Cartooning idealizes a subject by drawing out some essence. Cartooning is an intermediary state, a subject becomes condensed and malleable. The cartoon prepares a subject for irony, kitsch, or critique. In the case of the Koons, the essentialized pup, stripped of detail and inflated to enormity, opens up a kind of metakitsch, a gigantic hyper banality. It's this disproportion that gives the work its meaning.
Gehry also makes cartoons, forms full of pared depiction. The mimetic reading is both irresistible, totally legit, and unavoidable. This engages both the obvious sources (all those fish) and a certain incitement to ferret out the metaphor. I've read, among others, a description in which Disney Hall is compared to a flower. It never struck me thus: I am reminded rather of those dancing hippopotami in Disney's Fantasia, improbably light of foot. And the building is ineffable in similar wise. Curvy, twisted renditions of shapes that approach familiar platonic forms but that ---like cartoon houses--- bulge with the energy of (incipient) animation. The building is both beautiful and incredibly apt to its patron.
The invention of the movies was transformative for architecture, paralleling and informing the invention of the idea of space. A medium that allows the continuous depiction of space, the movies goaded architecture into a new sense of flow, creating an idea of the palpability--- the physics--- of the space. Space was no longer just a byproduct of the order of events. Animated, the rush of space could be expected to have an effect on the material conditions through which it passed. Film was able, for the first time, to capture the blur of speed much the way we --- slow to process our own environment --- perceive it. Interest in such distortion through attenuation has something of a history, originating in our ability to cross the landscapes at increasing speeds --- the view from the train or the car. (Remember all those stretched buildings in the sixties "responding" to the view from the road!)
The film conceit is useful to architecture both for its ability to capture the effects of space and for its store of techniques. I'm thinking of the basic technology of filmmaking, the decomposition of a continuous kinetic activity into a series of static frames, the stills that undergird the motion. This is an uncanny metaphor for architecture, for something that is constructed via a sequence of precisely measured stabilities to produce something that finds its ultimate legibility in motion. Nothing more clearly encapsulates architecture's relationship to the idea of motion than the photographs of Eadweard Muybridge. Here the idea is not to create motion but to stop it, to decompose and deconstruct it, to add precisely the necessary stasis to open motion to analysis and, ultimately, to reconstitution.
which brings us back to cartooning. An animated cartoon is a kind of gesamtkunstwerk that, like its cathedral forebears, requires the precisely coordinated assembly of a huge number of individually produced, static elements in order to construct a singularity. A single cartoon cel, then, somehow contains the implication of its successors, the idea that motion, being physical, can be created from its particles. The most revealing and intimate momet in animated cartoons is that familiar image of Wile E. Coyote who, have just barreled over a cliff, takes a few moments to discover that he is running through thin air, looks down, and only then plummets to earth.
In Gehry's practice, much weight is put on the sketch, on the spontaneity of impulse and on an essence of ineffable character to which all obeisance must be paid. For Gehry (like Disney), the next step is an inversion. The sketch, which defies conventional geometrical organization, must be translated into a system of precise corrdinates and known structural properties, all of which depend on an undergirding Euclideanism. The forms are derived after the fact.
This act suggests a constant tension--- constant relationship--- between a system of familiar Platonic solids and a set of spontaneous forms that riff but do not ape this set of familiars,much as Mickey resembles a mouse but looks like no mouse we've ever seen. The fantasy is thus inversly symmetrical with the sketch that distorts the unfolding reality it both exaggerates and simplifies. The Disney project is also a distortion, a cartoon that inflates the unseen ideal from: those shapes in Disney Hall are both dancing flowers or hippos but also dancing not-cubes and not-rectangles, distorted away from the familiar but not so far as to cease affinity.
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