Kiesler / Correalism
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Kiesler would have wanted us to live in a stranger, far more synesthetic world. His utopian writings imagined a free-flowing, dreamlike world in which “a table becomes architecture, a sculpture becomes painting, and architecture becomes color.” Full of creaturely buildings, cavelike rooms, modular furniture, and atmospheric lighting, Kiesler’s designs imagined ways to integrate humans into easeful relationships with nature and technology. Remarkably, he had already imagined this type of environment in the 1930s, while he was still an affiliate of De Stijl, a modernist movement focused on straight lines, rigid angles, and primary colors. He would consistently develop his ideas about organic forms until his death in 1965. Kiesler was an outsider architect in the true sense, but also an eerie prophet of ideas with a distinctly postmodern feel: he imaged integrated environments with energetic “flow,” and used scientific methods to design objects and buildings with multisensory experiences.
Frederick Kiesler’s call to all architects and designers to challenge the forces of the “routine” was a principle that Kiesler spent a lifetime crafting. A conviction that he would continuously articulate through commissioned and noncommissioned architectural projects, sculptures, paintings, poetry and countless manifestoes. A lifetime that was spent researching, developing, and building one core concept. A concept that was not in line with the current International Style modernist whose formal language and ideas were interested in extensive infinite gridded space. For Kiesler rather, it was a pursuit of intensive and endless space based on continuous curvilinear vectors. Via Constructivism, Surrealism, Dadaism, Futurism, the Plastic arts, experimental animation, automatons, marionettes and radical space he developed his Endlessness. As he put it himself: ‘The time was ripe for open play.’
The Endless, which evolved through a series of designs from the late 1940s onward, would become what Kiesler considered his crowning architectural achievement. It looked like a cluster of eggs on stilts, and “formed a virtual environment that became an effervescent halo surrounding the habitant.” In keeping with Kiesler’s most powerful ideas, the Endless was never built.
Much of Kiesler’s thought, although excitingly suggestive, ultimately had to remain conceptual. Here was a man who thought of architectural form as theater, with different elements in constant motion and interaction. Kiesler’s endless forms are theatrical spaces that were intuitively designed and emotionally felt.
Kiesler sometimes calls his “one basic idea” of the Endless “continuity,” or “Space-in-Architecture,” or “Time-Space-Architecture.” The word space assumes a significant role. His early works are titled “space-theater,” “space-stage,” “space-scenery,” “space-sculpture,” “space house,” and so on. In fact, he used the word so often that Viennese journalists used to call him “Doktor Raum”—Doctor Space. For Kiesler, the word space marks the breaking out from some kind of confinement. For him, a room, a floor, a wall, the frame of a painting, the proscenium of a theater—in other words, “the finite”—are confining. His “galaxies,” which he traces back to his World War I activities in the front, are some of the ways in which he has “tried to break through the borders of the finite, the prison of the frame.” The traditional limits provided by the architect—walls, floors, roofs—must be undermined to liberate an unlimited condition.
Kiesler’s concept of the Endless and his mode of drawing, modeling, and theorizing begins with a radical repositioning of the concept of vision. Vision, the dominant sense of modernity, is demoded precisely because of its link to reality. In his article “Pseudo-Functionalism in Modern Architecture” (1949), Kiesler insists:
Form does not follow function Function follows vision
Vision follows reality.
Links to outside reality act as limitations rather than expansions. Paradoxically, vision is the most limiting because it is the sense capable of traveling the farthest from the body (aside from “conscience,” which Kiesler describes as a sixth sense). In notes kept in his file on the Space House, he writes:
Our senses are not given us to enlarge our knowledge of the universe but to limit our capacity of understanding. In that respect we could clarify the degree of limitation of our senses, like:
- touch — shortest 2. taste — next
- smell — next
- ear — next
- eye — next
- conscience (?) longest (time-space)
The senses are understood and measured in spatial terms, and space is understood in sensorial and psychological terms. Because vision is the sense able to reach farther from the body, it loses touch with space. It is unable to comprehend space. Kiesler seems more interested in its limitations, compared to those of the other senses. His long series of experiments with the idea of a Vision Machine are experiments in folding vision back onto the sensuous body, or even the sensuous psyche. The Vision Machine is a set of optical instruments, windows in which the subject does not look outward but inward. The limitations of sight are undone.
Kiesler’s drawings are likewise not visions of an outside reality, but of an inner previsual, preconscious condition. They use visual means to access the space before vision. Vision itself has to be delayed. In one of the few moments that Kiesler directly addresses what it is to draw, he speaks of drawing with a “blindfold,” literally taking the conventional sense of sight away to expose a different sense of vision:
Drafting is grafting vision on paper with lead, ink, or—or. Blindfolded skating rather than designing, significantly keen, directed by experience and will, and channeling one’s feelings and thoughts, deliberately proud of pruning them to clarity and definition. Chance drawing and sculpting or painting is an ability to let go, to be entirely tool rather than a guide of tools.
It is to design with one’s whole body and mind, never mindful of either. No, it is not sketching, the bastard version between chance and will. It is capturing vision not seen through kodachromes, paper-book transparencies or sparking it by elbow-rubbing with pro-colleagues and new marauders.
The project of the Endless is one of endless redrawing. Kiesler even refuses the idea of a finished drawing. The drawings are forever unfinished, and what they try to capture is the experience of the forever unfinished, the unlimited, un- controllable movements of the psyche, the psyche that like the map of Vienna can only ever be experienced as a continuous flow from cave to cave. The drawings try to capture the world before vision, before consciousness — the ultimate cave that is the unconscious.
Endless Interior: Kiesler’s Architecture as Psychoanalysis - Beatriz Colomina
Employing a multidisciplinary approach in what he titled his Laboratory of Design-Correlation, Kiesler expanded the role of architectural education to include diverse fields of knowledge. Kiesler and his students engaged historic, theoretic, and technical investigations to formulate design variation. They researched and examined case studies, read philo- sophic and scientific texts, analyzed planning relationships, and built working prototypes. Through diverse and intensive explorations, Kiesler challenged his students to develop innovative organizational strategies and research procedures to invent and test new modularized systems for mass production.
Kiesler’s experience as a teacher began in New York City in 1926 as a stage design instructor. Upon traveling to the United States to present new European avant-garde theater to an American audience at the International Theatre Exposition in New York City, Kiesler formed the Brooklyn International Theater Arts Institute with associates Princess Norina Matchabelli (aka Maria Carmi) and Dr. Bess Mensendieck. Together they built “a laboratory of the modern stage” by organizing the school into three departments—one psychological, one scientific, and the other artistic. Although Kiesler was affiliated with the Institute for only a short time, it proved to have an enormous impact on his developing pedagogy.
To teach students to control their outward expressions, Matchabelli contributed theories on psychoanalysis and autosuggestion to the inst tute’s acting program. She believed acting to be an art of “co-relation” between the brain, soul, and body modeled through an art of training where “inborn unconscious talent” can be studied and enacted “consciously.” The body’s ability to express affectations was a common theme explored in her courses. As they worked together, Matchabelli provided Kiesler with extensive reading material in the fields of psychology and perception, in addition to texts on electricity, magnetism, cyclical theory, space-time, and continuity by Walter Russell, Einstein, and others.
For Kiesler, correlating costumes and stage scenery to the organic rhythms of bodies-in-motion supported the study of architecture as it had earlier for Oskar Schlemmer and Moholy-Nagy at the Bauhaus.
Correalism was Kiesler’s neologism for correlation.
Correlation between nature, bodies, and the built environment, Kiesler believed, could be modeled on the laws of molecular interrelationships that interact between natural and manufactured organisms and systems, where reality and forms were merely “visible trading posts” of continuously mutating “anabolic and catabolic,” “nuclear-multiple-force[s],” ”integrating and disintegrating . . . at low rates of speed.” Any distinctions between subjects and objects were understood to be diffuse products of the constant exchange of molecular forces acting in time. Time thereby was essential to correalist practice, because “time,” Kiesler declared, is “the only resistance to continuity . . . that keeps matter (the world) together.” Movement in time resists static form; it creates continuous dynamic relationships between bodies and the environment. In time, Kiesler believed everything eventually becomes networked, relational, and continuous. Correalism as the science and biotechnique as the method, Kiesler argued, would facilitate the production of a total environment, a Gesamtkunstwerk of effects: they provide a “unified architectural principle” for design, one that, in Kiesler’s words, could achieve “Time-Space-Continuity.”
It is hard to account for a man who made big claims about the impact of his work while leaving behind a highly disparate and impressionistic series of writings, drawings, designs, and projects — and who frequently gave misleading or contradictory information about his life. In Kiesler’s case, the line between a visionary artist and a creative charlatan seems dangerously thin. Yet Kiesler is worth revisiting not just as an eccentric on the margins of modernism, but as a spur to remembering that the kinds of cities we live in are profoundly marked by midcentury ideas about segmenting space. Our truncated, divided urban landscape has produced impoverished zones, neglected areas, and environments that often feel unwieldy, if not downright hostile. What world would we have if Kiesler’s vision of elastic architecture had triumphed instead?
When the design for Kiesler’s Universal Theater was exhibited in 1962, critics compared its shape to that of a “vast potato” or an “unborn moose.” In the wake of a 1996 Kiesler retrospective at the Centre Pompidou, the scholar Marc Dessauce wrote a monograph attributing most of Kiesler’s designs to artist friends such as Hans Richter and Marcel Duchamp. Practicing architects have scratched their heads at Kiesler’s architectural draftsmanship, which largely defies any attempt at practical construction. The architectural historian Beatriz Colomina has speculated that Kiesler deliberately thwarted attempts to realize his work, preferring that it remain in the realm of endless theoretical possibility.
If admittedly somewhat specious in its overall ambition, elastic architecture performs an ideological condition. It sets a trajectory of hope, idealism, and fantasy beyond normativity. Kiesler was a liberal progressive who was profoundly utopian about what architecture could accomplish. He also is aware that there is no getting around the fact that Kiesler was an opportunist. Kiesler couched his Correalist ideas in the language of productivity and efficiency, implying that his designs would allow people to live happier, more integrated lives under liberal capitalism. But his underlying obsession with dreams and magic doesn’t quite square with this claim. Kiesler didn’t imagine a surrealist architecture that would make its inhabitants into better worker-bees, but this was his way of justifying his design practice in a country where that ideology held great sway — and perhaps, at times, he did believe in an efficient utopia of easeful work and play.
The Vision Machine designed by Kiesler and his students aimed to show how networks of nerves correlate visual and tactile information between mind, eye, body, and the environment. The machine was modeled on the study of cathode tubes and X-ray machines and would be operated through a rotary switch that generated a spark, which set the machine to motion. Gyrating continuously, the Vision Machine was intended to demonstrate the complete creative cycle of the imagination.
From their research, Kiesler and his students derived their own map of the mind and invented a model of sensory perception wherein the physis and psyche coexist within a continuous field of environmental and technological forces. They considered experience osmotic, habitual, and sensual, where qualities and intensities passed through semipermeable surfaces of networked internal and external nervous systems. They determined that manufactured technology coexists with the body—bound in continuum—whereby the visual apparatus makes cuts from the surrounding immanent field of matter, only to reconstitute through memory unique spatial perception.
Toward a Research Practice: Frederick Kiesler’s Design-Correlation Laboratory STEPHEN PHILLIPS
Robert Rauschenberg gained acclaim in the 1960s for his found-object works reflecting the randomness of imagery encountered on the street. This print, based onv found photographs, marked the death of architet and designer Frederick Kiesler (American, born Romania, 1890–1965). Rauschenberg had been asked to speak at Kiesler’s funeral, but chose instead to create a memorial wreath by painting an automobile tire during the service.
Kiesler’s funeral was an avant-garde happening very much in the spirit of the deceased: in additonal to the dancer Erick Hawkins, who began the obeisances with a silent, almost endless bow before Kiesler’s casket, the Juilliard String Quartet performed pieces by Mozart and Schoenberg, and there were speeches by René d’Harnoncourt, the director of the MoMA, the designer Jack Lenor Larsen, the writers Marguerite Young and Ruth Stephan, the composers Virgil Thomson and Lucia Dlugoszewski. The actress Madge Evans recited a text written by Sidney Kingsley. Kiesler’s studio assistant Len Pitkowsky and Kiesler’s widow Lillian recited poems and some of the deceased’s last words. Rauschenberg painted a car tire and rolled it through the mourners, placing it in front of Kiesler’s casket.
Here he honors Kiesler by surrounding him with images of his projects: "The Shrine of the Book," built in Jerusalem to house the Dead Sea Scrolls. The red and yellow concentric circles above the shrine represent Kiesler's plan for the "Endless Theatre," and the shadowy silhouette at the top-right corner shows the pod-like forms of his "Endless House."
Keisler & Duchamp
The twelve months that Duchamp spent as a houseguest of the Kieslers, beginning in October 1942, coincided with a commission from Peggy Guggenheim to visionary artist-architect Frederick Kiesler for the design and installation of her collection of abstract and Surrealist art in a gallery occupying a space that previously had housed two tailor shops. Located at 30 West Fifty-seventh Street in New York, Guggenheim's new gallery, Art of This Century, opened on October 20, 1942, just six days after Duchamp's "Sixteen Miles of String" went on display. Kiesler and Duchamp had known each other since 1925 , when Fernand Léger introduced them at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris, where Kiesler had presented his utopian City in Space(fig. 1.31). This architectural project consisted of intersecting parallel lines and flat planes of color—reminiscent of the linear and geometrical elements found in the abstract paintings of Piet Mondrian, Theo Van Doesburg, and other De Stijl artists—that were used to represent an idealized three-dimensional city of the future, floating effortlessly in endless space.
At Art of This Century, Kiesler disoriented the viewer by turning off the lights every two seconds, so that one side of the gallery. and then the other would be plunged into sudden darkness, while the sound of a steam engine trundling down a railway track further disoriented the visitor's perception. Once the lights came back on, Kiesler hoped the viewer would look at the paintings on display with heightened sensitivity, and he compared the alternating lighting system to blood flowing through the body's arteries: "It's dynamic, it pulsates like your blood. Ordinary museum lighting makes a painting dead."
The Kiesler's Greenwich Village apartment at 56 Seventh Avenue was a haven for visiting and emigre Europeans. After a decade of getting kicked out of apartments and barely being able to afford food, the Keislers finally found stability after Peggy Guggenheim began supporting Keisler’s work. Their penthouse apartment was otherwise described by the doorman as a cross between a studio, apartment, and junk shop. Among his many guests were Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Leger, Mies van der Rohe, Hans Richter, Jean Arp, and Piet Mondrian. Kiesler generously introduced the newcomers to curators, critics, and dealers as well as to other artists and prominent friends such as Arnold Schonberg, Frank Lloyd Wright, Martha Graham, E.E. Cummings, Virgil Thomson, Edgard Varese, and Djane Barnes. Committed to fostering an active exchange of ideas among artists of all disciplines and nationalities, Kiesler also relished the potential drama of these encounters. The spirit of the old Vienna cafe days remained with him, and most of his evenings were spent talking with his friends at Romany Marie's or other Village haunts into the early hours of the morning. He never took phone calls before noon.
Kiesler resisted any movement towards a building design reduced to joints in the same way Duchamp’s work supported the idea of elastic ‘contouring’ with the aim of continuity, as found in nature. Duchamp used ‘precise form articulation’ creating ‘ligaments of steel-or-what-not… that divided all shapes and at the same time linked them’ like the structure of the x-ray of a leaf where ‘the veins… are merely the extensions into the leaf of the chief elements of the stem.’ Like Goethe and France in their studies on plant morphology, Kiesler looked to the relationship between art and science in nature to discover ways to construct continuous forms that might control inevitable fracture.