El dilema de Margot:
la salida es por la puerta trasera
Tania Tovar Torres
¿Qué pasa cuando un edificio deja de existir? ¿Qué pasa cuando la realidad sobre un edificio o una obra de arte se convierte en objeto de reconstrucción? Este ensayo argumenta la posibilidad de que la arquitectura ya no sobreviva como objeto –edificio– sino como documento, como historia. Contado a través de un dilema desenterrado por una carta de Margot Wellington a Gordon Matta-Clark, se presenta la relación entre el archivo, la arquitectura y las artes. En este sentido, se pone en duda la temporalidad de la arquitectura, ya que su historia puede ser reproducida y recreada a través de los documentos y páginas que se encuentran en el archivo, lo cual deja la pregunta abierta de qué fue primero, el edificio o el documento.
Palabras clave: arquitectura, arte, archivo, ficción, realidad, registros, documentos, Gordon Matta-Clark
Margot’s Dilemma: Exit Through the Back Door
Tania Tovar Torres
What happens when a building ceases to exist? What happens when the reality of an edifice or a work of art becomes subject to reconstruction? This essay makes the argument that architecture can continue surviving not as an object –a building– but rather as a document, a story. Told through the dilemma uncovered in a letter from Margot Wellington to Gordon Matta-Clark, this essay examines the relationship between the archive, architecture and the arts. In this sense, the temporality of architecture is put into question, for its history can be reproduced and recreated through the documents and papers held in the archive, making us wonder: which came first, the building or the document?
Keywords: architecture, art, archive, fiction, reality, records, documents, Gordon Matta-Clark
The New York Times, February 18, 1975. The image shows a wall cut open with a hole, carefully made so as not to damage the structure of the building. This photograph could have been of any work by Gordon Matta-Clark if it hadn’t been for the following caption: “Kung Sang Ho standing outside hole through which burglars entered to rob his store at 177 Canal Street in Chinatown. He said thieves must have known watchman’s schedule.” 4503N01 Burglars, making the right cut somewhere between the supports and collapse, 4503N02 laborious but unexpected, passed undetected, but not without leaving something behind. A story to be told by a circle-shaped hole in the corner of a wall. That same day, Ms. Margot Wellington, vice president of the Downtown Brooklyn Development Association, sent a letter to Mr. Matta-Clark. Attached was a clipping of this article. The letter read: 4503N03
It is said that life imitates art.
Right after you left my office,
I read and felt I must send
it to you.
Margot’s letter reveals a deeper dilemma. Does life truly imitate art? Do our own constructs now dictate what we thought came first? And if so, which came first? Art or reality?
When Office Baroque, the last remaining building-intervention by Matta-Clark, was demolished, many felt that his contributions to art had been forever lost. It wasn’t until later that the documentary material he left behind made it to the public, that the letters, notebooks, drawings, negatives and newspaper clippings ultimately replaced the works themselves. Long after both he and his pieces were gone, the previously private life of the artist/architect took over. 4503N04 The many documents derived from his cut-up walls are the tools that allow these ideas to prevail over time, regardless of their physical lifespan. 4503N05
The archive not only mediates its relationship to the world by designating new representations, but also by producing an eidetic, a relationship to the world that represents these processes as documents. 4503N06
Gordon Matta-Clark Art Card (Making the right…), 1970-1978, black felt-tip pen, 10.2 x 15.2 cm. PHCON2002:0016:001:030.7, Canadian Centre for Architecture, Gift of Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark
© Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark
This documentation thus serves as a double, making up for what is absent. As the collapse of the wall approaches and its materiality disappears, the archive replaces its existence. The partially-collapsed wall in the news photograph, supported by the documentation of the text, prevented the hole from becoming nothingness, oblivion. Margot’s interpretation turned it into memory. The price that the wall and the hole had to pay to prevail is connected not only to their materiality, but also to their reinterpretation. Documentation makes for the life of the archive and this makes the piece more complex and less rigid, less material and more abstract, more related to perception than in its original meaning; media becomes an inherent part of the experience, not only to the public, but also to the authors themselves. 4503N07
The story of the 1929 Barcelona International Exhibition’s German Pavilion is beautifully entangled in Margot’s dilemma. 4503N08 A pavilion that almost nobody had seen prior to its demolition was rewritten into something that has now become a universal reference for Mies van der Rohe’s work. 4503N09 The image constructed through the many articles written about it, and in Margot’s (or rather Oscar Wilde’s) 4503N10 terms —art— built not only a text, but a second pavilion —life— based on the image contained in its documentary descriptions. Today, photographs of the second pavilion are considered by many to be authentic. A few surviving photos of the first pavilion, and a few well-written words, have turned the reproduction into an icon of modernity. 4503N11
Life imitates art, making a built reality out of the document. The unintended reproduction of the hole becomes meaningful when it reminds someone of Matta-Clark’s work. This provides the object with values, allowing it to prevail over time, but it is also capable of generating values on its own. Foucault explains the inversion of physical existence vis-à-vis the existence of the document or the archive 4503N12 where the relationship in which the document followed history is reversed and the document is now able to create. Like the German Pavilion, Splitting, Conical Intersect, Caribbean Orange and Office Baroque are all vindicated through their reinterpretation. The multiple interpretations made by Margot, or by anyone else, determine reality – or more precisely, new realities in which art pieces can even serve as the inspiration to a burglary. Out of all the stories in the Matta-Clark archive, this letter, the connections made by Ms. Wellington, the burglars cutting through the wall, this essay and the many speculations the reader can engage in based on a short sentence, some photos and a caption are just some of the possible materializations and now-truthful variations on Matta-Clark’s work.
The wall, as a material object, ceases to be a reference or a witness to an art piece, while documents become entities that are free to create, giving rise to something stranger than fiction: 4503N13 documents rebuilding an object that has become expendable, turning the art piece into an idea and the letter, history. As carefully-curated images and letters, well-written essays and properly stored photographs reinterpret the world, reality will slowly exit through the same hole through which all those speculative images came in. However, Gordon Matta-Clark will remain in every man-made hole in a wall, in the photos contained in a folder, in the correspondence stored in a box or simply the exit through the back door of a store at 177 Canal Street in Chinatown.
Tania Tovar Torres
Cofounder and Director of Proyector
B. Arch., Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
MS in Critical, Curatorial and Conceptual Practices in Architecture,
Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation
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