Revisions and Postscripts
During the Floating Art festival in the summer of 2018, Asmund Havsteen-Mikkelsen presented "Flooded Modernity" in the Vejle Fjord, a project that drew the attention of the international art world due to its sensational embodiment of the frustrations and failures of modernism. The artwork itself was a floating installation – a tilted 1:1-scale interpretation of one corner of Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye – designed to give the impression that this historic building, a reference point of modern architecture, was sinking into the fjord..
Michalis Zacharias subsequently created a series of simulations of works by other contemporary artists, all bearing elements of ephemeral and meta/anti-monumental expression, along with aspects implying a failure to fulfil the concept of Utopia – a key theme of his recent projects. One of the works selected in this series was Asmund Havsteen-Mikkelsen's installation, along with Martin Kippenberger's "MOMAS" and Francis Alÿs's "Lada Kopeika Project". Recasting the artist as an historian, a theorist or even a journalist/archivist, this project eschews appropriation in favour of creating a commentary on the original works. With a focus on validating rather than questioning authorship, these simulations act as an agent of rejuvenation for works that leave only a data footprint – ones that Zacharias believes are important enough to be recompiled virtually and retained as archive entries.
Part of the project involved communication with the artists themselves, as well as actively engaging them in the project as much as possible. After sending an initial e-mail introducing the idea and providing a link to a beta version of the simulation, Zacharias began a dialogue with Havsteen-Mikkelsen consisting of
e-mails, Zoom calls and an exchange of ideas about the original work and its simulation.
This direct collaboration led to a joint presentation and exhibition of the project in Copenhagen and Athens, together with material related to the original work. The first exhibition was unveiled at Prospekt, Copenhagen, in late September 2023; the subsequent opening at MISC Athens is scheduled to take place on the exhibition’s closing date in Denmark, thereby linking the two events. This unorthodox crossover approach is a strong starting point for reimagining the ideas encapsulated by the original project – which, in its turn, was both a powerful commentary on a building constructed a century ago and an attempt to recontextualise it in the 21st century.
Although five years have passed, the momentum between the two artists appears to have been maintained. For Havsteen-Mikkelsen, the collaboration is a channel through which to share new thoughts on his work and reshape its meaning, while Zacharias is driven by a need to highlight and update historical/cultural data. For both Havsteen-Mikkelsen and Zacharias, this is a project of revisions and postscripts revolving around an older work, with the questions it prompted at the time – on utopia, modernism and the validity of this form of retrospection in its current guise – being asked anew in a fresh context. By taking the unusual step of emulating another artist’s work and forging an equally unusual partnership in its wake, the exhibition at MISC Athens revolves specifically around Havsteen-Mikkelsen's original work and the resulting archival material shared with Zacharias. This material has been recompiled, along with new elements from the pair’s collaboration, and is presented side by side with the simulation in an exhibition that strikes a balance between curatorial and artistic work.
Den 21. februar 2023 kl. 12.18.28 +01.00, skrev mihalis zaharias <firstname.lastname@example.org>:
My name is Michalis Zacharias, and I am an artist from Athens, Greece. Working for years on archival data, I recently started a project concerning simulations of selected works by multiple contemporary artists, all carrying characteristics of ephemeral and alt/anti-monumental features, along with concepts implying the failures and frustrations of Utopia, which is one of the essential subjects in my recent work.
With a notion of the artist as a historian, theorist, or even as a journalist/archivist, the project is distant from an appropriation concept, aiming to create a commentary on the original works. Focusing on validating and not questioning the authorship, these simulations act as a resurgence agent for works that left only data, and in my mind are important enough to be recompiled virtually, and kept as archive instances.
One of the works selected is your "Flooded Modernity" for the Vejle Floating Art Festival. One of the most iconic images about the unfulfillment of Utopia, your installation and its symbolic meaning, was probably the most closely related idea to my notion of the subject.
My simulation of the work is an online, real-time of your floated installation, on its location during the festival. All the above was developed as low-poly 3d models of the sculpture and landscape. Getting the local time of Vejle, and data concerning the area's daylight durations and approximate azimuth coordinates of the sun, the installation is perpetually on site. You can see the simulation here:
Regarding your work as a conceptual common ground, I would be pleased if you could somehow be engaged with the project further, maybe with an interview about the work and its meaning, or even by filling out a questionnaire about it. I don't know if you can find some time for something like that, but I would be glad to have at least your thoughts about the above. Needless to say, I consider the simulation to be yours also, and of course, it can be used in whatever manner you want.
great to hear from you - and thanks so much for taking an interest in my project, Flooded Modernity! I really like your approach to the project and the conceptual frame it will be part of - as an anti-monument/frustrations of Utopia.
I am very impressed with the rendering and especially that it changes depending on the time of day. Right now its murky and dark!
I watched the rendering earlier today and only have one comment / suggestion: an important aspect of the work was that the facade went into the water, so you got the sense that it was 'drowned', or submerged. In your rendering its as if its floating on top - If possible, could you make the water at the water-line slightly transparent? so one sees below the surface? It would position the sculpture in the water, and not on top of it.
Regarding further reflections - I would be interested in doing a skype/zoom interview? Its been 5 years now, and the works changes - also because of its dissemination.
Den 21. februar 2023 kl. 12.18.28 +01.00, skrev mihalis zaharias <email@example.com>:
Den 22. februar 2023 kl. 08.19.41 +01.00, skrev mihalis zaharias <firstname.lastname@example.org>:
I am so glad that you liked the project. Thanks for the suggestion too, I will try to make a variation with a semi-transparency near the surface. I am thinking of a few improvements too, but the difficult part is that these libraries have a lot of limitations for now. The key idea for the project was to be a real-time representation, through programming, running through a webpage(this also has limitations in terms of a filesize, that is why is very lightweight), and not a pre-rendered animation. The project is in progress at the moment but has a solid form, and that gave me the opportunity to reach you about it. It would be great if we could find some time to make an online interview. I prefer Zoom, I am not using skype, but if you prefer it I can install it for the interview. As far as the days, the weekends are more convenient for me, and on weekdays, Mondays I have the day off(not this Monday though, due to meeting with my brothers and sisters)and Wednesdays in the afternoon. How about you? Send me what days and hours fit your schedule.
Again, it was a delight to hear from you,
On Wednesday, February 22, 2023 at 09:31:42 PM GMT+2, Asmund Havsteen-Mikkelsen <email@example.com> wrote:
Thanks for your mail - and of course, I understand all the limitations - but, if possible, great with a slight change!
What about a meeting this Sunday at 2pm on Zoom? Could you set up the meeting, send me a link - and then we could talk?
Den 22. February 2023 kl. 09.46.23 +01.00, skrev mihalis zaharias <firstname.lastname@example.org>:
Hello again Asmund,
Thank you for the quick response. It's fine by me for Sunday-so it's settled. I will send you a link right before the time of the meeting.
Don't worry about the change, I will come up with something 🙂
See you on Sunday
If we studied the ‘beginnings’ of architectural Modernism, we would find a search for a new vocabulary based on geometric forms with the machine as the main metaphor for spatial pro - duction (Le Corbusier), a reduction of form to its function (Mies van der Rohe) and a belief in industrial design products as accessible to ordinary people (Bauhaus). We would also find a spiritual vocation, as in the attempt to give modern man a space that mirrored his desire to shed the dead weight of historical references (Adolf Loos). Together all these aspirations led to new styles and visions of utopia that were applied on both sides of the ideological arena in the 20th century: the glass and steel of private houses and corporate architecture in liberal democracies (International Style) and the concrete mass -dwellings of socialist societies (Modernist housing schemes).
Today, with an almost five-fold increase in the world’s population (from 1.6 billion in 1900 to 7.8 billion in March 2020) and the increased use of fossil fuels, together with the advance of capitalism, science, health care and intensive agriculture, we find Modernism in action all over the globe as the spatial programme that has provided housing for the mass urbanization of people. Dropping myself down as a little orange man on Google Earth wherever there is a blue line, I see the aftereffects of Modernism. As an ‘algorithm’ for planning, executing and building architecture, it has become a planetary visual force and the spatial expression of the Anthropocene.
Modernism in all its variations mirrors the fundamental driving forces of this new age, in which man has become a geological agent. It is based on fossil fuels (in coal for energy production and in the automobile, aeroplane or train as modes of transportation), it uses abstract spatial language (mathematical grid space), it is made for the individual (both in private dwellings and in the isolation of the apartments inside high-rise towers), it is universal (due to the global presence of capitalism) and it is progressive (as in the implementation of new technology).
Every search for ‘beginnings’, however, should be careful of reductionism. When we zoom in on Modernism as a movement to understand its beginnings and its evolution, we discover regional differences between Scandinavian, Central European, Asian, African, Latin American and American Modernism, because even though Modernism saw itself as a universal language (reflecting the universal rights of man), it was still applied with huge local variances depending on climate, culture and material possibilities: not one Modernism but many Modernisms, yet all of them responding to the new conditions of a world based on a prime mover exploding in a combustion engine.
Thus there are many sources for – and aspects of – the concept of Modernism, and from every one of them we could find a spatial and visual energy that could make us believe again in its promise of technological emancipation through new styles and modes of spatial production. Yet writing in the year 2020, more than a century after the first signs of a new architectural understanding began to emerge, I am unable to jubilate in the marvellous and extraordinary energies that Modernism unleashed. Instead I see a spatial project whose metaphysical foundation is now being washed away by the all-pervasive climate crisis. Hence my project Flooded Modernity of 2018 as the visual expression of this situation: a 1:1 model of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, which is partly submerged in a Danish fjord. Originally conceived as a response to the use of social media in manipulating public opinion in the US and UK, I now see it as a portent of the impending climate crisis.
To be critical of Modernism is not new. At least since Robert Venturi and Charles Jencks, it has been common to mock Modernism. Why is it different this time? In the 1960s and onwards, the main argument against Modernism was that it was too abstract (not related to context), it was hierarchical (not reflecting the new values of multiculturalism), it was too white (not allowing for colours), it was standardized and generic (not allowing for individual differences), it was isolating (not allowing for communities to develop), it was cold (too much concrete) and it was male (dominated by old Caucasian men).
Instead of reiterating the standard critical objections to Modernism, I want to propose a different viewpoint relating to the unintended side effects (as in rebound effects) of the movement. Here, I will introduce an observation by economist William Stanley Jevons, who in 1865 noticed that effciency in the use of coal did not lead to a diminishment of use but the opposite. The more effcient the steam engine became, the more the demand for coal increased (since efficiency also lowered the price of the energy). This is called the Jevons Paradox and describes how more effcient technology leads to an increase in energy consumption through new and unexpected possibilities.
So instead of searching for the ‘beginnings’ of Modernism and its utopian aspirations of creating a better life for modern man by providing the material means for an Existenzminimum, I think we should look at the Jevons Paradox of Modernism: all those unintended side effects that emerged with Modernism as an aesthetic regime. What kind of life and which modes of consumption did Modernism make possible?
First of all, Modernism as an architectural discourse was based on a paradigm of unlimited access to and use of fossil fuels (the factory production of elements, the automobile as a mode of transport, the installation of central-heating systems); secondly, it dislocated its users from nature (as consumers unable to grow vegetables and establishing a self-sustainable environment) and from wild animals (it did not consider itself in relation to creating habitats for non-human nature); thirdly, it promoted and incarnated the ideology of ‘newness’ (by presenting itself as new and without ornaments, it spurred a destruction of consumer habits based on care, mending, reusing and inheriting).
By establishing an abstract space for dwelling in an urban environment, it enabled the violence against animal food slaves to be kept away from modern man. In Denmark alone, 139.5 million animals are killed annually. In the urban realm, the rearing of animals for food has disappeared, together with the stench of the slaughterhouse. The meat of the sentient animal is conveniently wrapped in plastic and silently accepts its fate on the plate, yet today the effects of the industrial-agricultural food industry is what is driving the sixth mass extinction of species on the planet through the extensive use of land for animal food production.
The Jevons Paradox of Modernism is the creation of an architectural condition for an immense luxury trap based on patterns of high-energy consumption of fossil fuels, a distanced relationship to nature, and an externalization of violence against non-human nature. Modernism made mass-scale urban dwelling possible and created the mythology of a modern life based on newness and technological advancement. Modernism was progress, but the rebound effect of this progress is the sixth mass extinction and the climate crisis.
Text by Asmund Havsteen-Mikkelsen, excerpt from the publication:
Connectedness: An Incomplete Encyclopedia of the Anthropocene
Ed. by Marianne Krogh
Strandgaard Publishing, Copenhagen, 2020.
Publishing in relation to the Danish Pavillon at the Venice Biennale for Architecture.
Asmund Havsteen-Mikkelsen was born in 1977 and is a MFA graduate from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and Copenhagen University with a MA degree in literature and philosophy. He has participated in the research program at CCA Kitakyushu in Japan and between 2007 and 2015 he was based in Berlin. His artistic practice with a strong focus on architecture spans various formats from painting, installation, sculpture and theoretical writing, such as Generic Singularity, Non-philosophy and Contemporary Art and Community of Contribution and Zoom & Bloom – an aesthetics for the Anthropocene. Most recently he published One World or None - planetary aesthetics in the Ruins of Modernism and Danish Speciesism - both 2023.
In 2018 his project Flooded Modernity – a submerged replica of the Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier - in Vejle Fjord gained international attention. In 2020 he contributed to the catalogue for the Venice Biennale for architecture. His works has been shown at museums and galleries throughout Denmark and Europe, such as the Museum for Contemporary Art, Roskilde and Randers Art Museum. In 2021 Kastrupgaardsamlingen in Copenhagen presented his largest solo-exhibition to date. In 2022 he participated in the group exhibition New Red Order Presents: If One by Land, Two if by Sea at Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen.
Michalis Zacharias was born in Athens in 1976 where he lives and works. He studied Fine Arts under the supervision of Rena Papaspyrou at the Athens School of Fine Arts(1995-2001), where he also attended the postgraduate programme "Digital arts"(2003-2006).
His practice includes the collection and use of historical data, the manipulation of archive images, and the design of apparatuses/installations and photomontage as historical parallels/pseudonarratives. An important part of his work is the use of public domain material, open-source software, and the internet, not only as a source of information and raw material but also as a toolbox for the above practice.
He has participated in many group exhibitions in Greece and Europe, including “Safe Mode:Amplified Realities”, curated by Foteini Vergidou in collaboration with TILT Platform (Makis Faros, Zoi Pirini, Apostolos Zerdevas, Takis Zerdevas), “Revolting Bodies II”, ATOPOS CVC, Athens 2021, “Comfort Blast”, APT Gallery, London 2019.
He has presented two solo shows at the Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Center, in 2017 with the title “Mostly Harmless”, and in 2021 with the title “Authentically Appealing”.