Wheelwright Prize Lecture: Gia Wolff, “Floating Cities”


The Wheelwright Traveling
Fellowship was started, it’s one of the oldest
fellowships the GSD has, and one of the
most, well, I guess it is the most prestigious,
was started in 1935. In 2013, it was transformed
from a fellowship that was only for students of
architecture at the GSD, for alumni of the department,
was transformed from that, which it had been since 1935
into an open international competition available to early
career architects worldwide. And the aim shifted a little
bit as the school had shifted to focus, it was a
traveling fellowship, explicitly a
traveling fellowship, and travel is mandatory by
the terms of the fellowship. But it’s shifted a
little bit to include what we’re calling new
forms of design as research. Not design different
from research or design plus research,
but design as research is what we were looking for. And especially because it is a
traveling fellowship informed by cross cultural engagement. It’s really interesting
to look at the terms. It’s a very peculiarly
written fellowship. There can be no deliverables. We cannot ask anything of the
winner, not even a phone call. I’ll come back to that. And clearly, what the people
who wrote it had in mind was the European Beaux-Art
tradition of the grand tour. It was for Americans at a time
when it seemed, I suppose, that very few American
students could travel. And I think the
travel was to Europe. I think it was quite clear
that it was conceptualized as a European trip when
very few Americans could travel either financially
or just sort of culturally. Most students at GSD
were not equipped. And it was somehow
imagined– or this is how now I imagine it–
that the winner would go to Paestum, of course,
and do watercolors of the Greek temples, or
they would travel to Rome and sketch all the ancient
Roman to legitimate in this tradition of
the Ecole des Beaux-Arts to legitimate the intellectual
as a cultured and worldly intellectual as opposed to
just a kind of trade person or crafts person. I should say craftsman,
because they’re were all men then as well. That’s the other thing that
is clear in the writing of the award. Today, it was
really interesting. In the middle of
the day, some of you joined us in the
middle of today, we heard from the three
finalists of the third year of the new fellowship. And it was interesting
that as I was listening to their presentations about
where they wanted to go and why, I was analogizing
them with this idea of the grand tour. Only now, the places they wanted
to go, like Erik L’Heureux, to the equatorial cities
of various continents to film architectures
of atmosphere, he called them, having to do
with wind and water and the way buildings interact
with wind and water. No more watercolors,
no more sketches. Now it’s videotape and
architectures of atmosphere. Or Malkit Shoshan from
Amsterdam going, so imagine Greece and
Rome or the Sahel area of Africa, which
is where she wanted to go to map areas of
conflict, spaces of conflict, spaces where power
and imposition and reterritorialization
are kind of invading African
villages as her grand tour. Or Quynh Vantu who lives in
London going to Korea, Japan, other cities in Asia to study
traditional architectures who embrace and construct rituals
and kinesthetic issues of movement and threshold and
ritual in what, I would call, I think an ethics
of kinesthesia, an ethics of
kinesthesia, which she has learned in her own design. But now will study the
traditional histories of other architectures
and incorporate those. And there’s something
very beautiful about that that as different as
they were that this experience of place, being in a
place, being in a culture, and studying the
representations, the architectural
representations of that culture, how, in
fact, the travelers in 1935, and the travelers now are
not so different maybe after all in that sense. I think that’s certainly the
case of our inaugural winner whom we have here
tonight, Gia Wolff. I said there can
be no deliverables, but Gia has been one
of the most generous and in touch people,
awardees, I can imagine. She’s advised other
applicants, and other winners– or the other winner, I
should say– at this point. There’s been a lot
of correspondence with Gia and the jury, and
a lot of advice from Gia. It’s wide open, but it is true
that Gia is, nevertheless, an alum of the school. She graduated in 2008. We didn’t think about that. I think we genuinely
didn’t consider that when we awarded her, but I was very
glad just after we awarded her that she was alum. But really, it was
selfish, because she’s one of the few, other alum,
I knew some of the winners, but I knew Gia pretty well. She had been here as a student
since I have been here. And I remember the
depth of her generosity. Gia, she was really interested
in the events of architecture or interested in
architecture as an event, as a construction of an event. And she always had
this warm glow in her. And it’s been amazing
to see that glow focused and sharpened and faceted
into a much more articulated and multifaceted project that
I think will continue long after the money has been spent. When she graduated from GSD, she
worked for the Acconci Studio. She worked for Adjaye
Associates, LOT-EK, very different kinds of practices. But, again, all practices
who, in very different ways, are concerned with
architecture and performance. She made up projects for
herself– installations, objects, events. She exhibited at White
Columns in New York storefront for art and architecture. At Pace University, there’s
the Peter Fingesten Gallery. And really projects,
many of which she invented herself
and executed herself. Later, she became a collaborator
with Phantom Limb Company on design of stage sets for
marionette performances. And all of this was
in her portfolio along with her proposal to
study the community based architecture of parade
floats in various cities and the architecture of
carnival, if you will. Gia is presently an
adjunct assistant professor at Pratt Institute
and teaches also at the Irwin Chanin School of
Architecture at Cooper Union, and I just want to welcome
her, and really thank her. We’ve all been able to
participate and enjoy Gia’s travels. Maybe not directly,
but certainly because of the correspondence
and the generosity, so I want to thank her and
welcome her at the same time. Thanks. Thank you, Michael. That was just an incredibly
nice introduction. I am so honored to be here
today among the finalists, the incredibly talented
finalists for this year’s prize, and the
special people who are here making special
appearances wherever you are in the audience. So I won the prize in
2013, and it really has been an incredible,
an incredible two years. Although the prize
stipulates two years to complete the research,
the trouble in my case is that it’s becoming
a life’s work. While I have an immense amount
of images to share today, I already know that I
have at least another year or two years ahead of
me before I’ll fully complete this mission. So what I have today is still
a bit of a work in progress. I have to ask you to bear with
me for a few quick minutes. I have a number of people
to thank, many of whom out of their own
time and interest have helped make this
project what it is today. And I really, I can’t be here
without thanking them first. The GSD, the Wheelwright Prize
Committee, Cathy, Ben, Mohsen, Michael, Jorge, and the
various other Harvard staff who’ve been incredible
support over the last two years. Both personally and
institutionally, you all really continue to make this
gift keep giving. My incredible team in Rio,
Cesio, Vera, Lourdes, Alex, Daryan, Aron, Gabriela,
Luciana, Juan, Marcos, Rubem. My New York support,
John Hartmann, Freecell, Andrea Monfried, Michael Webb,
[? graham ?] [? shane, ?] Julia Locktev, and, of course, all
of my family who are tuning in live in Los
Angeles right now, even my mom who canceled
her clients to watch. And the many, many
others who have provided feedback and
connections and resources along the way. And certainly, certainly
not least, my most recent collaborator,
Claire Tancons, who is simply one of the
most brilliant women I know and an invaluable
carnival resource. After I share the
Rio research, I’m going to show two projects
I worked on with Claire. I hope to have shown
three, but actually along with the
musician, Arto Lindsay, who was just playing
while everybody was taking their seats, the
three of us will be working on a project
coming up this year. That’s it for this. When I set out to
start the research, I literally had a two page
proposal and nothing else. While the subject was a clear
trajectory of my career path, it was also completely
new territory. I knew very little
about carnival. I’d never been to Brazil. I didn’t speak Portuguese. I had limited first-hand
experience in carnivals. I was literally
starting from scratch. And as with most projects, it
started incredibly ambitious. I was supposed to have traveled
to five different countries by now, which I
still plan to do. But for now, I’m still unpacking
the famous Rio carnival. The Rio research
itself, the research has revealed itself in so
many different mediums. But one that I’m
still in awe over is how I was able
to form a solid team as a stranger walking into a
completely foreign country. I think this is partly
due to a good idea transcending the means. A good idea naturally
lends itself to external
participation, but also, how an idea is able
to transform itself given the right opportunity. In this case, through
the Wheelwright Prize. I wasn’t exactly
sure where to begin, but I started by writing
to literally everyone who gave me a contact. And over the course
of a few months, I wrote to over 100
strangers, and by the time I arrived in Rio,
on my first trip, I was able to meet about 20. Out of those, five have become
pivotal colleagues, friends, and my Rio family. And since then,
this group has grown into a solid team who
each have a crucial role in the formation of the work. So what I’m showing here
is a list of everyone who has directly
contributed to the project, with the bolded names being
those who have profoundly been instrumental. So it’s really a lot of
people at this point. I’m presuming like
myself two years ago, most people here don’t know
too much about Rio’s carnival other than it bearing a lot
of feathers and precisely molded asses. There is no shortage
of those, but really what makes Rio so
unique is not just the visually magnificent
floats, but how they possess an
intangible power that draws from their deep
rooted relationships to the urban fabric into
the diverse communities that build them. This upcoming year, I
will be more focused on the community
aspects of carnival so for now, I’ll be a
little brief about that, and focus rather on some of
the other more urban findings. This is the incredible city of
Rio, and hatched in the corner here is where most of the
carnival action takes place. But the community relationships
with each samba school really stretch out into
the entirety of the city. And just to clarify,
a samba school is comprised of every
component in carnival, not just the samba
dance or music. It is the music, it’s the
floats, it’s the dancers, it’s really everything. And in Rio, each samba school
competes with one another. In fact, it’s a
usually economic force in the country, and something
that everyone connects with. Even if they’re not
that into carnival, if you ask them who their
school is you bet they have one. Maybe it was their father’s
school or their grandparent’s, but they have one, the same way
that they have a soccer team even if they’re not
that into sports. So one of the schools that
responded to my initial letter was Mangueira, which
is one of the oldest traditional and ubiquitously
loved samba schools. As with most samba
schools, they’re connected to a
particular community, and usually it’s a
favela, if I’m correct. But this doesn’t necessarily
mean that the favela residents are the only people who parade. Anyone can join a school. There about 6,000 people who
participate with each school, and I think about
2,000 or so are often foreigners who just
buy costumes, quickly learn the routine,
and song and parade. So here we see, this is
the Mangueira favela. This is their [? gres, ?] which
is their community center, and this is Vila Olimpica, which
is a kind of larger community center. This is the [? gres, ?]
and each school has one, and they’re located
in their community. And it’s where all the
dance and music rehearsals happen throughout the year. But especially
unique for Mangueira is the Vila Olimpica,
which is a large complex of little buildings that range
from a medical center, library, sports facilities, to schools,
preschools, high school, and a trade school. We were given a tour
of the facility, which has been listed by the UNESCO
as a World Heritage site. And it’s pretty
unique to Mangueira. I haven’t found
any other schools that have a facility like this. You can see the
basketball court, and then the two kind of trade school
facilities, the plumbing. All, of course, adorned with
their pink and green colors, which they have a
lot of pride in. So this map is showing
the three areas where the main parading takes place. Cidade do Samba is
Samba City, and it’s the facility where the special
schools, the first level schools, where the
floats are built. That’s Samba City. And then the
warehouses, which is where the floats are
built before Samba City, but now where the second tier
and the third tier floats are built. And then this is
the Sambadrome where the actual parading happens. Just to give you
a little rundown, there are three tiers
of samba schools. The first group, which is the
special group, has 12 schools. They have the most
money, and they have each eight floats per school. The second level schools are,
I think, there’s about eight of them. They have very little money,
and only about two floats each. And the third tier schools, I
think, there’s a ton of them. I’m not even sure how many,
and they have very, very little money, and I think
there’s usually about one float per
school, and they don’t parade in the Sambadrome. They parade around the city. And this is Samba City. It’s open to the public. You can’t get into
the actual warehouses unless you’re a guest,
but you can see the two different shadings,
you can see the size of each warehouse per school. The centralized area
is public, and they have events and promotional
activities there. This is what it looks
like inside Samba City. Because carnival is
so highly competitive, like a national
sports team there, even though you can walk
around within the center area, the schools still maintain total
secrecy of their upcoming plans despite their close proximity. Another school that opened
their doors to me was Portela. They gave me a tour of their
warehouse in November of 2013. So I was able to get a
glimpse of the entire facility and their construction process. I met their carnavelesco,
who’s there on the left. The carnavelesco is
like the lead designer for the school’s parade. And he happily shared with
me his costume drawings, but when I asked
about float drawings, no one seemed to
speak English anymore. But what I did learn,
which was major, is the fact that there has to
be an architect or engineer stamp on the float drawings. This was really a huge–
sorry– huge revelation. When I mentioned to one
of my colleagues in Rio that there were these
architecture drawings around, she didn’t believe me,
because there have never been architecture drawings
of floats published. So who knows? But I did get to see a
architecture drawing set from Mangueira’s
warehouse last year, so I did confirm
that it’s not a myth, but I still need
to figure out how to let somebody trust me
enough that they will share it with me besides just kind
of seeing it from afar. And inside Portela, the basic
process of flat construction begins with a truck chassis with
a steel structure welded to it, which is then covered
in wood and then foam. And there is actually a really
huge foam craft industry there too. This is a portrait of a welder. And so this upcoming
year, I’m going to be doing a
series of interviews with fabricators and some
portrait shots bringing to light more of
the people involved. But they are really incredibly
proud of their work, and this man was
really thrilled to have this portrait taken by my super
talented photographer in Rio. And this is, on
the upper left, is the head craftsman, the
head wicker craftsman within the costume department. And I asked him where
he learned his craft, and he said his father, who
learned it from his father, and now he was teaching
it to the man below. And to the right is
the costume prototype. And by will or brute
force, I couldn’t leave without trying on a
part of the costume myself. I was actually really
surprised at how heavy it was. Those wings are made
out of a steel armature. These people parade
for an hour and a half in them at the peak summer. All right. So adjacent to Samba City
are the old warehouses that were once used for
the special schools that are now being used for the
second and third tier schools. Samba City is actually
relatively new. I think it’s only about
six or eight years old. The old warehouses are wild
and packed with pieces salvaged from first tier floats. They’re almost like a
float graveyard really. The scene felt insanely
disproportionately different to the facilities of
the first level schools even though they were really
just the second tier schools. I walked into this
particular warehouse, and within like a
second both of my legs were covered with
mosquitoes and fleas. But because the stakes are so
high with the special schools, it was easier to
learn about carnival at first by looking at
the lower level schools. Facilities aside, they
share so many similarities and their doors
are totally open. It was a way to begin to
access the information. And here, we can
see how many people are involved to
maneuver one float, and the ubiquitous
desire to build to just under their
own size limitations. And this is the Sambadrome. It’s the linear stadium where
the first and second level schools parade. It was built by Oscar
Niemeyer in 1984. It’s an incredible
concrete structure. But prior to it, the floats
paraded on the streets, which would have also been
incredible to see in Rio, and partly why I’m
traveling to some of the other cities
in the upcoming year. But parading in
the streets still does happen for the third
level schools and for blocos. And the blocos are
informal street parties throughout the city. They’re not floats, they’re
more just for people, but are still an incredible
subject for another Wheelwright Prize. Nevertheless, with the
creation of the Sambadrome came a lot of innovation of the
floats in terms of their size and technology and mobility,
which we will see some of. At the end of the
avenue, there’s an iconic arch, which I
believe was originally meant for parading through
and back down the avenue. This is not allowed anymore
because since Niemeyer’s death, more box seats were built at
the base of the grandstand so now the floats just
parade down the avenue and out onto the street. What you can see, so
they used actually come around and back through
and back down the avenue. And you can see these lights,
how far back it actually goes. It’s really huge. This is looking back down. And the proximity
of the urban fabric right behind the Sambadrome
is really incredible. In fact, some of
the favelas, I have heard that they sell
tickets to watch the parade from
their houses, which is really cool, and
something I would love to do. I spent an enormous amount
of time in Cidade do Samba, and luckily, it has the
cheapest parking in the city. It’s only about six [? reais ?]
for the day, which is like $3. And the closer I
got to carnival, the harder it was for me
to get through to anyone. No one answered or returned
any of my emails or calls. Tarps were used to cover the
floats that were bursting out of their hangers. Photography even outside
was not permitted, but clearly I snuck a few in. I did manage to get a tour
of Mangueira’s hanger right before the parade,
but, again, was not allowed to photograph anything. Rubem, the director of the
Escola de Samba Mangueira told us during our tour
that what we were seeing isn’t anything like
what the floats would look like during the parade. There you can see
a little glimpse of them testing their lights. I was aware of how competitive
carnival is to cariocas and how the secrets
of each school are only ever seen
often for the first time during the carnival parade. But what was so secretive about
their final glitzing being adorned on each float
or the dangling wires bursting through the 30 foot
tall flower stems with their 10 foot long petals resting in
a pile on the floor awaiting one last coat of rubber
cement and finishing frills? Or a 10 foot wide by 20
foot tall decapitated person whose belly was splayed open
revealing a bent steel grid armature and an old blackened
engine for its guts? Who was the giant
being depicted? Was this the big secret? I was looking for what
tricks Manguiera was hiding. New technologies, innovative
construction details, transformative flow
mechanisms, hybrid assemblies, but nothing seemed
visibly obvious. Rubem was right. Two days later had I not heard
the loudspeaker announcement followed by the
deafening fireworks that initiated Manguiera’s
start down the Sambadrome, I would never have known
that what I saw moving slowly and rhythmically down the
street were the same floats I had seen just
a few days prior. It wasn’t the fact that the
flowers now had their heads on, which were flashing and
spinning to the school song, nor was it the fact that the
float’s belly had been sewn up, and all of its 10
foot long limbs were waving at each bleacher
filled with thousands of people singing and dancing
to the sambra rhythm. But to my surprise,
it was the people who literally made the final
addition to each float, embellishing the
already thick color, texture, and animated exterior
with one last dynamic layer. The people gave
the float the scale that were both out of scale
yet within the unexpected scale of architecture. There’s a great cohesiveness
between the people and the floats making
it difficult to separate its dynamic personality. [samba music playing] On one hand, the thematic
story represented on each float if viewed with a
literal perspective would seem like a surreal
hyper-representation of simple everyday
objects like trees, soccer balls, or musical instruments,
which are frequently represented on the floats. Such ubiquitous imagery
is not unlike what you might expect to
see in many parades around the world, such as
the Macy’s Day Parade in New York that flaunts giant balloons
of Spider-Man, for example. However, there’s something
about the floats in Rio that transcend such
a common translation. It’s not just the fact
that these floats rank among the largest in the
world, but is rather something much more powerful and deep
rooted in their relationship to the urban and
constructed fabric as well as the communities within. We see a part of this during
the hour and a half each school parades, but the
construction of the floats happens throughout
the entire year, and embeds itself
much more profoundly in the culture of the city. But the efforts of such
strong community ties do not go without incredible
awe and wonderment in how it all comes
together, keeping in mind that the floats
are built in pieces, and often only come
together for the first time once they arrive
at the Sambadrome. And this float was by far
one of the tallest I saw. You can’t really tell here, but
as it moved down the avenue, it transformed into an
enormously huge figure. Clearly, this float
could not have been tested prior to this day
as there would have been no way to have kept it a secret. So I could only capture it
transforming down not up, but it’s still really cool. And I love how you begin
to see the fragments of the architecture
in the background. At the start of
the parade, this is one of the first floats I saw. I took one look at it
and thought, oh my god, how on earth is this thing
related to architecture? But it is so cool. [fireworks] Like the spinning pianos, most
of the floats, while completely spectacular are
incredibly literal, and seeing through the
visual representations are a challenge to seeing the
architectural relationships. Paulo Barros is one of the
only carnavalescos working now that has some sense
of abstraction that he achieves
through repetition. Although still quite literal,
these are stunning visuals. [samba music playing] It’s actually really
hard to capture anything without dancing
at the same time. And here’s just one. [samba music playing] All right. So I drew this map after my
2014 carnival, but it’s wrong. I kept it anyway,
because the larger truth is I’m not sure it’s
ever going to be right. It’s really hard to tell year
by year what stays the same and what changes. And as soon as I
think I have something down I’m reminded that this
may not be the same next year, so I didn’t try to correct it. On one hand, I
think this is partly due to the incredible speed
at which the physical city is changing, because of the
World Cup and Olympics. On the other hand, it’s simply
a carioca state of mind. And carioca, by the way, is the
word for a Brazilian from Rio. But the important
aspect of this map is the start and end
points of the Sambadrome. These two areas are where
we see the floats being assembled and disassembled. Because there are six
schools parading per night, the parade has to
continuously move even as the floats are being
assembled and disassembled. Keeping the timing and
pace is so important that the floats are being
judged even at these points. Lifts are used at both ends
to get people on and off and attach and detach smaller
components of the float. The floats are only
fully assembled literally right before they
turn onto the avenue to parade. Lifts attach people
to the float so they have no way of getting
down on their own so that they really
become part of the float. The scene is wild and seemingly
dangerous, but apparently in control, in a
not so obvious way. But this scene was
mind opening as it exposed a very hidden side to
the spectacle of the event. [voices and beeping] And it made aspects of
time and construction incredibly transparent,
but moreover, it showed me that there is, in
fact, something much greater than the parade itself. And there was more to
what I was looking for. What became clear
is that despite what I’m sure the League of
Samba Schools would argue, the parade did not, in fact,
start and stop at these two end points, but rather
marked a transition into a different kind of
parade, something much more architectural and urban. The parade became a loop that
began at the warehouse, moved through the city, paraded
in the Sambadrome, and made its way back
to the warehouses through other parts of the
city, redefining itself in the experience
of the spectator. Here again the map is wrong. For the same reasons, I
didn’t bother to redraw it. There’s no way that it
could ever be current. But I brought my map here,
which has all the markings that I made actually there. So if anyone’s interested to
look at it after the lecture, you’re welcome to. But very important
in the drawing– this drawing, not
that drawing– is that it taught me
something incredible, which was in thinking about the length
of the Sambadrome, the length of one school
parading, and realized how long a line of floats
needed to be for one night, because– wait,
let me start over, because this is
kind of confusing. I was thinking about the length
of the Sambadrome, the length of one school
parading, and realized how long a line of floats
needed to be for one night, but because there are two nights
of special school parading, and each school
having eight floats, I discovered that there’s
one day where there’s 96 floats moving through the city. And this became the
mission for 2015. My now strong and
growing team and I set out to figure out
the float parcourse. Apparently, there’s an
official map of the parcourse, but no one had a
copy of it, not even these officials standing on the
street, moving traffic through. We even made a contact
seemingly high up, the chief person who works under
the main director of the League of Samba Schools, and
whose job is literally to direct the floats
out of Samba City. No surprise, he
didn’t have a map. I wasn’t sure he could
even read a map when I put my precious map
and pen in front of him, so instead he got in our car,
and drove the parcourse with us to show us the route. But, of course, we only
made it about 50% of the way before we realized we were
being led back to Samba City. And the truth is I wasn’t
sure he knew beyond that. But this is the story of
trying to obtain information at every level. It just comes in
these fragments. I also learned by now,
although I set out with questions that seemed
like the next logical step, it doesn’t always
work like this. I have to constantly
ask new questions, and take advantage of
whatever’s in front of me, that the research
is more organic and is being gathered in
cumulative small doses. This trip I was
much more organized. I had a strong team, and I
was ready to try and start producing specific, but,
of course, unknown images for the research. I was accompanied
by hired driver, a few amazing academics. Vera, from the University
Federal in Rio de Janeiro. Silvio, another professor from
Sao Paulo Architecture School. My photographer, an
assistant, and bodyguard hired from a company
called The Bodyguard. We were planning on walking
the parcourse, which meant a lot of dodgy areas
and expensive equipment. But the driver
was happily parked in our cheap parking
spot in Samba City to collect us as we needed. Unfortunately,
the weather turned into a complete downpour. All the floats that were
getting ready to leave were being covered in tarps. And they sat and waited
and waited for the rain to let up before making their
journey to the Avenida Vargas where they line up to
enter the Sambadrome. The rain was a slight
setback, but didn’t stop us from trying to find the
floats wherever they might be. First step out of Samba
City, and already we were confronted
by a scene filled with the most incredible
juxtapositions, the highly articulated but totally
low tech float, an old port warehouse, a
glowing cruise ship, and a herd of camels or
zebras moving down the road. Seeing the floats
within the architecture, as part of the architecture,
made me think of the Portuguese translation for a float
which is [portuguese]. It means the allegorical car. It took a while before
I was able to work that translation out. Every time I said
float, no one understood what I was talking about. Although they sort
of I knew I was referring to some sort of
carnival related element. When I learned the
Portuguese word for float, it reaffirmed its
parallel relationship to ephemeral architecture. An allegory, which
is a story that can be interpreted to
reveal hidden meaning, is also a phenomenon much
greater than the floats themselves. Could carnival itself be a
allegory for architecture? The float transforms the city. Its scale makes exterior
streets into interior rooms of a street theater. Where incredible moments
like these are seen, sidewalks turn into
dressing rooms. I do a lot of work with an
incredible marionette theater group called the
Phantom Limb Company, and in puppetry theater,
there’s a powerful ability for the viewer to feel a sense
of participation and investment in the performance that is
different than typical theater. The scale of the puppets
are forgiving in that you immediately forego a need
to connect the performance to any scale or measurement
that would tie it back to what we understand to be reality. Immediately, you are immersed
in the story, the drama, and the new reality
of the imaginary. Similarly, the suspension of
belief is obtained in carnival. But what is so
striking about this is that it is occurring at an
architectural and urban scale. Not only are the
floats’ physical size equivalent to the
architectural surrounds, but presented against the
existing urban fabric, the floats move through the
city like mobile buildings. They’re so big that they get
stuck in between buildings like this one did. Parts have to get
dismantled on the spot, and keep in mind
that there could be 95 floats behind this one. It is not uncommon to see
fragments of float parts on the sidewalk or in
the middle of the street, layering old with new, real with
fake, permanent with temporary. And to a Brazilian,
this may seem normal, the hyper-reality as a
new kind of standard reality. But to an outsider, this
scale shifts are surreal. There’s a different
kind of theatrical magic that you feel when in a
blink, the imaginary world you just occupied
comes apart with one swift and unscripted move. Here, the odds of seeing
the car costumes heading into a real gas station is
totally real and yet totally not. The performance that occurs in
the assembly and disassembly of the floats is
radically different than the actual parade. It reveals the truth about the
length of the parade, which extends beyond the
Sambadrome and out towards the various
communities within the city. The length of the
parade stretches back to the community centers,
to the float warehouses, through the city
to the Sambadrome, and back through the
city in an endless loop throughout the year. Time, shifting at speed in
accordance to the performance. The allegorical car
frames and reframes our point of view
and questions who is performing– the
carnavalesco or the pedestrian, the building or the float,
the city or the procession? The constantly changing
scene, the proximity to the stage, the materiality,
the surreal relationships all tell a story. And while they are
physical signs showing how the city transforms
like this street sign which is actually rotated
as is this traffic light or the wires being
cut, it is a hidden meaning found inside the floats
beyond their construction and to their communities. Not inside the Sambadrome,
but outside on the streets. This is an interior of
a float, by the way. In the craft behind
the construction, and within an interiority
of the allegorical cars. This is also an interior space. I conclude the
research contemplating if carnival is an
allegory for architecture how can these experiences
begin to influence completely new ways of thinking about the
city and our built environment. And I’ve been
really lucky to have had a few opportunities
to begin testing some of these ideas in
real projects that I’m going to quickly share now. I’ve been really lucky
to have been able, the unique
opportunity to explore spatial and performative
ideas from carnival in tandem with the discoveries
that I’ve made through this ongoing
Wheelwright research. Only a few months after
receiving the prize, I got a call from a woman
named Claire Tancons, who said she was going to be in New
York and hoped we could meet. Claire is an independent
curator and an academic and truly the
maestra of carnival. She’s been researching the
subject for the last 10 plus years. And since our first
meeting, we’ve collaborated on two projects,
and as I mentioned before, we’re also about to embark
on yet a third project. This exhibition, titled “En
Mas: Carnival and Performance Art of the Caribbean,”
which is currently on view at the Contemporary
Art Center in New Orleans commissioned nine
performances by artists whose work is embedded within
a critical carnival dialogue. Mas is short for masquerade,
and synonymous with carnival in the English
speaking Caribbean. A [? mas ?] [? man ?] is
a carnival person similar to a carnavalesco in Brazil. Claire brought me
into this project as the exhibition
designer, which for me was an
exciting opportunity to play out my
recent discoveries about the processional
as architecture or the processional
within architecture. The design for this
show delineated a very dark, almost black
peripheral processional path through the space, a path that
is linear and directional, and yet non-prescriptive. Opposite the path were
centralized and brightly lit colorful three-sided
diorama-like rooms for each of the artists. By separating the
processional from the artwork, I hoped to achieve a clear
distinction between the two elements in order
for the visitor to create their own
experience through the space. As Claire puts it, “En
Mas” considers a history of performance that does
not take place on the stage or in the gallery, but
rather in the streets, addressing not the
few, but the many. Parallel to this,
the perimeter path creates a kind of
street-like path that is both part of the
show and simultaneously a place for personal or
independent direction. So you can begin to see
the path that wraps around and all the artist
work around the center. The challenge of trying
to create a carnival space was doubled by the challenge
of creating an exhibition design for performance. How do you show a performance
that doesn’t feel dead? One way to rectify this was to
remove the factual information out of the artist’s
areas in order to try and create full scale
dioramas that the visitor can walk into and experience
rather than being distracted by dates and geographies,
material, colors, printers. All the factual information
was placed on the perimeter wall adjacent to each artist
and spotlights on the outer wall highlighted the text and
helped to draw the visitor through the darkness. So you can see that’s
the information, not for this person, but
the person next door. And here, again, you
can see the spotlight in the distance
for another person, leading you through
the darkness. Not only is a dialogue
created by the tension between the processional
path and the display, but also by the relationships
between each artists. Early on, we looked at
ways to connect the works either by their geographic
locations– the performances took place throughout
the world– or by the time of year
the performances occurred. And the performances, in
particular, these performances took place at different
times of year, which were not always in sync
with the pre-Lent carnival season. Instead, the cyclical
path reaffirm the fact that carnival is not bound
to one location or one time, and by seeing new
adjacencies between works emphasized a less considered
cyclical nature of carnival. The visitor is
invited to retrace the steps of the
performances, and become an active participant
in their reconstruction, redefining their own
preconceptions of carnival, both as an art form and within
a critical cultural dialogue. The next project began
again, with Claire who had been invited by
Catherine [inaudible] from the Tate Modern to guest
curate a show in the Turbine Hall within the
Performance Department. Having had just come back
from my first trip to Rio, it was all fresh in
my mind when Claire asked me to think
about the Turbine Hall as though it was the Sambadrome. She asked, how could
I transform Herzog and de Meuron’s architectural
space for the Turbine Hall into a carnival space
reminiscent of Oscar Niemeyer’s Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro. I should quickly mention
that, as it turned out, the Turbine Hall is actually
considered an exterior space with a covered roof by the
health and safety standards which we had to
endlessly comply with, so that parallel relationship
was actually quite on point. A seemingly simple idea,
which took a lot of risks within the Tate’s
Performance Department, unwavering support from Claire
as a guest curator, and me, of course, to convince
everyone that it was not that difficult to do. My installation,
“Canopy,” became a monumental and
unprecedented installation within the
Performance Department for the show titled, “Up Hill
Down Hall: An Indoor Carnival.” In Trinidad, there’s
a beautiful tradition of revelers holding
canopies over their heads as they parade. And my proposal became a kind of
deconstructed canopy of ropes, suspended lengthwise, 550 feet
long, and seemingly hairline thin pieces of rope,
physically connected to the building’s roof trusses
on the east and west ends of the hall, and
visually connected the vast space with
10 catenary curves. 5,550 feet of custom made thick,
vibrant, pink-red red ropes hung from one end of
the hall to the other. Spliced together to
form loops to connect to the overhead
building trusses. As a means to enhance
the processional nature of the Turbine Hall, the
ropes enticed audience members through the unique
street size space and guided them alongside the
performers and participants. At the lowest
point in the curve, the ropes split paths and wove
above and below the bridge to bring viewers inside
the space of “Canopy.” This is up close, but
just out of arm’s reach, the ropes reveal
their massive size, and rough twisted texture. Above the central bridge
within the space of “Canopy.” Looking through the ropes
brought your eyes up through to the architecture
of the Turbine Hall. Back down below as the ropes
wove through the colonnade. The event coincided with the
weekend of the Notting Hill Carnival. And as Claire
explained, the show engaged with carnival as
ritual of resistance, festival of otherness in performance
art, and with the Notting Hill Carnival specifically
as a contested site from which to reflect on notions
of public space performance and participation
all situated within the architectural
installation of “Canopy.” Smaller handheld ropes
were choreographed with one of the artists,
the performance artist, Marlon Griffith’s piece, “No
Black in the Union Jack.” These ropes were used as
crowd control devices, and moved in harmony and
discord with the revelers. And the next day was the
Notting Hill Carnival, and actually you see the
handheld ropes being used. Held with tension,
each rope bearer simulated a point
along the line, and defined the space
for the performance. Shifts at each
point along the line redefine the performance
area, and help move the audience and performers
from one end of the hall to the other. Looking down. And that is it. [applause] We’ll take some time
for some questions. Is that all right? Yeah. Do the first tier schools
have any better shot at winning the championship than
the second tier, historically? They don’t compete
against each other. They only compete
within their own league. And actually, whoever scores
the lowest, moves down, and whoever scores the
highest on that lower tier moves up, so there is
opportunity to rotate. But it’s very difficult. Hi. Thank you for your presentation. I was very, very
interested when you suggested that carnival is like
an allegory of architecture. Especially I was
listening to you about probably
you are suggesting or not that some
of the lessons has to be to experience rather
than something else. Dialogue, relationship,
cyclical nature, and also really finding a
specific meaning. So I’m wondering if because it
is also reflected in year round job that you are presenting. It’s probably this
the things that you are going to try to
push forward in part of your research
in the next time or what is next, in other words? I think the goal for
this upcoming year– and it’s probably going
to take another year, to be honest– is
getting a little bit more into the community aspects
of carnival, the people. I don’t feel like I have
a firm grasp on that. But the way that the
information has been unfolding or has unfolded has
been really organic, like really horizontal, a lot
of little bits, but not in mass. So I think if I can just
continue to gather information horizontally eventually it’s
going to build upward too. So it’s a little
bit of everything, but with a particular focus
on the community aspects. Thanks, Gia. That was a great presentation. I have a question that
I think a lot of people think about when they
look at carnival, which is that aesthetically, and
craft wise, and fabrication wise, it’s all very
old world, traditional, and you’d said at the beginning,
lots of beads and feathers, and you dig in deep, and
there’s Styrofoam, and metal. And of course, from
your perspective, and from designer’s
perspective, you’re interested in where is the
progressiveness in architecture and material technology. Do you see any of
that happening? And if not, then why is it that
they’re not exploring not just progressive ways of making,
but also progressive imagery? Or I mean, I know that it’s
based in a community aesthetic, and, of course, it
has a long tradition, and there’s a fondness for
this kind of aesthetic, but the idea of art direction
being conceptual as opposed to literal, which
you’d also touched on. I’m going to try to answer this. So there’s one or
two schools that are getting external sponsorship. You can’t actually
have sponsorship on the floats themselves,
but there’s other ways to promote sponsorship. Like the schools
get these VIP rooms that they cover with
sponsorship or dinners. I don’t know what it is exactly. But there are some
schools that are moving to getting
Russian choreographers and other international
people involved. And so they’re
taking the, I think they’re the schools that are
much more innovative in terms of technology. I don’t have that
many photos of it, and I haven’t had access to the
warehouses of the schools that are doing that, but I know
that a few are doing it. And there is a riff, I think, in
whether that’s the right thing to do or not, whether you
stay with this tradition or you find ways to
advance it and change it with a changing world. And then I think there’s
another part to it where people like the tradition. I don’t know. I mean, even some of the ideas
that I’ve been bringing up to people like even just
tracking the floats in the city is not something anybody
thinks twice about there. For them, it’s the parade. It’s like when everything
comes together, and that perfect
image of the carnival, that’s what people like. And when you talk about the
floats moving through the city, it’s like it’s off the map. They don’t even know what
I’m asking for when I’m like, do they go down this road? They’re like, they’re
parading in the Sambadrome. No, no, but I want to
know how do they get back to the Samba City? It’s such a foreign
question, I think. They’re sort of focused
on what carnival is in a really traditional way. But I think it’s changing. Some of it. In New Orleans–
and you apparently have been doing some
work in New Orleans– the routes of the parades
are very important. There is a lot of awareness of
the routes and the different, and if there’s been a
change in the route. I just wonder maybe if you could
talk a little bit about how New Orleans practices
Mardi Gras in particular are similar and different from
what you’ve been working on in Brazil. But also thinking about a
place where the activity is so vibrant and still really part
of the culture, how successful, if you want to do an exhibition
or a museum thing, where people can go outside and actually
participate in the real living expression of some
of this, how do you work with that so that the
museum so it’s more successful? Have you found ways
that that’s successful? I can imagine people
going like, why would I want to go see it in a museum
when there’s a parade happening this afternoon? I’m exaggerating a little, but
this tension between the museum exhibition and the real life. You mean the Tate show? Any or the
Contemporary Art Museum in a place like New
Orleans or anywhere where you’re trying to do an
exhibition about something that actually has a living
expression in the culture, how successful or
do you have any, try to come to terms with how
it can be successful or not? I don’t know if that’s. I’m not totally sure I
understand the second question, but in terms of the
Mardi Gras question, I think there’s actually a
lot of parallels to how New Orleans does carnival to Rio. I’m pretty sure they compete. They have warehouses. They build all year long. They don’t have the Sambadrome. They do parade through
the streets, which is super exciting, and there’s
a lot of other countries that I am hoping to
get to at some point to see that as a comparison,
like the actual parading through the city. Beyond that, I don’t know
that much about New Orleans. I have never been to Mardi Gras. And the focus of the
Wheelwright research has been
internationally focused. And also, trying to keep my
particular focus on carnivals where the floats
are architecturally scaled, because there’s so
many carnivals everywhere with really interesting
and exciting floats. There’s one in Amsterdam
that happens, I think, the first weekend in September
that’s kind of like the Rose Parade, but not exactly. It’s a little bit more extreme,
and that’s also really cool. And I want to go to that, but
it doesn’t have the same sort of scale or parallelism. So I’ve been trying to
keep my focus a little bit to really, really huge floats. I’m not really sure about
the second question. In a place where there is a
living tradition of parading and live music–
Mardi Gras, carnival– and if you’re going to try
to do an exhibit about that. And it was a little bit of
the show in New Orleans that’s there right now, as I
was looking at that, I was thinking how successful
is that likely to be in a place where it’s all around you and
potentially in public realm? I mean, you can just
stumble on parades. Are lots of people
interested in going to see a show about
carnival parading in a place where you can actually
participate in it? I mean, I’m not sure I would
imagine that they would be especially interested
in it, because they’re so familiar with carnival
in their own city, and here they are seeing
examples of artists doing work, not even necessarily traditional
kind of carnival related work, but whose work themselves
is taken from carnival, and done all over the world. I have a short question. I’m curious, because
I don’t know so much about the carnival in Brazil. I’m curious where
it was originated. What is the history
of the carnival? It somehow, the way
you described it, it reminded me of
football clubs that you have certain part of the
city that associate themself with a certain club. And I’m curious how
it affects the dynamic within the community
in the city, and how the carnival,
and the dynamic between the carnival and the
city, how to form one another. Over the years
since its inception, it has really kind
of transformed to become like a sport in a way. And while it still has
a lot of traditions and borrows from a lot of,
that each school has a theme, and the themes are often some
sort of historical person or it could also be
a contemporary singer or something like that. You do you often see a
lot of visual imagery that talks a lot about
cultural or historical aspects of carnival. But I think in its inception–
and I’m not a huge specialist on the full history
of carnival– it is deep rooted in African
slavery in Brazil and religion, and having to hide
through carnival, hiding a lot of
tribal traditions. I just have one question. All architecture
requires usually lots of capital behind it. And I’m curious in the
production of these floats how are the different
schools generating capital, and why has it not been co-opted
by large scale sponsorship or how has there been devices
of resistance to keep it really in the community, and not
taken over by Petrobras or whoever in Brazil? Well, Petrobras actually gives
all the schools a ton of money. The city gives the
schools a lot of money. And the winners get
tons, I don’t know, like a million reais, 10 million
reais, like a ton of money. And they generate money through
costumes, selling costumes, and through a lot
of participation. So the 2,000 or 3,000
or however many people that are not part of
the community, costumes are expensive. So that’s one way
of generating money. And I think they have a lot
of parties like every week or every year, something. They have parties. There’s all sorts of different
ways to generate money. But it hasn’t been
co-opted by sponsors like you’d see in
the Macy’s Day Parade where each float is
sponsored by so and so. No, they don’t
really allow that. They don’t allow the
sponsorship to be shown. The images that you
saw of the dancers with the checkered
flags, the theme for that was a race car driver. And so there was innuendos
of– not innuendos– but hints at sponsorship from
different gasoline companies, and so it was a
little controversial. But like I said before,
you can get sponsorships, outside sponsorships,
but it’s just not shown in the actual parading. It’s shown in other ways. [inaudible] trouble
earlier this year. There are schools accepting
big chunks of money, and it actually impacts their
entire theme and art direction. And schools are now discovering
this marketing model where they can sell
themselves as specialists. In fact, the school that won
this year got a ton of money from a horrible
African dictator. And the theme was
kind of about him. [? so it was ?]
[? changing the ?] [? message. ?] Right. Yeah. Yeah. But it didn’t directly
say, but it was definitely. It was amazing to me how
mysterious the story became at some point, but it was like
as you were looking for reasons or trying to map the
procession through the city, and it seemed like
no one had the code, no one knew what it meant. And when you laid out this
idea of an allegorical cart, I think you could
really theorize this, because the theory
of allegory is deep. And part of it, at least, has
to do with allegories work with material, the code for
which, the meaning of which has been lost. Part of allegory is
a kind of making do. I think [? cathy’s ?]
question about why doesn’t technology progress
in the practice of carnival, and there’s something
about, in allegory, it’s always a making do. It’s independent of an
instrumentalized technology. It’s almost a kind of bricolage
that you use leftover pickup trucks and leftover machinery
that have functioned elsewhere in order to run the floats. And that itself is a kind
of allegorical operation. But ultimately, I’m
thinking of allegories that become covering,
like a way of covering for certain traditions
that are resilient, that came with slavery. Ultimately, like
football, starts off as an allegory of some
kind of battle, say, but ultimately, allegories
become about themselves. They gain an autonomy,
because they’re so reflexive and reiterative. So ultimately, football
is about football. It’s not really about, it’s
not an allegory for battle. It’s just about football. And I think there’s something
about the carnival itself, it’s just about carnival. It’s lost its
religious attachments. It’s lost its– it’s even
resist economic attachments in a certain way. And it just becomes
self-replicating in a way, which is
kind of fascinating. And I feel like I’m
self-replicating right now. Jorge, last question. I’m wondering whether, I’m
looking with great interest, because I think there
are many stories here. And I just want
to ask you how far or not these is from
what you originally wanted to investigate. Because, let’s face
it, carnival in Rio is a thing in itself,
which has, as far as I’m concerned,
probably by now very little to do with
carnival in Brazil. The idea as much as
it’s very interesting that you build a street that
you only use once a year instead of doing it
through the street, it tells you that we’re
dealing with something else. And then the millions of
dollars and the sponsorships and the cost, and
then we know there is carnival in Brazil in
other cities, as you say, you plan to go. My sense now is that this
has become another phenomenon frankly, which has, of
course, a great interest. But I wonder how you feel
when you discover all these behind the scenes, all
these money, a Sambradrome where you go to parade
in a street that is not a street anymore, and how that
may compare with carnival still being performed and generated
in the communities with not this sponsorship, but just with
the will and effort of people in small communities. It just sounds to me that this
is a huge business related to tourism. We know that it is, in fact. Carnival in Rio is
a thing by itself. For sure, for sure. I think when I discovered the
start points and the endpoints of the parade, the project
really transformed. It became clear that it
really, the interest was not about the actual parade
in the Sambadrome, although it was totally exciting
to witness and be a part of, it was everything else. That interest has continued to
unfold in so many other ways, trying to chase these images
and just find the floats, find the streets that
they’re going down, and catch them getting
stuck and dismantled, and having these
things whiz by you. None of that is anything
to do with the tourists. You just don’t find those photos
in the newspapers and anywhere, and any sort of
Google interneting, you just don’t
find those photos. They’re just not
interested in it. To them, carnival is really
about this perfect picture. It’s about these
coffee table books, and so as soon as you start
posing any of these questions to them, they have no idea
what you’re talking about. And so it’s really like you
just have to go find it. The amount of
these conversations asking a guy on the street
who’s helping monitor traffic, like do the floats,
what time are they going to be over there,
where do they go? And it’s like a 30
minute conversation to not really get the answer
that you’re looking for, because he has no idea
what you’re really asking. Because it’s just
not on their radar. I don’t know if that fully
answers the question, but, I think, on one hand,
it is about the tourists, it is about this perfect
picture that you see down the Sambadrome, but the
interest of the project at least has been discovered
that it’s not that. It’s everything around
that and everything that leads up to that
even throughout the year. So Cathy, Ben, new rules. Now, Wheelwright winner’s have
to come and give two lectures. One after the end of their
research phase, but then the next one is how it
affects and the repercussions in your own work as you’re
beginning to show here. That’s next year. So we’ll see you then. Sounds good. See you then. Thank you. Well, see you in December. Thank you.

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