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The “architectural yard sale” organised by UCLA architect and educator Andrew Kovacs at Jai & Jai Gallery in Los Angeles highlighted the experimental nature and freedom of expression of the Californian school.
California is different than the rest of the other 49 states in the United States. Here, free from the shackles of the cultural conservatism and hegemonic forces that plague the rest of the country, architects and designers are engaged with culture in a much more open and interesting way.
Capital of entertainment industry Los Angeles provides opportunities not available elsewhere, as does Northern California, where the technology sector is constantly pushing the boundaries of how we live. It is in this context, along with the iconic laid-back and liberal attitude that California is known for, that The University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) is producing some of the most interesting research and student work in the country. This was in display at the school's 6th annual year-end show RUMBLE, which showcased studios taught by renown designers such as Greg Lynn, Thom Mayne and Kivi Sotamaa, and attracted critics such as Andrew Atwood, Eva Franch i Gilabert and Sylvia Lavin.
One auxiliary event that highlighted the experimental nature and freedom of expression at the school was located across town at Jai & Jai, a gallery in Chinatown, where the Goods Used installation was billed by its creator, architect and educator Andrew Kovacs, as an "architectural yard sale". The installation was visible from the street, and from 13:00 to 18:00 on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoon, Kovacs brought some of the artifacts out onto the sidewalk, presenting them to passers by.
Items included a vast array of objects, some of which are simply placed together via stacking or more ordered placement, while other pieces are combinations of several objects, mashed together and fixed with glue or insulating foam sealant. Objects which have been collected and brought together in the space include architectural models, oil funnels, replica Eiffel Towers, building materials, Rubic's cubes, Monopoly houses, and other trinkets bought from craft stores and found in everyday places. Alongside this overwhelming amount of information is another, more subtle mass. Several hundred white foam models, mined from Google Warehouse, sit in a pile lining the space. There were also drawings and collages made by Kovacs.
If this seems hard to understand, it is. Just describing it brings out the absurdity of the exercise. It is an immense amount of "stuff", which cuts across scales. Small objects are presented alongside miniature architecture, making a case that formal generation and the way that we make things is not different at the scale of a light switch than at the scale of a city. Small orange people inhabit the models, while two full size mannequins watch over the space, reminding us that it is all 1:1 scale. This slight-of-hand makes the installation an act of architectural bricolage. Irenee Scalbert  defines the architect-bricoleur as one who "interrogates the materials in his treasury.
He tries to discover new significations and new possibilities. What were ends in previous projects become means in the next. The bricoleur rebuilds his set of tools and materials by using the debris of previous events, the odds and ends left behind by other ventures." By assembling nearly everything he can get his hands on, Kovacs turns the gallery space into his own personal collection of debris, both historical, in the form of architectural models, but also the recent and contemporary, in the form of trinkets and found objects.
It is a very contemporary position. Much of what we experience in the world now is simply recycled or appropriated. In fact, it is hard to find anything that does not sample or reference something from the past. In this way, the entire world is open for the bricoleur. Kovacs has been experimenting with this idea for sometime, running the Archive of Affinities tumblr. The piling of history here becomes a literal metaphor for the collection process of the contemporary historian's task of making sense of the past when so much of it is available all at once. Within contemporary culture, the individualized, personal narrative that is the artist-as-product, or the subjective lens, is completely at play here. It would appear as though it is just an assortment of objects, but it is not completely devoid of narrative. Every piece of the exhibition was chosen by Kovacs for its "architectural qualities". There seem to be several threads running through the exhibition, which makes the overall plot rather difficult to figure out. It might be interesting to see if this experimental "collecting/hoarding" technique, which produces wild effects, could be more tightly controlled and used to make honed, sophisticated arguments in specific contexts.
But maybe the lack of apparent narrative is exactly the strength of the exhibition. The historian-architect archives existing pieces of history as well as the present, and the audience is left to interpret them as they see fit. There is not a simple, literal narrative. It would be easy to simply call this a conceptual piece which acts as critical commentary on the stream of information and the lack of objectivity in the world we live in. The piling up of history and the world around us inside of a gallery could be read as a joke about Tumblr and the associated disorienting amount of art which can be produced, and the difficulty with which we sift through it.
However, beyond the brilliant absurdity of the presentation and its visual impact, Kovacs has an underlying concept, which is that re-imagining the way in which we inhabit space happens through new relationships between existing objects, or re-orientation of existing ideas. For example, the Eiffel Tower projects, by presenting the Eiffel Tower sideways, recast it as something that can be physically inhabited on surfaces that are meant to be overhead or in our periphery, functioning as walls and ceilings traditionally. By physically assembling the artifacts of history, Kovacs acts as an almost pure bricoleur, attempting to assemble something new from the enormous amount of debris that is washing upon and continually re-washing upon our shores.
Project Team: Patrick Tierney, Chris Gassaway, Derek Buell, Angel Gonzalez, Jeff Rauch, David Stamatis, Courtney Coffman, Cori Gunderson, Claire Hartinger, Walker Olesen, Tas Oszkay
1. Irénée Scalbert, “Architect as Bricoleur", in Candide – Journal for Architectural Knowledge, n. 4, luglio 2011, p. 73