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Some notes on the “Anyone” Conference

The problematic nature of the subject, long since rejected as a starting point for critical thinking by Structuralists, Post-Structuralists, Marxists and Feminists alike, is today a ubiquitous theme in theoretical discourse. The prevalence of this issue is due not to any generally accepted redefinition of the term, but to the reverse – the subject has become the territory on which the highly contested issues of race, class and gender wage the battle known today as identity politics. By virtue of its title, the “Anyone” Conference, recently held at UCLA and the Getty Center, and organized by a corporation bearing the “Anyone” name, seemed to suggest an engagement in this conflict.

The first hint that this suggestion was itself conflicted came in the mail – a Vignelli designed card inviting you to an event peopled by some of the most famous names in architecture, philosophy, and criticism, along with a sprinkling of artists, writers and assorted other intellectuals. The list included luminaries such as philosophers Jacques Derrida, Frederic Jameson, and Gianni Vattimo, critics Anthony Vidler, Rosalind Krauss, Ignasi de SolaMorales, and Francesco Dal Co, architects Peter Eisenman, Frank Gehry, Arata Isozaki, Rafael Moneo, and Rem Koolhaas, as well as assorted other icons such as SF writer William Gibson, Brazilian politician and legal scholar Roberto Unger, theologian Mark Taylor, and artist David Salle. (Not everyone attended.) The card left the recipient with the strong suspicion that the conference might better be entitled “anyone who is Anyone”.

The event took place over the course of two days. The first was devoted to a “Philosopher’s Panel” with a keynote address by Frederic Jameson. On the second day, two series of papers followed by panel discussions – each setting a “signature” architect in the company of selected representatives of other disciplines – took place simultaneously. In the recorded instructions that were part of the reservation procedure, the attendees were asked to choose between two venues, labelled “A” and “B”. Because no one person could attend all the events, it is impossible to claim a fully informed assessment of the conference, at least until the proceedings appear in print. Inevitably, they are scheduled to be published by Rizzoli.

The entire event had a decidedly Derridean cast. Having apparently been assigned the role of grand interlocutor – the moderators called on him repeatedly – his answer was consistently to turn the questions into double binds as, for example, when his presentation consisted of asking “how can one make a point?” These performances underscored the degree to which Derridean thought was an organizing principle of this conference devoted, as stated in the announcement, to the “undecidable condition of architecture and its relation with other disciplines at the end of the millennium”.

One of the more interesting subtexts of the conference was the Japanese participation and their confrontation with the New Yorkers in this halfway house LA. The Anyone corporation is funded primarily by the Shimizu corporation of Japan, and the Japanese speakers seemed to have a much clearer purpose in participating in the conference than almost anyone else. The mastery of western philosophical discourse seemed, for them, in itself a political aim. The conference was in some sense haunted by the political. Aside from the philosophers’ general comments, it seemed that the politics of the conference itself would be consigned to total silence. The return of the repressed, however, occurred in a small way in one of the sessions on the second day. Rosalind Krauss, the only woman presenting a paper at the conference, was unable to attend and asked Sylvia Lavin to read her paper. As a preface to the reading, Lavin pointed out that the subject of Anyone, a term that explicitly aspires to neutralize gender, had until that moment at the conference remained implicitly, but undeniably, gendered. Not only had the discourse been by men, but it had also been discourse on Anyman.

The biggest men were, of course, the architects, yet their confrontation with the intellectuals shed little light on the relationship between architecture and philosophy. Rem Koolhaas dismissed Derrida’s questions, and Arata Isozaki performed a beautiful duet with Akira Asada whose fundamental purpose, it seemed, was to erase any difference between East and West. Eisenman illustrated his ongoing interest in using theories from other disciplines as formal generators. He showed a particularly reductive transposition of catastrophe theory into folded architectural forms and remained fundamentally unchallenged.

Eisenman’s presentation did, however suggest that the conference as a whole was less about substantive connections between architecture and philosophy than it was about alignments between these fields. The personal symbiosis between Eisenman and Derrida was clear, yet the transformation of this relationship into one with broader implications for both fields remained an obscure and unfullilled intention. In the end, therefore, the conference was best able to articulate the desire for an intellectual identity for architecture that would have all the legitimacy of philosophical discourse and would articulate the fin de siecle malaise that seems to lie on the horizon (looking perhaps across the Pacific) . The big boys still have a few more parties paid for by their sponsors. They meet next year in Tokyo. Will they keep asking “How can one make a point”?

Richard Prince, Tell Me Everything, 1989. Courtesy Barbara Gladstone Gallery.

Christian Hubert

Back to June/July – 1991 Newsletter