Sunshine Reviews pt.2

Heliotherapy – treatment of disease by means of sunlight; the therapeutic use of sunlight. Sunshine has the ability to accelerate the healing process of wounded bodies and spirits. The biochemical reaction between skin and sun taps into an unseen energy source, invigorating the body.

On my family’s trip in Ohio, I visited the Akron Art Museum by Coop Himmelb(l)au with my second cousin. The works of Coop Himmelb(l)au, from what I understand from their website and portfolio, are formal for the sake of cultural identity. Here is an interesting snippet from their design intent:

Today, our urban interventions take place in an amorphous and imponderable space, comparable to chess figures moved across a horizontal screen with white noise. The grid of the chessboard has disappeared and along with it the clear rules determining how the figures on it are to be moved. yet the figures have remained: a castle is still a castle. And its moves are still significant, even though the coordinates of its moves can no longer be determined as easily as they used to be. However, the more the background recedes, the more distinct the figures have to be. For, in view of the implosion of the old order, it is these figures which make a city. Their interrelations create force fields of great tension, and in doing so create space. This process is infinitely more complex than the ordained decision to lay down a play and then fill it up, step by step, with architecture. Space is no longer pre-ordained (if it ever was). It comes into being as a result of the force fields which figures create together, forming the basis of a vigorous urbanity.

Through this lens we rationalize the undulating surfaces, the muscular forms and the (at first glance) seemingly functionless ‘wings’ that extend out from the top of the building.

‘Structural acrobatics’ is a term that comes to mind when seeing the glass entrance and cantilevered wing systems. A relative heard I planned on visiting the museum, and her initial reaction was ‘oh, its dumb, don’t go see that place’. Because she said that I really wanted to extract something more meaningful than the initial  ‘wow, this looks cool!’ reaction. I picked up on a few things on the trip to Akron from my cousin, mainly the city of Akron putting lots of effort to reinvent themselves after the rubber industry (which really drove Akron in the 1900’s)  lost a large portion of its workforce in the late 90’s. Also drug use in the city has drastically increased. Like so many other cities around the U.S., much time and effort are going into beautifying the downtown area, the idiosyncratic spaces that initially attracted families and businesses.

Once we start to understand the sci-fi esque art museum as a ‘distinct figure’ in a city starting to lose its identity (a receding background), we realize that it is in fact functioning perfectly.

The open atrium space is completely sky lit, uninterrupted by duct work and electrical wires thanks to those seemingly superfluous ‘wings’ which house all of the pipes and clutter as well as providing (minimal) shading devices outside the building. Listening to Wilco while sketching in the atrium I was completely content, aware that the large glass skin connected me to the sun via changing shadows, moving patches of warmth and light phenomena. Here the skin of the building invigorates the body as a whole (the openness elevating the thoughts of the visitors, providing light for the works), creating energy (trapping heat) much like human skin in sunlight.

The triangulated glass facade and second floor concrete base, as well as other details, captures the muscular triangulated forms in the A and K of AKRON, which completes the overall visual identity somewhat less explicitly.

Of course the atrium space is probably extremely inefficient in the summer evenings, when the sunlight becomes trapped heating the building beyond thermal comfort, costing more in order to cool effectively. Like heliotherapy, too much of a good thing is dangerous, as skin cancer and sunburns cause much more harm than benefits.

In Sunsent Blvd, the 1950’s drama by Billy Wilder, former silent movie star Norma Desmond, tries to prolong the inevitable ‘sunset’ of her career (that just happened) by dragging down those around her.

Sunset Blvd plays out like most contemporary CSI murder mystery crime shows, beginning with the crime, then backing up and playing through a shocking sequence of events revealing how things ended so horribly. Norma Desmond, who was an extremely successful actress back in the day, finds an incredibly average screenplay writer in need of a money and a place to stay, and asks his help in writing her big comeback performance. Norma begins to come onto the screenwriter, Joe, as she has been living secluded in her mansion on Sunset Blvd ever since her career plummeted. He knows she has become extremely paranoid and demented after her downfall, and out of pity (and of course a need for a place to stay) helps in writing her screenplay, trying to get his feet back under him financially, choosing to ignore her attempts at romance. He starts to realize if he plays the part of suitor he gets whatever he wants, and she of course holds on to him tightly as her one chance to get back into the spotlight. They both choose to ignore the real intentions of the other, and finally when Joe starts to leave during nights to meet with another screenwriter he’s fallen in love with, Norma’s combined paranoia, excitement and jealousy causes her to kill him.

Norma had too much spotlight in her heyday, and the mental and physical results are frightening:

Another movie that centers around an actor, blessed with success who cannot grasp the change of times is the 2011 silent film The Artist, by Michel Hazanavicius.

The main character George Valentin holds the love of hundreds of silent film fans. Thinking the new movies with spoken word are preposterous, he claims that all actors should be able to speak with their bodies. The title of the movie comes from George Valentin reading a newspaper review exclaiming “I am not a puppet! I am an artist!”

He begins to fall in love with one of his fans, Peppy Miller, whose initial meeting with Valentin propels her own acting career forward. Moving in parallel with the first of spoken word films, Peppy Miller’s career surpasses that of Valentin and while they both share feelings of love for the other, Valentin can’t help but feel disdain for the woman he brought into acting, who now is working to ‘put him out of business’. The film is great because you know there is constantly ‘a set behind the set’ as the actors go about their rehearsals and recordings, and the music and actors all feel familiar and well executed. It’s much more lighthearted than Sunset Blvd, but there are many similarities in plots and styles of film making (namely the black and white visuals, success as silent film stars, the downfall of ignoring what is ‘contemporary’ [which I believe means ‘with the times’ if my classical language class served me well]). I would rank it alongside Sunset Blvd, but as a lighter, more cutesy less frightening film about denial and love.

Finally I have to talk about Michel Gondry’s 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

First of all, the editing in this movie is incredible – it compares with inception, requiem for a dream, etc, but stands alone as incredibly emotional and artful. The sequence with the crumbling home, where water comes up from the shore sweeping the feet of Joel (Jim Carrey’s role) standing in living quarters is epic, and definitely inspired my boathouse project last semester… The movie centers around a struggling couple who hires the Lacuna corporation (lacuna meaning an unfilled space or interval; a void) to erase each other from their memories. Something goes wrong during the procedure and Joel, unconscious, begins to mentally run from the erasure, trying to hold on to pieces of his ex girlfriend Clementine, who is crazy in all the right ways. The way memories bleed into each other creates for beautifully emotional sequences. It’s easy to relate to Joel, who finds himself ‘needily attracted to anyone who looks his way’, and the crazy interesting girl who makes his life feel more enjoyable. It’s easy to surround yourself with others who possess traits you hope to project or someday wish to have. I have often tried to be with people I admire, sometimes for the wrong reasons, and it creates conflict and contradiction, but sometimes it can be beautiful (see eyedea and abilities track ‘smile’).

The title of the movie comes from the following quote by Alexander Pope:

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d;

How happy are those blessed with purity and innocence? Each prayer taken in but each wish relinquished. Here the couple choose innocence (something a lot of people in the field of design seek after, a chance to approach problems innocently, without bias), but seeking innocence is not as easy at it might seem. I’m at the age where deciding whether to live ‘pure or aware’ is paramount to who I become in the future. At what point does knowledge become a burden? At what point does purity become a disadvantage?

The title eternal sunshine could easily be replaced with eternal happiness, the two are clearly related (good sun, good health, good life), but as neither are physical, they are not  easily obtained. That’s all I have for now…

-matthew

 

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