September 16-17, 2010
Curated by Paul Holmquist and Jason Crow
Macdonald Harrington Building 
815 rue Sherbrooke Ouest, Montreal

In September 2010, the end of Professor Alberto Pérez-Gómez’s research project AutoCAD Ballet, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, culminated with the creation and staging of the ephemeral architecture project, MXT. As an event, MXT comprised an immersive environment in which digital media, objects, performance, and architectural fabrication heightened sensual experience and sought to enable a participatory imaginative experience of the city of Montréal. The staging of MXT asked how digital technologies and new media could serve a meaningful and ethical role in the architecture of the city. MXT demonstrated that digital technologies could only act meaningfully and ethically in play. Paraphrasing Hans-Georg Gadamer, play is the mode of being of the work of art. Only within the world realized through the mediation of the play, of ourselves, objects, and digital media, can we truly recognize our communal being as present in the work of architecture and the city. MXT involved the creation of a sensuous and erotically charged atmosphere, revealing how a shared vision of the city emerges as a collaborative and imaginative phenomenon. As such, the experience of playing constitutes the essential condition of the city. It is within this play of the digital as part of a meaningful whole that we can encounter and recognize ourselves.

Architectural Performance: Into the MXT © Lian Chikako Chang

The most prominent activity of MXT was the construction of the ‘fuselage’, a wood and fabric construction erotically engaged through touch, taste and vision to create an atmosphere in which the city of Montréal could be reimagined. The ‘fuselage’ was indirectly inspired by the plane carrying the protagonist of Professor Pérez-Gómez’s novel Polyphilo, or the Dark Forest Revisited on his twenty-four-hour trip around the world. It consisted of a fifty-foot long, eleven-foot tall and seven-foot wide wooden structure covered in two types of fabric that was situated in the center of the large gallery in the School of Architecture at McGill University. Installed at each corner of the gallery space was a combination of a 1080p HD projector, a Mac Pro desktop workstation running custom applications developed in Processing, and a large studio monitor. This equipment controlled the projection of metaphorical images and video of Montréal obliquely across the length of the fuselage structure. This imagery was variously transformed and distorted by the tangible characteristics of the fuselage. A customized infrared sensing system captured the motion of participants and enabled the dynamic manipulation of the modes of appearances of the images through the Processing app. On the interior of the fuselage were four steel stamen-like pedestals each containing aromatic foods. At a central basin, a man in a reversible rabbit/flight suit served an elixir of honey, spirits, and spices. In experience these several elements acted together to erotically charge the atmosphere of the room in which participants engaged in a play of touch, taste, and vision with each other and with the artifacts of the fuselage. 

The atmosphere of MXT was understood as an attunement to the erotic condition that discloses our being-together in the world. This intention borrowed heavily from Heidegger’s use of Stimmung, which can be translated as mood, attunement, and atmosphere. Stimmung thus simultaneously designates the making of the world as a tuning, the disclosure of our being-there in the world as a mood, and the opened-world in and of itself as an atmosphere. Inspired by a reading of the intimate and pornographic within Professor Pérez-Gómez’s Polyphilo, MXT explored the potential erotic nature of the city as an ethical engagement of the digital with the material. This erotic engagement was understood as a tuning that resulted in the varied atmospheric conditions of the event. The artificial reduction of eros to intimacy or pornography which is critically addressed across Polyphilo provided a continuum along which participants in the exhibition would discover how to recognize the community of the event. 

Developed from the descriptions in the novel, notions of the intimate and pornographic provided guidance for adapting the production of the digital projection to the given material conditions of the fuselage construction. The intimate, in this context, is the quality of the distance that is preserved between two touching bodies. The pornographic is experienced as an explicit vision where immediacy abolishes all distance between bodies. We interpreted these conditions as a general palette of characteristics of touch and vision that could be mixed together in play throughout the fuselage. Softness, roughness, warmth or coolness was interpreted as heightening the sense of the intimate. Though not tactile, the visual characteristics of translucency, diffusion, and obscurity operated in a similarly intimate manner. Optical clarity, distinction, and lucidity heightened the sense of the pornographic. Material properties of clarity, hardness and smoothness rejected tactility and thus refused the presence of the body. These characteristics qualified how participants encountered each other in and through the fuselage, such that their interactions shared in and reinforced a particular erotic sensibility. The intimate and pornographic were however never experienced as these absolute conditions. By mixing the respective qualities of the intimate and the pornographic, the atmosphere of the event could be shifted to disclose the presence of the community of the event as a being-there distant from, but present to, the participants. 

The distinctive qualities of the two fuselage fabrics served to establish the overall erotic attunement of MXT in material terms relative to touch and vision. One fabric was a 'hairy' coarse-fibred interfacing fabric typically used to stiffen and provide structural support when sewing more delicate fabrics. The other was a 'shiny' woven polyester blend with a highly reflective rubberized surface coating. The two fabrics were installed in an x-shape across opposing sides of the fuselage. This created a constant juxtaposition of one material condition with the other both as one moved along the long side of the fuselage and as one viewed across the interior of the structure.

The 'hairy' fabric created an intimate tension between participants on either side of the fuselage frame by opening the image as the space between them. Suspended from the framework in a double layer, the fabric served to thicken the projected image by the way it received, distorted and diffused the image. The image appeared to become a responsive volume, a thickening of a potential space between participants. It became the erotic zone across which the participants could breathe, touch, and manipulate the image to adjust the appearance of each other across the perceptual thickness. The resulting movement of the fabric rendered an intimate moment where both the geometry of the fuselage and the other's figure became seductively indistinct. At the same time, a Processing application detected the position and movement of the participants located outside of the fuselage and created an explosion of geometric figures within moving images created from the collages of Polyphilo. These images were projected obliquely to the sides of the fuselage creating a false sense of perspective, which collapsed at the center of the construction where the projections merged. Participants were able to control the appearance of the geometric blooming of colored shapes through which video images of sites in Montréal appeared, slowly separated and drifted away, until new movements formed new blooms and new visions of the city. 

The 'shiny' fabric gave a pornographic immediacy and clarity to the images projected on the fuselage, and enabled the projections to assume the geometric character of the fuselage framework. This fabric was stretched across the framework in broad bands with narrow slits in between. The slits allowed the bodies of the participants on either side to momentarily merge with the projected images, creating a kind of playful voyeurism across the literal depthless surface of the fuselage. In a similar fashion, the elasticity of the vinyl invited participants to touch the surface of the fabric, which distorted the image causing the entire surface to quiver. Similar to the Processing application engaged when a participant moved outside of the ‘hairy’ fabric fuselage sections, a second application displayed images and geometric video blooms revealing Montréal with a temporal clarity that remained until manipulated by the direct touch of the participants. 

Architectural Performance: Into the MXT © Lian Chikako Chang

These images of Montréal were specially curated relative to the four elements, to reveal the qualities of the city as Fire, Air, Earth and Water. This elemental selection from the city functioned as a clue to the tuning of the atmosphere through the appearance and mixing of the associated elemental colors and geometric figures. The mixing became demonstrative through the most intimate of sensations, taste. Each of the stamen tables, built around the Platonic forms of the elements, held a food incorporating the sensual and formal characteristics of the associated element. For Fire there were sharp, spicy, red deep-fried falafel and pepper pyramids. Air consisted of hollow octahedrons of white chocolate. Turquoise agar-agar icosahedrons with liquid caramel centers evoked a presence of Water. For Earth, heavy cubes of rum-infused chocolate brownie were made. As participants gathered around the stamen tables and tasted elemental geometry, the fuselage was suffused with the changing colors of the blooming images of elemental images of Montréal.

The key to these elemental references and to the gathering of the MXT community in the event were a series of three delicate porcelain cups glazed in rare-earth metals of green, red, and blue. The form of these cups was based on the geometrical doubling of the mountain laurel flower, the nectar of which creates a poisonous honey that might have been the source of the ecstatic visions of the Oracle of Delphi. The formal shift of the cup forms from pentagon to decagon, square to octagon, and triangle to hexagon resulted from a rigid analysis of the flower translated through the exigencies of contemporary CAD. 3D prints of these objects of pornographic clarity were transformed through the process of slip casting, which softened the forms and introduced a subtle play to the experience of the beverage that occupied the final central pedestal in the fuselage. At this mixing point of the event, the participants gathered around a sort of shaman relating Platonic tales of the emergence of the elements from a primordial matter that had immeasurable qualities, which could come together to form a moment of coherence, literally a powerful taste suggesting the wisdom that might be gleaned from the gathering. Much like the elemental mixtures, the participants circled around the fuselage experiencing the city at qualitatively isolated moments in image, sound, and feel. From this circling, they would occasionally, pause and clump like confused atoms around the central pedestal to listen and to consume an orphic spiced alcohol. At this moment of the fullest accord of the event, each participant would drink together from the sharp vertice of their own square, pentagonal or triangular cup, bathed in red light while tasting the city almost dancing within the projected images as 'fire'. In this it became possible that the playing of MXT as a recognition of a communal being within an atmosphere revealed a participatory imaginative vision of the city as a mood.

In MXT, the intention was to enable the celebration of the city as an imaginative experience of the city, within the closed world of an ephemeral architectural event set in a gallery. By situating the digital within the play of touch, taste and vision, a poetic image of the city as a whole could emerge, in which we could encounter ourselves and others, and recognize the truth of that encounter. The collaborative game of playing with the city and others is in fact playing 'city', the essential experience of the city. The intention of MXT was to enable an understanding of this kind of play to take place, and to point to ways in which a mediated architecture can provide the place in which a community can form and find orientation.

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