What About an Introduction to the Exhibition Catalog?

Two Practices, Four Words, Multiple Questions

An Introduction to the Exhibition Catalog

There is an architecture that is not aimed at the voracious mass. An architecture that exists indifferent to the latest trends, created as the utmost act of necessity from its authors. This architecture is the product of self-reflection, of a deep search for intelligence. It exists as an answer to the shutting down of intriguing doubts, or extinguishing the flame of curiosity, and quenches the thirst for knowledge. 

This architecture avoids the distractions of the contemporary media. It stays critical of the saturation of images, publications and events that deceivingly claim to announce the zeitgeist of today. This architecture channels all of its efforts at decoding the essence of the contemporary condition, and although unmistakably pays attention to the past, it roots its foundations are in the present with its gaze fixed on the unreachable horizon of the future. 

Vehemently autonomous, this architecture can only exist as the product of a certain stubbornness, tireless repetition and an inexhaustible faith in methods and strategies that are yet to be defined and paths that are in the process of being discovered and perfected. 

Analytical and reflexive, this architecture stands against the erosive overgeneralizations of a discipline distracted from its inherent duties and intellectual responsibility. At a glance the potential of this architecture turns microscopic. Its focus allows studying architecture from impossibly close. A scrutinizing inspection turns every detail into an encyclopedia, every line drawn into a map, every collage into an archaeological discovery, every artifact into a monument. With its sharp focus on every architectural project, lines, elements, components and ideas become transcendental pieces of a discourse still in formation, of a theory still under development. 

This architecture is obsessed with architecture. It is obsessed with the intricacies and contradictions of the discipline; with the power of the built environment and the legacy of transcendental ideas. 

WAI Think Tank and Ganko are different practices that share this obsession with architecture. European -founded and Beijing-based, both of these young collectives share an infatuation with architecture that undoubtedly determines their way to practice, think and operate. But, while this shared obsession might suggest the beginning of an endless list of mirroring similarities, it’s the differences, the contrasts and contradictions between WAI and Ganko that motivates this exhibition. 

Cadavre Exquis
As the title of the exhibition suggests, the idea of an all-encompassing oversimplifying theme able to sweep any obvious difference under the deceiving carpet of homogeneity has been discarded in order to give way to a display of two practices with a broad range of contrasting fields of action, objects of attention, and representational methods. Walls, Islands, Frames, Mirrors works like a cadavre exquis, as four concepts are brought in independently from each other, in order to summon a form of curatorial experiment based on the fragmentation, variation, tension and contradictions of the ideas and concepts exhibited. Following that current of thought, four concepts open up the possibility of being read either as straightforward descriptions of elements, objects and artifacts or as allegorical nuances of the concepts that surround them. Walls, Islands, Frames, Mirrors propose a new dialogue between projects and practices, while suggesting the possibility of fresh interpretations from the observers who suddenly become part of a developing conversation between works that might not speak in the same language. 

The tension between projects and subjects, exhibition and public, adds up to the friction already established among the four concepts of an exhibition title that could echo the ideas, theories, manifestoes, critiques, and narratives that are presented in video format, line drawings, collages, photomontages, scale models, and spatial objects.

However, we are left wondering if those Walls, Islands, Frames and Mirrors are clear transcriptions of pieces and elements to be found in the exhibition, or if they are reflections of the complexity of symbols and meanings to be found in the work of WAI and Ganko? AreWalls, Islands Frames, Mirrors a game of words, or words for play? 

A closer inspection of each concept reveals blunt straightforwardness without necessarily closing down the doors of a maze of possible interpretations that seems to point in every direction. If it’s true that Walls can be found in projects by both, WAI and Ganko, there are also metaphoric walls that can be drawn by interpretation; walls that exclude and delimit, but also walls that create possibilities and programs. There is a wall that encircles ‘Atlas’, the Orwellesque city in the final part of WAI’s architectural narrative ‘Blindness’, and also there are walls encircling the palm trees on Ganko’s Two Rooms competition proposal in Bahrain. Are these ‘real’ or allegorical walls? Do they relate to each other, and if so, how do they interact in the realm of concepts? One wall appears sinister, intimidating, the other appears as an oasis of potential and possibilities. Is one wall a critique? And if so, where are its critical darts headed? Is the other wall an answer? If so, what is the problematic it tries to address? 

The Walls are not the only concepts that raise intriguing questions. Where are the islands in this exhibition? Are the Islands a reference to a specific project or just a metaphor of two groups (or performative archipelagoes) that seem to float independently of the continental bodies of the architectural discourse? Are the islands really independent bodies? Or are they just objects of conflict? Are these islands oceanic or continental? 

No questions have been answered and there are frames and mirrors still to be discussed. Frames, which seem to be at first glance a simple, concrete concept, also open a span of possible readings. Are these frames singling out any view, idea, theory, discourse? Frames delimit the sight, direct the attention to pictures, details, zones. Movie frames freeze motion pictures into still pictures, creating the possibility of completely new readings independent from the film. Frames can also make the banal an object of contemplation, and subject of desire. Frames are powerful tools that belong together with the history of museology and art collecting. Are these frames a reference to an architectural strategy, an exhibition method, an idea, an object? What are these frames showing? What are they leaving out of their encompassing capabilities? What has been excluded out of the dominance of the frame?

Which precisely bring us to the last set of questions: are these frames holding mirrors? Are the mirrors an allegory to a series of projects that seem to be everything but reflections of each other? Does the mirror provide distorted reflections or does it accurately legitimize what is seen in it? Is the mirror a project, an idea, or, is the mirror just laid out for the observer to find himself in each of the projects?

Walls, Islands, Frames, Mirrors leaves multiple questions deliberately unanswered. These four words are also an invitation to the public to figure out what they imply, while acknowledging that they are not catchy phrases to satisfy the voracious mass or to content the contemporary media.

Exhibition catalog edited by:
Cruz Garcia
Nathalie Frankowski
Guido Tesio
Hao Chen
Ronald Frankowski

What About Walls Islands Frames Mirrors Opening?


Walls Islands Frames Mirrors, a joint exhibition by WAI Architecture Think Tank and Ganko has opened at CU Space in 798 Art District. Co-curated by Hao Chen, and Zhang Yanping the show presents a glimpse of recent projects and experiments by WAI and Ganko in a joint exhibition that far from trying to swipe everything under the deceiving carpet of homogeneity, highlights the contrasts and discrepancies, the variety of approaches and the scope of the thoughts that drive these two young practices.

The exhibition includes original collages, photomontages, drawings, models, animations, publications sculptures and objects realized by WAI Think Tank and Ganko during the last two years. Walls Islands Frames Mirrors will be on display until the 31st of August.

Walls Islands Frames Mirrors also serves as a prelude to WAI Think Tank / Garcia Frankowski upcoming exhibition “Pure Hardcore Icons” to be held at the Factory in Dashilar during this year edition of the Beijing Design Week. The Exhibition Manifesto “Pure Hardcore Icons” will present WAI’s co-founders Cruz Garcia and Nathalie Frankowski large format oil paintings together with architectural collages, sculpture, objects and short films that depict a manifesto about pure form in architecture and art.

Nathalie Frankowski at the exhibition opening

Cruz Garcia at the Exhibition Opening

WAI directors Cruz Garcia and Nathalie Frankowski

What About WAI in Cruce?


A Special edition of Wall Stalker and Blindness has been published in Revista Cruce: Critica Socio-Cultural Contemporanea (Cruce Magazine: Contemporary Socio-Cultural Critique).  The second printed edition of the critical Puerto Rican magazine is dedicated to ¿Las crisis de las democracias? (Crisis of the democracies?) and features written a visual essays by Carlos Rubin, Javier Santiago Lucerna, Maritza Andreu, Jason Mena, Timor Kodal, Miguel A. Cruz-Diaz, Juan Carlos Fred-Alvira, Joaquin Rodriguez Burgos, Luis Javier Cintron Gutierrez, MariaJose Moreno Viqueira, Eddie N. Laboy Nieves, Freddy Aracena Perez, Eden Bastida Kulick, Elaisa Gordon and Guillermo Rebollo-Gil. Cruce has been assembled by editorial coordinator Thelma Jimenez-Anglada, Sonia Cabanillas, Ivan Chaar-Lopez and Beatriz E. Ramirez Betances.

For the online journal go to Revista Cruce.

What About an Interview on Book-a.net?


An interview to WAI directors Cruz Garcia and Nathalie Frankowski has been featured in Book-a.net. The interview, by Paula Alvarez overviews the work, and motivations of WAI and Garcia Frankowski as it addresses the campaign to finance the artist book Shapes, Islands, Text: a Garcia Frankowski Manifesto.
The interview is available in English, and Spanish.
Poem of the Shapes, video by Garcia Frankowski

Here a transcript of the interview in English:
What does WAI Architecture Think Tank means to you, and what is its relationship with the work that you identify as Garcia Frankowski’s?
Think Tank is a platform that was conceived with the intention of contributing to the collective intelligence of architecture, through publications, exhibitions, essays, images, narrative architectures, urban plans, buildings and any other tool with potential. WAI, which is an acronym for What About It? and Workshop for Architectural Intelligentsia, is a concept that allows us to ask critical questions through each project. Through WAI we can question the status quo of the discipline. We can assume the risks and responsibilities that are inherent to architecture, if it’s thought as an artistic, technical, intellectual, and social exercise. The only constant in WAI is the critical attitude towards architecture.
If WAI gives us freedom within the limits of the discipline (limits that are yet to be defined), there’s another type of production that is detached from the direct influence of architecture: the work that we do and sign as Garcia Frankowski. With this work we ask ourselves about the potential of art in its pure form, be it through painting, object making, poetry, or creative literature. This type of work lets us reflect on the role of concepts that go beyond buildings and cities.
Through Garcia Frankowski we look to ask other types of questions that cannot be answered only by architecture and its multiple ramifications, and based on a dialogue with the history of art, with ourselves and with whoever reads or observes us.
How did the idea of publishing the WAIzines (What About It?) come into being?
The WAIzines (What About It? Part 1 and Part 2) are one of the tools that come as part of the WAI mission to contribute to the collective intelligence of architecture. Graphic Narratives in magazine format, the WAIzines allow us to engage in a dialogue with readers to whom we present our research, visual provocations and interviews with artists whose work is valuable and influential. The WAIzines don’t fall into the mould of commercial periodical publishers. They have no specific topic or advertisements and their publishing dates are not periodically predetermined. Once considered having enough quality material to produce an issue, we gather it and make it public, either through the numbered publications or for free through internet. In a way the WAIzines are one of the windows that allow us to engage in a dialogue with the rest of the world. This is why they exist through different platforms.
We would like to congratulate you on the project Cut ‘n’ Paste, whose curator is Pedro Gadanho and is currently exhibited in MOMA. You also have new expositions in the light, could you tell us about them?
We have several exhibitions with which we have been working in recent months. On the one hand the WAIzines, which remain on display through October at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, as part of the sample Archizines Exhibition, which also can be seen from September at Fundação Serra Henriques, in Lisbon.
On the other hand the work of Garcia Frankowski will be exhibited in late August in the CU Space of 798 Art Zone in Beijing, with Walls, Islands, Frames, Mirrors Exhibition, and by the end of September, in the same city, in the Beijing Design Week, with Pure Hardcore Icons Exhibition Manifesto.
Each exhibition, every essay, every magazine, every drawing is a step in a long road ahead. The exhibition at the MoMA presents work in an institution with great media reach, alongside the work of other architects or artists with great projection. However, for us other exhibitions or publications that could pass almost unnoticed are equally important. We appreciate every opportunity, however small or large, to present our work, or to start a dialogue or discussion.
What has it meant for you the experience of living and working from a creative powerhouse, and in continuous transformation as China? We are interested in how your work affects the city in which you reside, Beijing.
Although it might sound clichéd, we feel that we and our work are part of our experience in the world. In that sense it has as much effect on what we do as has our relationship with other places such as Roanne, Paris, San Juan, Brussels, Amsterdam, Dundee, or any city that becomes part of our “psychogeographical map”. We feel that our work can belong anywhere and that it can be understood by anyone interested. Our subjects rarely deal with a particular place. Of course, the experience of living in Beijing these critical years of our youth is very important, but we would not say that our work is defined by this.
Let’s talk about the Intelligentsia collection you have just launch in Book-a. What is the aim of this collection? How do you imagine its materialization?
The Intelligentsia Collection presents a selection of our graphic and literary production. The first project gathers a series of works with aesthetic and conceptual autonomy. Each volume of the Intelligentsia series will respond to the specific conditions of its content. In this case, the first of the series is a manifesto of Garcia Frankowski, so it will make special emphasis on the unpublished works that are part of our most intimate repertoire.
The Intelligentsia is born as a collective of artists or intellectuals whose work defies the status quo of the traditional disciplines. Intelligentsia is an ideal. It is our ambition: to function as an artistic and intellectual intelligentsia, while we defend the values and the spirit of the international avant-garde. The concept of Intelligentsia aims at capturing our intention to produce tools that could contribute intellectual and aesthetic values capable of transcending time and place.
It raises our interest the use you give to the “Manifesto” format (as shown in the latest issue of Volume magazines or as the title that is currently campaigning in Book-a) as a means of expressing your concerns? What does it mean to you to recover the Manifesto format in a contemporary context?
The manifesto is perhaps one of the purest and most direct forms in which a group of artists and thinkers can express their intentions. For better or worse, the manifesto has been linked to the history of politics and art in the twentieth century. We believe that the manifesto is an essential tool that allows us to fight the epistemological obscurantism discourse of contemporary art, literature and politics inherited from postmodern philosophy. The manifesto is a way to simplify ideas and clearly define objectives. This is why much of our efforts are aimed at making manifestoes, from the manifesto of pure form in architecture, Pure Hardcore Icons, to the “foam” manifesto of WAI, to Narrative Architecture manifesto (published in the latest edition of the Dutch magazine Volume), or the manifesto of Garcia Frankowski that we are working on for this collection.
We have noticed that you have a great versatility when producing your work and in that you use very different expressive mediums: publications, painting, video, poetry, texts … What leads you to decide to use a particular means of expression for each project and what relationship exists between the different mediums? For example the recent video published on Volume, “Blindness”, has many reminiscences with your paintings…
Each tool or method of representation has a characteristic potential to express ideas or concepts. What can be said in words hardly can be painted and vice versa. At the same time, this generates a friction between ideas and mediums that motivates our work. We are interested in visual poems, texts in painting, architectural narratives, texts that challenge the limits of our thinking, the construction of ideas and how these are manifested through different tools.
It is worth noting that not only are these various tools our principal source of inspiration; and although these sources are diverse (music, film, painting, philosophy, literature) there are many authors whose imprtant works are essential to our work, thinking and to the positioning of our practice. That’s why we make references to people like Wittgenstein, Tarkovsky, Garbareck, Saramago, Sloterdijk, Orwell, Palermo, Malevich, Tati, West, Marker, Camus or Houellebecq.
In line with works like Pure Hard Icons Manifesto, you have expressed the desire to bring back form as a topic of discussion for architecture. You have also observed that form has remained a taboo subject in the theoretical discourse of architecture, despite the prominence it has in the media. But contemporary visual culture seems to have reduced the complexity that the avant-garde of the early twentieth century granted to form; a form linked to abstract aesthetics. How do you position your recovery of form between these two poles (seduction and reduction vs complexity and transcendence)? What are the questions you are interested to mobilize concerning your work on form?
The Pure Hardcore Icons Manifesto was created as part of an effort to develop tools, methods and strategies that could help us shed light on the condition of contemporary architecture. The project is a response to a theoretical laissez faire and the lack of attention to issues inherent to architectural production. We have seen through the years how architects have decided to exchange architecture for issues that often lie beyond their control. One day they speak with nostalgic fervor about the city, while another day they are analysts of the “countryside”. Either they fill books with the empty jargon of postmodern philosophies, with insipid cartoonesque diagrams full of arrows, or with sterile images of impossibly blue skies and flocks of happy birds.
Architectural discussions, especially those that claim to be the product of “research” or the so-called “research architecture” often end up being reductionist interpretations using the mass media as a broadcasting platform. Slaves of glamour, the flash of cameras and the brightness of couche paper the architect adopts any position for the sake of being on the crest of the wave. In that sense Pure Hardcore Icons is simultaneously an exhaustive analysis of a taboo subject and also a provocation aimed at a discipline that has chosen to not assume its intellectual responsibilities. Because, how is it possible to deny protagonism to form when it’s obvious that it has been, if not the key, one of the strategies that had made architecture what it is today? We do not intend to make form the ultimate architectural ideal. Nor do we see ourselves as formalists. This whole project it’s about being honest with the discipline and providing tools to contribute to its collective intelligence.
This explains one of our interests in form in architecture, at least in its intellectual or theoretical formulation. As for the non-architectural work we do, there’s another interest in form as pure essence, and for what it represents both as a significant, and in its aesthetic, historical, and cultural properties. We believe that geometric forms have, in their symbolic function, the potential to communicate ideas, whether they are archetypical, in the sense given by Carl Jung in his work on the collective unconscious, or acquired within a socio cultural framework. In fact, the interest we have in geometric form is shared by the interest we have in language and the use of words as codifying elements.
There is a tension we want to explore between preconceived ideas of form and text and how these can be used to challenge pre-established concepts. What plays a significant role here is the essay we are writing for the upcoming publication that explores the idea of language as a determinant mediator of ideas by studying the concept of “Newspeak” presented by George Orwell in his novel 1984 (1949), and the work on language explored by Ludwig Wittgenstein in the Tractatus Logico Philosophicus (1922). In short, every project, whether architectural through WAI or artistic through Garcia Frankowski gives us a new opportunity to understand concepts such as form, language and symbolism from various perspectives and through different mediums (text, painting, collage, mixed media).

Your paintings seem to reverberate the renewing art movements of the early twentieth century, especially constructivism. Your Prouns in particular, seem like a homage to El Lissitzky. On the other hand, in your Narrative Architecture Manifesto for a critical attitude towards defending an ideology and ambitions…
It is worth noting that it is precisely to El Lissitzky that the Projects for the Affirmation of the New seem be talking because we consider that he managed to transcend the propagandistic impasse of the Constructivists and incorporated the transcendental attitude of the Suprematist. We have no interest in political slogans and much less in the oversimplification of utilitarian art.
We are interested in the attitude adopted by those who knew how to get away from the political fanfare so characteristic of the great political movements in the 20th century. This does not mean that we don’t have a political position, but that art is not reduced only to this topic. Also, we must affirm that our architectural project is guided by a concept that might not necessarily apply to our purely artistic work. It may seem difficult to discern, even for ourselves, but they are two activities whose relationship is yet to be discovered.
Our paintings, even if they are able to reverberate in one way or another in our architectural projects, are not architecture and may not have any architectural message behind them. They are islands floating on canvases, projects that arise as plastic experiments and critical questions from other conceptual spheres. These projects stem from concepts that are different to the ones we explore in our architectural works. We do not paint to justify architecture or vice versa. They are different mediums of action.
But your own project, as the staging of a generalized condition –the impasse of criticism and theory—is, in your own words, “ostensibly heroic”. Is this ambition or heroism a choice or an induced component required for the exercise of establishing a critique of ideology? Can humor, irony and sarcasm –to which you give an important role in your Manifesto for a Narrative Architecture—be an antidote or short-circuit?
The Manifesto for a Narrative Architecture emphasizes the responsibility we have of unmasking ideology in architecture. Narrative Architecture is a kynical tool. We use this concept taking into reference the work of Peter Sloterdijk in his Critique of Cynical Reason (1983) to explain the difference between contemporary cynicism (an attitude that seems to be saying “they know what they are doing but they are still doing it”) and kynicism that aims at unmasking ideology by alluding to the subversive characteristics of humor and satire in order to reveal the absurdities of its statements. Narrative Architecture is an element that has been unutilized by the architectural discourse at large, to a greater part because it has not been understood in its full potential.
On numerous occasions the projects of Narrative Architecture in the 20th century have been seen as naive ‘utopias’, when in reality they are specific attacks on the discourse of the discipline. The manifesto affirms the role of Narrative Architecture in shedding light on the lies, the half truths, and the smoke screens that afflict architecture in its different spheres, from the academy, to the practice and its theory. Narrative Architecture is not an antidote, but the diagnosis of a condition. When we affirm that “Narrative Architecture doesn’t shoot down the banners and slogans of architectural discourse, it reads them aloud against the ideological wind so as to reveal their absurdity“, we mean that once identified as the condition of ideological cynicism, we can do something with it. To summarize, we can say that Narrative Architecture is just a beginning.
One of your most frequent tools is the “collage”: the hybridization, assembly and the crossing of references, concepts, cultural imagery, expressive mediums, even disciplines … Yet, you defend the autonomy of the theory of architecture. Don’t you think there is some conflict or tension between these tools and your positioning? I mean –from its cultural genealogy—collage and remixing are tools or techniques that lead to opening and / or leakage, while autonomy is presented as a means of self-assertion…
The fact that we defend the autonomy of architectural theory does not imply a limitation of its tools and strategies of representation, but rather the opposite. We even argue for a variety of tools when presenting critical positions within the discipline. The hybrid nature of the collage can generate images capable of challenging preconceived notions of architecture, as evidenced in the role it played in the Narrative Architecture proposals in the twentieth century. Those seductive images of continuous monuments and cities contained within walls, shook the foundations of the theory of architecture precisely because of the narrative potential of the collage, especially when it is used as a critical weapon.
The theory of architecture may become autonomous only when the cultural, social and intellectual framework where it has been formulated has been understood. It is only by an effort to gather intelligence through various means of action that architecture can be consolidated as a discipline capable of regenerating itself and staying updated through self-criticism. We must also remember that the collage is, like text, just a tool that acquires or loses validity depending on its content.

What About TYPO?


WAI will exhibit at the collaborative Typo: Creative Collectives Exhibition. The exhibition which is organized by La Productora and i am satos™ will be held Saturday August 31 starting at 2pm. The Exhibition that includes collectives whose work oscillates between art, design, publications, multimedia and film will feature works by Buena Vibra, Cinestesia, Collectivo Fibra, Colectivo Marvelous, elCoCa, Hello Again, Laboratoria del Error Diseñado, muuaaa, Pernicious Press, PISO Proyecto, RescatArte, Tost Films and WAI Think Tank.  
La Productora is located in Calle Cerra 619 Santurce, Puerto Rico. 

What About WAI/Garcia Frankowski Pre-Exhibition Presentation?


WAI Think Tank directors Cruz Garcia and Nathalie Frankowski presented recent architectural and art works In Beijing. The presentation that was offered Saturday August 3 included screening of some of WAI’s and Garcia Frankowski’s videos as well as paintings and projects that are to be featured in several of upcoming exhibitions.