Greek architect Andreas Angelidakis discusses the life and meaning of objects and buildings in our highly networked “post-descriptive age.”
Andreas Angelidakis started making 3D prints in the early 2000s, as a way to keep a hard copy of buildings he had built in online virtual works, such as Active Worlds. As he lost interest in online communities, he got interested in these prints as autonomous structures. He quit being a professional architect and focused increasingly on 3D renderings, sculptures, and installation works that brought his training to bear on various crises in contemporary culture. Net art, historical analysis, personal politics, and architecture are all wrapped up in Angelidakis’ practice. Los Angeles-based architectural writer Nicholas Korody caught up with the artist ahead of the Chicago Architecture Biennial to talk about his current work.
Nicholas Korody: Maybe the proper place to begin our conversation is at “the end.” After all, there’s a recurrent eschatological fixation running through your work. You’ve previously described it as a “fin de siècle obsession,” which was also the title of the exhibit you curated at the Swiss Institute.
What does it mean to live at the end of the world — or after it, as you’ve said before?
Andreas Angelidakis: This week especially feels like the end of something. In the United States people are celebrating marriage equality. At the same moment, in Greece, and Europe in general, we are witnessing some kind of end of the European Union, as Greeks have been asked to choose between accepting the economic policy of the Institutions (the Troika) and exiting the EU. The possibility of not accepting the proposed measures but still stay a part of the EU seems to be diminishing quickly. The EU is putting the Greeks in a take-it-or-leave-it position, even though that’s not what describes a political union. On the one hand I want to celebrate marriage equality, but on the other hand, I don’t feel it’s really a moment for celebration. This is typical of now — things that don’t go well together are seen in the same light.
What an end means, though, is a new set of options.
NK: Something that really interests me, particularly because you are not an architect that builds buildings, is that your projects suggest a keen attunement to the life of a building. In fact, I think I read somewhere that you consider buildings to be alive.
AA: Not sure if I would attempt to intellectualize it, but I tend to see the emotional “weight” or voice of both objects and buildings. It’s kind of cartoonifying them. They become an extended range of emoticons; ways to express things in the post-descriptive age. Somehow we all use objects to express how we feel — whether that is with a cat video posted somewhere, or through Instagram.
NK: Like with your “Walking Building”?
AA: Yes, like the “Walking Building,” or “Troll,” the building that becomes disillusioned with Athens and leaves, or “Casino,” the building that self-explodes to avoid a fate worse than death. Kind of like Greece itself this week.
NK: What is it about the present era that brings objects so into focus?
AA: Images and objects are consumed much faster today, so maybe we just need more of them. I’m not sure what the “post-descriptive age” really means, I just came up with that. But it’s when you reply to a comment with an emoticon or a gif, instead of explaining something or elaborating. Same when you type “IMO” and “TBH,” images and objects are all ways to abbreviate, to keep up with the speed of things. Buildings are by nature slow to come along, so it’s an interesting challenge.
I started experimenting with this in the late 1990s when I was working with online communities, like Active Worlds. You needed to be online to design and build and the main tool was copy-pasting existing object and building parts to make your own thing. Because this was before broadband, you had to keep paying to stay online, and that was one of the incentives to build quickly. Similarly, you had to explain your building to other avatars in a chat window, and nobody wants to wait for you to type in a long explanation.
This led to buildings that were self-explanatory, like “Cloud House.” It was also an attempt to make things memorable and, to use a terrible word, “viral.” The first world I built was a community for artists and architects that we ran together with artist Miltos Manetas. But at some point the hosting expired and I ended up losing about forty buildings. In the next 3D world project, a place called Neen World in 2003, I decided to 3D print each building so that I would have some kind of hard copy, something to remember the building by once the online original was gone. Back then 3D printing was brand new and companies would make a print as a demo if you sent them a file. All this led to making buildings with the sole purpose of 3D printing them — memorabilia or tchotchkes that were commemorating nothing at all. They just became building emoticons to post on Instagram.
NK: Earlier you mentioned that the Internet was a beginning or even the beginning. Tell me about the first time you logged on and what’s happened since.
AA: I was at Columbia doing the MSAAD program in 1994, and at the start of the semester they gave us email addresses. I had no idea what it was or what to do with it. We were told to look for stuff online; the browser was Mosaic, and the search engine was Lycos. But what was most inspiring was that every Friday night, we would get on the computers and play Marathon, a kind of networked shoot-em-up. The fact that people could be in different buildings on campus and meet up in the same online space and kill each other was eye-opening. Then I signed up for the first ever paperless studio, and my section was taught by Keller Easterling. It was both a revelation not to be working with any pen or paper, but also to be exposed to Keller’s thinking. Our studio was radically different from all the others, because we were thinking with the computer rather than using it as a drawing tool. So, thinking about what it means to be networked, what the “economy” is, etc. I did a project about a house in Athens that changes sites along a suburban street, and changes itself along the way. I had gathered all the material for the project before the semester started, and was lucky enough to happen upon Keller, who was a crucial influence in my thinking with and about the computer.
ANDREAS ANGELIDAKIS trained as an architect at Columbia University. He switches roles between artist, curator, and architect producing models, films, ruins, installations and smoothing out the borders between the real and the virtual. He is inspired by the city of Athens, and his work deals with the notion of ruin, be it ancient, contemporary, or imaginary. Recent exhibitions include The System of Objects: The Dakis Joannou Collection Reloaded by Andreas Angelidakis at the DESTE Foundation, Athens (2013); Every End is A Beginning at the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens (2014); and Fin de Siècle at the Swiss Institute, New York (2014).
NICHOLAS KORODY is a writer and visual artist living in Los Angeles. He is a contributor to Archinect and Reset-Dialogues On Civilizations, a non-profit organization that promotes the intercultural understanding between East and West. His practice, mainly video art, deals within the margins of architecture.
This is an excerpt of a longer conversation, condensed and edited for clarity by Consortia. The full text of this conversation and many others will be featured in The State of the Art of Architecture, the catalogue of the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial. The book will be published by Lars Müller Publishers in November 2015.
For more information, visit http://chicagoarchitecturebiennial.org/exhibition/publications.