From Sheboygan to Los Angeles: Conference Updates

From Sheboygan to Los Angeles: Conference Updates

I was fortunate to attend two conferences this week that traced the research topics I’ve been investigating during the last 20 years. The first was at the John Michael Kolher Arts Centre and focused on ‘Visionary Environments’ [that is, places and objects built by self-taught and ‘outsider’ artists/builders/architects] and the second was the GAHTC investigating how we might teach a Global Architectural History.
‘The Road Less Travelled’ conference/exhibition at JMKAC celebrated the centre’s 50th Anniversary and brought together many of the contributors, responders, artists and scholars associated with this extraordinary set of 17 exhibitions. It forms a radical set of artwork with equally provocative and experimental curating. I’ve previously reviewed some of their earlier displays in Raw Vision Magazine and on this blog here. Three highlights from the current set of exhibitions include the works of Dr Charles Smith, Eugene von Bruenchenhein and Stella Waitzkin.
It was an engaging line-up and full of challenges ranging from conservation, community use, cultural concerns, research methods, and lots on Pasaquan.  Prof. Jo Farb Hernandez’s documentation work in Spain really resonated and she’s gathering more material for a follow-up book. I also enjoyed the podcast/lecture on the Forevertron by Benjamin Walker and The Theory of Everything.
There was a strong connection between these two conferences – both held a desire to reexamine and question the way we think about architecture and art, both in terms of its production as well as in its dissemination and history. GAHTC is working from within the canon [with a desire to change it], whereas JMKAC perhaps doesn’t view its collection as architectural, or as something architectural historians might be concerned with.  Its collection certainly falls within the ‘architecture without architects’ bracket but not in the way that Bernard Rudofsky presented it. Perhaps the common denominator between these conferences is the visionary environment in LA built by Italian migrant Simon Rodia, and now known as Watts Towers. I paid homage to this staggering creation and highly recommend it.
JMKAC has recently become the new home for SPACES archive [previously held in California] that contains some wonderful survey drawings, model and photographic documentation of the Towers, currently on display at JMKAC.
The SPACES methodology and detailed survey work sets the standard in this area, and their collection is being digitised. In many ways GAHTC is attempting to build up an equivalent archive of teaching material. To date, there are over 200 lectures held in its repository, and the ambition is for another 200+ lectures. They are also issuing a number of grants for scholars to develop new teaching resources and material. The three plenary speakers, Philip J Ethington, Stella Nair and Greg Castillo stoked considerable debate on cultural appropriation, settlements that existed on the site now occupied by Los Angeles, and the power of mapping this data. I also enjoyed the module proposed by Alicia Imperiale with its three lectures considering various aspects of mobile architecture, (including one by TAG friend Anoo Siddiqi).

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