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Pia Ednie-Brown

Aesthetics/Anesthetics,Storefront for Art and Architecture, New York, 2012 The Storefront space operates with an unusual openness to the sidewalk.

INNOVATION AT THE STOREFRONT


An event and exhibition space opening on to the sidewalk of New York Citys SoHo, Storefront is dedicated to the advancement of innovative positions in architecture and design. It seeks to simultaneously shake and question the current state of affairs. Guest-Editor Pia Ednie-Brown discusses with the Catalan architect, Eva Franch i Gilabert, her role as Director of Storefront, and specically how she has promoted active, generative engagement through humour, disruption and innovation.
Eva Franch i Gilabert, Composite gure, 200310 Franchs interest in both excess and the ecological is evident in the image used to portray the multifaceted nature of her architectural practice OOAA (ofce of architectural affairs).

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Eva Franch i Gilabert at the Aesthetics/Anesthetics opening reception, Storefront for Art and Architecture,New York, 2012 The Aesthetics/Anesthetics exhibition aimed to reect on the performance, role, value and aesthetic properties of architectural drawings. Thirty drawings were commissioned, exhibited and auctioned, alongside a series of lectures and workshops reecting on the purpose of the architectural drawing.

Aesthetics/Anesthetics opening reception, Storefront for Art and Architecture,New York, 2012 The exhibition space operates as an extension of public space, and is open to the street. This spatial porosity is carried through into the open, experimental and often risky nature of the events designed for Storefronts programme.

THE PRACTICE OF EVA FRANCH i GILABERT


Founded in 1982, Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York City has a 30-year history of providing an alternative platform for supporting new ideas in architecture and design. Storefronts narrow triangular building, redesigned by Steven Holl and Vito Acconci in 1993, literally unfolds its facade on to the street, becoming something between a gallery/ event space and an extension of the footpath. Storefronts programme has always aligned itself with the unconventional and the experimental, and with the productively blurred zones between art and architecture. An explicit mandate is to support the innovative in ways that other institutions do not or cannot provide. As a swelling of the sidewalk, Storefront can be seen as a uniquely important architectural budding of the innovation imperative. In 2010, the Catalan architect Eva Franch i Gilabert became the new director of Storefront. She previously directed the Masters Thesis studio at Rice University and her own solo practice, OOAA (ofce of architectural affairs). Her interest in ecologies of excess, demonstrated in her 3 article of that name in 2010,1 reveals her emphasis upon speculative, experimental, broadly dened notions of ecologies as a way into architectural thought and action. Referring back to The Ethics of the Imperative article on pp 1823 of this issue, with Franch directing this eventful swelling of the sidewalk, Storefront could be seen as a truly architectural excessive machine, unfolding a related ethics of the imperative. Franchs approach to directing Storefront for Art and Architecture involves inhabiting a tensile balance between individual action and collective engagement, offering an emphatic demonstration of a practice which values and enacts attention to both simultaneously. She designs events for Storefront that try to articulate obsessions into positions, to construct arguments and create conversations that bring people who might perhaps be too focused within themselves into a larger collective, or into a larger understanding of their work and with that, gure out what they carry as individuals to contribute into the larger whole of society in order to go beyond what we already know.2 Her directorship is poised as an architectural research activity, substantially tuned with the model of research through practice that is increasingly gaining traction. This kind of research does not seek to develop new understanding from a space of pure analysis, but through generative, design activity. Rather than articially construct an outside from which to stand apart from the subject, this is research through active, generative engagement through both affecting and being affected. Before Im an architect, says Franch , Im a citizen of the world. But, she points out, I will say that I do cook as an architect, I do work as an architect, I do see and watch and listen and read as an architect. As director of Storefront she is, in short, an architect that takes citizenship, or collective belonging, seriously. Her sense of collectivity becomes an internal as much as an external condition, dividing herself into multiple architectural roles the facilitator, the iconographer and the agitator: Its important to be conscious of these three roles in every single project: to facilitate or enable people to actually express their ideas and to take their projects on; to produce projects that are representative of what I believe Storefront as an
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Manifesto Series, Draw-Think-Tank event, Storefront for Art and Architecture, New York, 2011 This event took place in a mobile structure the Spacebuster designed by the German group Raumlabor.Draw-Think-Tank consisted of a live staging of manifestos, and employed a Storefront iPad platform, designed with artist Joshue Ott, that allowed participants to collaborate in the construction of a collective drawingprojected in the walls of the Spacebuster.

Eva Franch i Gilabert, Memory Dress, 2012 An example from Franchs design explorations through clothing: she made this green dress from the woollen mattress cover on which her parents conceived her and her siblings.

alternative institution should be doing, and to simultaneously shake and question the current state of affairs. The combination of these three modes of operation converge in what I call the gure of the utopianiser: the one invested in changing the real nature that exists behind everything, in order to produce new spaces of alterity. At Storefront Im doing this mostly through the creation of new formats of engagement and events that try to make a very close reading of both New York, as a centre of architectural discourse, as well as what is happening in the discipline and society as a whole. I try to provide formats that unveil new realities. Across the different modalities of engagement or roles she simultaneously adopts, Franch is really trying to experiment with what constitutes a space of disruption or innovation. There is something utterly singular in the extent to which Franch is willing to experiment and take risks in and with a public. If she stands out from the crowd, it is done with the crowd being both distinctly individual and deeply involved in participation. Her force of personality and strength of presence is hard to miss, becoming immediately evident through her experiments in dressing: Its a game; you just play with your self, with your life. Its taking a risk, and just seeing how materials, how folds, how people, how things work in order to produce a multifaceted landscape of disruptions. It is easy to dismiss activities such as how one dresses as trivial, unimportant, and of less value than more serious or weighty intellectual discourse. However, the importance of games, play and laughter as tactics for creative research and innovation has been noted by numerous scholars. Paulo Virno,
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for instance, has discussed how Wit is the diagram of innovative action,3 and Arthur Koestler begins his enquiry into The Act of Creation with an analysis of humour: The creative act of the humorist consisted in bringing about a momentary fusion between two habitually incompatible matrices. Scientic discovery can be described in very similar terms as the permanent fusion of matrices of thought previously believed to be incompatible . The history of science abounds with examples of discoveries greeted with howls of laughter because they seemed to be a marriage of incompatibilities until the marriage bore fruit.4 Humour, innovation and spaces of disruption, share the same diagram, where things simultaneously hold together and remain disjunctive. When Franch discusses laughter, it is clear that she understands its importance in terms of shared belonging and contextual intricacies: When someone tells you a joke, the moment of laughter is an act of common sense; it is an individual process, yet it only works through a collective understanding of language and culture. So for me, the ability to actually laugh together is an expression of convergence, of understanding the context, the origins and ultimately the subtleties. Humour, innovation and spaces of disruption, share the same diagram all being events in which things simultaneously hold together and remain disjunctive. As an example, Franchs Critical Halloween, a costume architecture party dedicated to the theme of banality, was not just a dressing-up party, but a way to actually provoke questions and to resonate with society

Paella Series, Architecture on Display event, Storefront for Art and Architecture, New York, 2010 The Paella Series has framedthe gathering and discussion on particular topics of interest around the sharing of food, bringing a certain viscerality to the event and encouraging a state of lightness through productive distraction. The rst of this series set out to discuss a book by Aaron Levy and William Menking, Architecture on Display: On the History of the Venice Biennale of Architecture (AA publications, 2010).

Guests at the Critical Halloween: Banality event, Storefront for Art and Architecture, New York, 2011 Critical Halloween was a costume architecture party with the theme of banality. The invitation asked guests to Vanquish your devils. Praise your saviors. Unleash your inner critic in sartorial guise. Prizes were awarded by three jury members.

at large, in a way that otherwise would be impossible. This event, and others such as the Paella Series, are ways in which she aims to produce a state of distraction, a state of lightness, to actually be able to reach out to the heaviest thoughts that we only throw out when we think that no one is looking, or we think that no one is listening. And I really truly believe in the value of lightness, because we are all too self conscious of who we are, of what we do, of what we say, of what we have learned off the pages of books. Franch describes this tactic as similar to Hitchcocks plot device of the MacGufn dressing-up becoming a ploy or decoy that enables and motivates other goals. If innovation has become the MacGufn in the narratives of cultural activity, Franch employs MacGufns to stimulate the conditions for innovation, devising ways to do much more than display or represent art and architectural culture. Across these and other frameworks, such as the Productive Disagreements and Manifesto Series, she activates different kinds and modes of reexivity, ways of enabling generative disruption, and thereby setting up the conditions for fostering innovative action. One might see her practice as channelling the insights of Frederick Kiesler who, as Sylvia Lavin writes, understood that: the effects of a storefront [are] analogous to how weather fronts are understood today as the plane of negotiation between different atmospheric densities and principal cause of meteorological phenomena. The storefront, in other words, was for Kiesler an opportunity to produce new kinds of urban happenings that might begin or be catalysed by the plane itself but that have their consequence elsewhere, out there.5

As a swelling of the sidewalk, Storefront presents us with a less planar, more immersive situation than Kieslers shop window designs might have been able to offer as active and as activating as he intended them to be.6 Perhaps the key shift is that Franch herself operates from inside this space, like Barbarella inside the excessive machine (see pp 1921 of this issue). One might also productively relate her practice to Mark Burrys discussion on the work and contribution of Frank Pick (see pp 2629), who also created systems whereby collective innovative design excellence was fostered, while acknowledging individual contributions. These two instigators, Pick and Franch, stand out with, through and for the vitality of the crowd, leading with an effervescent and lasting wake. 2

Notes 1. Eva Franch i Gilabert, Ecologies of Excess: An Excerpt from a 22nd-Century Architecture History Class, in Lydia Kallipoliti (ed), 3 Eco-Redux, November/December (no 6), 2010, pp 729. 2. This and subsequent quotes from Franch are taken from an interview with Pia Ednie-Brown, April 2012. 3. Paolo Virno, Wit and Innovation, trans Arianna Bove, 2004: http://eipcp.net/transversal/0207/virno/en. 4. Arthur Koestler, The Act of Creation, Hutchinson (London), 1969, pp 945. 5. Sylvia Lavin, Kissing Architecture, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ and Oxford), 2011, p 89. 6. Frederick Kiesler, Contemporary Art Applied to the Store and its Display, Brentanos Publishers (New York), 1930.

Text 2013 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Images: pp 34(t), 35, 36(l), 37(l) Storefront for Art and Architecture; p 34(b) Eva Franch i Gilabert; p 36(r) Yoo Jean Han; p 37(r) Brett Beyer

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