Gadgetry, Juke Box Information, Learning Machines.’ The project, begun in 1961, was a descendent of the idealist modular, mobile structures of Constant Nieuwenhuys and Yona Friedman, and heavily formed by the still-new discipline of cybernetics. The building itself was essentially a hollow structure which would hold building units that could be shifted around the site with gantry cranes as needed.

These units were the central essence of the project; Price’s design relied on the compartmentalisation of activities and individuals. Reyner Banham regarded this ‘containerisation’ of architecture as appropriately anti-monumental, and necessarily adaptable for an age uncertainty.[iii] His notes were prompted by the fact that that very same characteristic was transforming global trade networks, and rendering the architecture of transportation at ports and rail stations that had preceded it obsolete. Standards for international shipping containers were agreed in the late 60s, not only intertwining sea, rail, and road in a way that had never been done before, but also further regulating and restricting the human labour required to run that system. Artist and theorist Alan Sekula’s wide-spanning Fish Story (1989 – 95) project maps these movements; in his essay, “Red Passenger” he writes: ‘Factories become more mobile, ship-like, as ships become increasingly indistinguishable from trucks and trains, and seaways lose their difference with highways.’[iv]

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Claiming the Technological Landscape

 

In 1999, science-fiction novelist William Gibson told an anecdote on the BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs about how he came up with the notion of ‘cyberspace’ for several short stories and his novel Neuromancer, 1984. Although he didn’t invent the term, his imagination helped to popularise its use and prefigured the implications of social interaction in the nascent world wide web: ‘With cyberspace, I found the first Sony Walkman – which is still my favourite piece of late-20th-century technology – and for the first time in my life I was able to take the music I wanted to listen to into any environment. And while moving through space with it, I saw a poster in a shop window for the first Apple IIc, which immediately preceded the first Mac, and I looked at that and I thought, “What if the relationship to the information that this machine processes could be like the relationship I’m having to my music that my Walkman processes?”’ Somehow I could see that this stuff was going to get under our skin; the Walkman is very very physically intimate technology and computing, as it was then, wasn’t very physically intimate – but I thought, “Why not?”’

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