30 April 2021

Karen Kurczynski—Jorn's Critique of Functionalism

Kurczynski, The Art and Politics of Asger Jorn
Jorn argues, "It is a basic weakness of Functionalism that it cannot tolerate the idea of freely creative art." In its worst iterations, Functionalism tended to celebrate standardization and technology for their own sake, imposing its aesthetic on people in a way reminiscent of the classicism it initially opposed. It became the classicism of the machine age. Just as in classical architecture, Functionalism's claims to the democratic ideals of openness and transparency were belied by the way it mirrored the social exclusions of class society through its impersonal monumentality, celebration of technology, and disdain for people's own irrational desires. (110)
As a complete outsider vis-a-vis "architecture," I am struck here (and this is merely the most comprehensive and best articulated of many similar passage throughout the book) by a sneaking suspicion that the very legitimate causes of "freely creative art," "openness and transparency," "irrational desires," etc. are simply irreconcilable with the practice of architecture as a public infrastructure endeavor. Significant compromises in the areas listed are necessary here, even in what we would call a Small Community. You simply can't make everyone happy nor unleash all of them all at once when it comes to designing and building public infrastructure. Now certainly it is MUCH MORE than mere infrastructure; that aspect of the theory is accurate. But these free and irrational impulses need other outlets, that is outlets without the material, monetary, and political weight of an entire community weighing on them. Definitionally, they will not flourish if asked to bear this weight. I'm not aware of an SI-adjacent theorist who explicitly incorporates and absolute, micro-scale localism into their overall theory, but here is an example where anything less than block-by-block autonomy just won't do (and even city blocks are probably too large to thrive under such anarchy).

As for "impersonal monumentality" and "celebration of technology," which supposedly "mirrored the social exclusions of class society," it is fair to expect the psychogeography of such installations to beget feelings of exclusion, but how much do feelings matter here? Once again, we suddenly seem to have fallen quite a long way from "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent," all the way to "Anyone who builds (or achieves anything at all) at "monumental" scale implicitly "excludes" everyone else, which is what the upper "classes" do explicitly." Seems to me at that point that the Millennial generation hardly invented the snowflake phenomenon! The Function- in Functionalism indicates that if a Monumental structure was open to the public unconditionally, any feelings of exclusion were the feeler's problem rather than the builder's. I have to confess that I also find such feelings absurd; but then perhaps I'm not much of a psychogeographer.

[from a notebook, 2018]

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