In response to Luke McMaster’s exhibition DETERMINING FACTORS
at ARCHIVEspace 26th of February to 1st of March.
The built environment can be visualised as events structured around the figure-ground and the solid-void. These events are most present in the design and engineering of public space, but just as important in its’ economic implementation. When built infrastructure is optimally functioning - the city becomes an organisation of dense social and economic movement, solid structures and systems that are capable of accommodating the idiosyncrasies of human activity.
When unmanaged, human activity could be potentially destructive… or at the very least, congestive. So, within this aesthetic frame, human entropy needs to be choreographed, remodelled, minimised, and possibly curbed to optimise productivity. Additionally these design interventions should not only mobilise and drive various economic imperatives, but they should remain largely invisible to the population that adsorbs them. And yet, housing unaffordability, socio-economic segregation and the dysfunction of public and private transport remain frustratingly visible in daily life. So what is the cause of this failure in infrastructure despite the very best of modelling and design interventions? It is hard to pinpoint this to anything in particular, but more often than not, the very disruptive human elements that were designed out becomes the only element able to adapt to these unforeseen failures in infrastructure. In essence, the structural ideal of efficiency leads to inefficiency, and in turn, inefficiency becomes a barely functional inefficient efficiency.
We look at two figures that question the clarity of the figure-ground solid-void relationship in the organisation of monuments/buildings and the city: Ed Ruscha, and Piet Mondrian.
The public monument acts as both solid and void, as figure and ground. The most memorable monuments now tend to be huge infrastructure projects endorsed by architectural superstars, and aimed at inspiring whole cities and populations. However, the more reliable indicators of human activity and experience exist in the banal buildings that make up everyday spaces. Perhaps it is the architecturally reproducible homes, hospitals, data centres, retail outlets and gasoline stations that provide a more realistic indicator of human movement and it’s social processes. These reproducible buildings are micro units that fill-in the voids of the city. They are low-key monuments that are more closely aligned to their human content. They are blunt and relatively unimpressive structures. Emblematic of these low-key monuments is inside Ed Ruscha’s book, Twentysix Gasoline Stations. It is a series of black-and-white photographs of gas stations he encountered along Route 66. These deadpan photographs record the bland punctuations of fuel stops that service the movement of people as they commute along the highway. As discrete documents, the photographs become real data that demarcate the cemented void. Ruscha’s mapping of these stations is not exhaustive, and the human presence is felt from behind the lens as pure accumulations of data within a system based on continuous movement and invisibility.
By abstracting the city around the grid, Mondrian’s paintings become pictorial representations of the city as figure-ground and solid-void relationships. He emphasises various optical shifts through clearly demarcated and sculptural applications of colour and paint. However, the concise and apparent clarity of his compositions are undermined by his material and manual process. As compositional experiments, paintings such as Broadway Boogie Woogie were worked and reworked by a process revision and adjustment. Becoming a finely tuned organisation of lines, blocks, fields and voids. Mondrian’s slow process, and his chunky application is intrinsically contrary to the basic rules of oil painting (thick over thin and wet on completely dry only), and resulted in layers of wet paint that still continues to ooze up through the major cracks of the superficial layers. Inadvertently, the idea of simplification becomes a protracted process of adjustment and amendment that will keep generations of restorers in employment.
-by James Nguyen
 Fred Koetter & Colin Rowe, “The Crisis of the Object: The Predicament of Texture”, Perspecta, Vol.16, (1980), pp.109 (108-144)
Carolina Miranda, “Ed Rucha’s Work, A City Sits For Its Portrait”, NPR (September 22, 2013) https://gagosian.vaesite.com/__data/465b85827794ab73947d48fbd34e3cc9.pdf
 Stephen Melville, “Object and Objectivity in Damisch”, Oxford Art Journal: Vol.28, No.2 (2005), pp.187. (185-189).
Harry Cooper, “Surface as Psyche: A Progress Report” , Factura (Autumn, 1999) No.36. pp.254 (253-262).