The circus arrives without warning: SCI-Arc SPRING SHOW 2020

3D fragments of an industrial building, chunks of 3D models bottlenecked in procession through its doorways, animated rabbits munching on over-sized digital donuts, crazed drones and cyborg-driven bird scooters wielding video screens playing films of queer worlds, ibexes marauding around followed by simulated cityscapes and library bars spewing out sheets of historical and theoretical publications from a virtual printer, sections of Victorian mansions encrusted with digital impastos jostling with strange panels involuting perverse combinations of subcultural imagery, balloons and smoke raining down from the ceiling swum through by elevated fish and surveilling eyeballs, a troupe of half-bodied dancers becostumed in icing, lacey Z-brush textures, and insectoidal whirring mechanical accoutrements emblazoned with “SCI-Arc,” motion-captured anatomies glitching madly, a menagerie inundated by a digital flood flushing the whole thing out and bearing a fruit-laden trolley screening a curator talking in a velvet jacket…

On Saturday May 2nd, 2020 SCI-Arc’s first all-digital Spring Show opened during the Main E-vent with a procession co-produced by John Cooper and Mariana Curti, with Saleh Jamsheer, Zane Mechem, Kumaran Parthiban, Justine Poulin, and choreography by Jasmine Albuquerque and Emeka Simmons.

The procession featured selections of SCI-Arc student work exhibited in the Spring Show, and was broadcast live on and exhibited there until May 31st. The processional form was chosen before the COVID-19 pandemic. We wanted to carn(iv)alize the end of year show and produce new ways of seeing student work. The event was executed in lockdown when the manifestation of creativity had swung to live streaming of digital artifacts, conveying in all their chimerical, carnivalesque multiplicity the current traits of architectural speculation at SCI-Arc in Spring 2020. This text describes some aspects of the procession in which those artifacts were conveyed.


Fig. 2. Project titles. Credit: Saleh Jamsheer


Rodney Rojas, the SCI-Arc shop manager, said at the beginning of the planning process, “it’s all going to end in the trash.” He was looking at the original exhibition in terms of materials, labor, and waste. The studios overflowing with the trash of creativity are beautiful. Fascinating both as an archaeological record of production and as a productive mélange of forms, trash is conventionally that which is out-cast, excluded from the exhibition. In an exhibition of architectural projects, everything is right on the verge of returning to the trash out of which it has been salvaged for the moment of exhibition (just held together, unpeeling, hanging on, fudged, concealing misprints, but for a moment, perfect). Drawing, model, research, site, city: they are all artifacts of labor, design, creativity; of waste, of the obsolescence of the discipline and of that vast conglomeration of loose, artifactual trash which constitutes Los Angeles.

Like trash, the artifact of architectural design exists in a non-arrested state of transvaluation: its value is always changing, from one thing into another. Spring Show is in this light a poignant moment within the trajectory that moves from the architectural process of creation to obsolescence, upon which it is the task of curation to fix the gaze. One way in which this is done is through shifting between moments of low-res and high-res animation (in software terms: between Unity and Octane). In the selected project titles by Saleh Jamsheer, lights hit the models, slowed down in the exquisite arrest of an animation; the artifact shines in perfect resolution and is taken out of time. Then it plunges back in and scrambles along after its animated ibex, smashes into a projection, gets covered in pink mist, is nibbled at by a rabbit, and is washed away out of the building by the physics simulator inundation of flooding waters. There is a tension between the singularity of an idea and the multiplicity of its context. The work exists immaculately, elsewhere in images on Twitch and in portfolios. But the fun, craziness, and laboriousness of digital production all require the expenditure of excess which is made visible in the effort of the processional movement en masse through space.

As curators, we had always talked about the idea of profanation from the inception of the exhibition. We considered how we could create a discussion around the usual packaging and sacralization of the architectural project by profaning it and emphasizing the life and death of the model instead. We considered life as involving all the labor, waste and excess, and the death being the consumption and then the ultimate destruction of the project. So we were not only profaning the way of exhibiting models, but also the format of the show itself (profaning in the sense that Giorgio Agamben uses it–of returning to common use what has been removed into the realm of the sacred).See Giorgio Agamben, “What is an apparatus?” in What is an apparatus? And Other Essays (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2009), pp. 1-24.


Fig. 3. Spring Show Circular. Credit: Marija Radisavljevic


Lobsters, ice cream, hot sauce, toilet paper, bleach: juxtapositions of flavor, taste, substance, and recipe permeated the show and were initially worked out through the interface of the Spring Show circular designed by SCI-Arc Art Director Marija Radisavljevic. The circular arrived in an unexpected format (the commercial printer had trouble understanding whether or not SCI-Arc was a grocery store), it also re-situated architecture at SCI-Arc within its immediate urban context, and mixed together reference points, tastes, associations, languages, social strata. On the event of its publication many students immediately claimed its language, posting Instagram videos of themselves sifting through junk mail to find it, animating it with their own digital fruit selections, and producing photo shoots with it in a dime store.

Architectural models are carefully made through an intense labor to be presented (eaten/consumed). Then their purpose is expired like rotten food–they become an inconvenience. This recalcitrance of the model stands in contrast to the frictionless mobility of digital models as they are often animated in pin-ups and presentations. Components of assemblages fall miraculously out of the sky, are exploded and glide back together, slotting in everywhere perfectly with total smoothness. This spectacle presents the image of a perfectly functioning unseen and uncontested architectural authority which belies the resistances through which all material constructs (including software) come into being and become situated in a world. We felt the entrance of each model should be more revelatory by dis-attaching the components out of which digital models are composed, rendering it clear that each entity is an (ir)resolution of contending imperatives. All digital models are chimerical in this respect. For example, when the animals move, the animation of their limbs does not itself actually produce their displacement—instead it derives from a separately applied vector controlled by an invisible collision bounding box. The image of the animated ibex treading water, going nowhere while the Zago studio model following it is jammed in a model doorway, being showered with physics simulated balloons is, from this point of view, a more telling incarnation of the agency of the architect in a pre-existing, non-empty (digital) space.

The moment of immaculateness is beautiful, as when untouched food arrives and is delivered to the table for hungry guests. But then there is the eating: the breaking open of substance, the mixing of juices, the bite, the mastication and salivation, all the juissance of appetite and conversation (and disgust, rejection, secret regurgitation..), the conviviality, wiping of lips and general disorder of the finished plates. A good event has to have both feasting and laboring to break the order, get loosened up, let out energy, produce feeling. Architectural work at SCI-Arc is visually stunning; and therefore, also to be joyously consumed in company. This festive conviviality was the mode of hospitality through which the show attempted to invite the interest of guests from within and outside of the institution.


Fig. 4. SCI-Arc Spring Show procession. Credit: John Cooper, Mariana Curti, Saleh Jamsheer, Zane Mechem, Kumaran Parthiban, Justine Poulin.


By the opening of Spring Show, we had all been locked out of the building for weeks. The procession was a way to reinhabit the space. The SCI-Arc building is long and thin like a procession: one long enfilade with a single marche à suivre. Everyone missed being with each other there. Being and working together is the life of a school. It advances fermentation, cross-pollination/contamination (competition and negotiation too). By April the building had already become an artifact of a previous way of existing. Reanimating the building through a 3D model, we were already acting like archaeologists. Hence the importance of animation and animated beings: they were vicarious. The digital must be occupied. Animals and animalistic agents with behaviors (scooters, drones, carts) infiltrate lockdown, providing vehicles through which everybody could project themselves back into the familiar space of a community, a digital ground held in common.

The brief moment of reprieve from a regime of enforced regulation evoked carnival. Carnival is a religious celebration, before a period of fasting, where “normality”, or religious behavior is suspended for a short period of time. It’s a reversal ritual, in which social roles are reversed and norms about desired behavior are suspended. The spurious assumes authority. It is an ornamented, exaggerated, excessive celebration of the flesh, excessive consumption, profanity and desecration. It’s a packaging of abnormal and subversive behavior into this beautifully represented, festive format, which is a little bit of what SCI-Arc represents as well. At a time of social distancing we wanted to talk about that, and vicariously produce a space for the crushing together of presences in an atmosphere of isolation.


The procession distributes the student models/drawings/videos in space and time. Every artifact has a mode of appearing: it is out of sight, then it arrives. It must be carried along a route in respect of other trajectories before and after and around it, it must have a manner of displacement, positioning, and settling. It must negotiate, jostle, with its companions. The procession as a whole has the fluid dynamics of an inundation. The task was to move from emptiness to overflowing, to the accumulation of structures. What follows what, what comes when, where it all ends up, what thresholds are passed through, what configurations emerge along the way, where and how does everything pile up, how can order be maintained within disorder, what kind of ordering is this (not totalitarian, not chaos, something between). Formal questions of arrangement and sequence are social questions of cohabitation, contamination, kinship all of which have relevance to the gamut of architectural methodologies in play across diverse SCI-Arc studios. The procession is a competition for space; but the competition is embedded within the artifacts themselves. Data is heavy or light, chunks are ripped off from models to fit in, everything is wrapped in invisible bounding boxes determining what collides with what, kinetic transparency does not correspond with optical transparency, animation of limbs and parts is one thing–the actual vector along which an artifact displaces is completely disassociated (cats tread water gliding slowly, models follow the path of a bull with the invisible harness of equivalent applied trajectories, video panels float in and out of the herd). The space of the procession is a zone of interoperability: all forms of life and geometry are universally translated into the medium of the .fbx file format which affords heterogeneous stylistic/generic cohabitation of a platform/world. Interoperability is the new mode of being of the architectural model that emerges from the show.


The structural principle guiding the unfolding of the procession/exhibition is the “block.” Each block stands for a moment in this procession that tells a part of this story. The objects chosen to be presented in each of these blocks will be determined by how they speak to the conceptualization, labor, presentation, and inconvenience of the moment. The blocks don’t necessarily have to be floats in a traditional sense: they can be actions, a group of organized people, a collection of images, a certain event, etc. Blocks were composed out of the aesthetics of SCI-Arc models and the combinatory logics of food (cake, cotton candy, jell-o) or food receptacles (supermarket shelves, baskets, tables and plates). Groups of cyborgs formed blocks carrying images and films on sticks. Action blocks punctuated the procession with eventuality: moments of destruction or eating intensify attention on materiality and composition. In carnival, or any traditional procession, the blocks are usually organized into geometric components of the “parade.” In this case, the blocks were messy and somewhat disorderly. They were almost “too much,” bashing into each other, juxtaposed, happening simultaneously. It was difficult to pay attention to a specific part of the procession for a long time. In Brazilian carnival, the floats bearing installations are called allegorias (“allegories”). In that sense the procession “allegorizes” the architectural model–each block divulges a story. The exhibition amounts to an anthology of these allegories.


Fig. 6. SCI-Arc Spring Show procession. Credit: John Cooper, Mariana Curti, Saleh Jamsheer, Zane Mechem, Kumaran Parthiban, Justine Poulin.


The procession is full of animals. On Zoom in the final review of Hernán Díaz Alonso’s studio Peter Cook referred to what he called the SCI-Arc “hedgehog”–by which he meant to refer, we think, to a characteristic species within the general bestiary which constitutes the models made by SCI-Arc students each year. The procession begins with a bull. The bull has paternalistic, agriculturalist connotations, but it is a daintily animated bull, bearing no weight and no harness (the allegories follow after it autonomously). After the bull come the hares, ibexes, tiger kittens, wolf cubs, goats, deer, drones, llamas, and pike (fish) among a menagerie of model chunks, renderings, videos, projections, Lime/Bird scooters, 3D fruit, simulated particulates, and torrents of balloons. Mikhail Bakhtin wrote about the carnivalesque as a condition of “heteroglossia” (many conflicting languages) where the world and all its systems of values are turned upside down.See Mikhail Bakhtin, “Introduction,” Rabelais and His World (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984; orig. 1936), pp. 1-58. The procession is riotous like that because SCI-Arc is riotous like that down the whole length of its processional enfilade of studios, progressively filling up and spilling over their pony walls throughout a semester. Before lockdown we were in the process of acquiring city permits for llamas sourced from Hollywood wranglers and working with the administration to negotiate human-animal cohabitation protocols, including fire regulations. Boundaries and transgressions, the body, health, security, contamination, all became regulatory issues. For student architectural models to become entangled in regulatory negotiations is for their situatedness to come to the fore.


Fig. 7. SCI-Arc Spring Show procession. Credit: John Cooper, Mariana Curti, Saleh Jamsheer, Zane Mechem, Kumaran Parthiban, Justine Poulin.


RoseLee Goldberg says that throughout history, when art has reached an impasse and has been in need of change, or displacement from origins, and reorientation toward new directions, artists have resorted to performance because performance provides an environment of “radical permissivity” in which new kinds of action can be played out.See the Preface to RoseLee Goldberg, Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present (London: Thames & Hudson, 2010) We find SCI-Arc to be a highly permissive space, but at the same time, one that is stratified by often unseen, constraining and legitimating pressures. Riotousness and play conjoin in the permissive, simultaneously divulging the existence of limits and external forces as well as constraints of permission. The same can be said of the street procession of UNOVIS in Vitebsk after the Russian revolution, the Bauhaus theater in Dessau, the “Urboeffimeri” parades by UFO in Florence in the 1960s: all moments that tested the limits of the permissible within architecture.


Fig. 8. SCI-Arc Spring Show procession. Credit: John Cooper, Mariana Curti, Saleh Jamsheer, Zane Mechem, Kumaran Parthiban, Justine Poulin. Choreography by Jasmine Albuquerque and Emeka Simmons


In the procession, “green men,” stock anatomies, and motion-captured dancers usher in, and are clad with, a host of artifacts. The procession processes. It raises the question of the body and the body’s presence in a space like this, the relationships it maintains to other bodies and other entities. This is part of the experience of co-habiting institutional space with oneself and one’s work and of negotiating holistic relationships with various suites of assets and their associated economics and politics. Donna Haraway writes: “a cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction” in whom there is a pleasurable “confusion of boundaries.”Donna Haraway, “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s,” Socialist Review 80, no. 1 (1985), pp. 65-66. The human-software hybrids which produce architectural work are manifested by dancing cyborgs in the procession. Choreographers Jasmine Albuquerque and Emeka Simmons motion captured themselves dancing. Skeletons emerged, macabre ones often, with disjointed legs, dancing back to front, like dances of death. There were speeds and complexities, involutions that the skeletons couldn’t keep up with: singularities erupt into glitching choreographics. Jasmine and Emeka could see that. It fed back into their moves, leading to adjustments. The body recalibrated itself according to its avatars. From this emerged an indexical “body rig” whose origins were equally in a human body and software. How to flesh out the array of joints which constitutes the rig became a question of how to personify the institution at this particular world-historical moment. The downloadable stock bodies of 3D warehouses are ridden with white, hetero normativities. They don’t look good. Florencia Pita’s studio “Play House” had worked with digitalized painting techniques inspired by artist Matthew Stone. Kumaran Parthiban and Justine Poulin, who developed this part of the procession, applied similar logics to hollow out, disjoint, and aerate 3D anatomies and breed them, reduplicating figures so that from two dancers a multitudinous corps of cyborgian dancers appeared. Kumaran and Justine encrusted the twice-choreographed dancers with costume artifacts that energized the body with shaders, projectively situating it within a condition of collective digital effervescence. The camera also dances.


Fig. 9. SCI-Arc Spring Show Unity model. Credit: Zane Mechem


When the real SCI-Arc building became inaccessible, the model became real. A Unity file orchestrated by Zane Mechem was populated by a building model, movable animals, and digital assets had originally been created to test out different processional configurations for the physical procession. Now it served as the reality which would be filmed and edited together into a final sequence. What would result can be called a procession of processions: the procession of these models is bridled with the procession of those ones, the procession of further models is sutured onto the procession of yet other models in a continuous sequence of discontinuity holding everything together in a net of sound. If you were to ask for a map of the procession the clearest expression would be the tracks in Premiere Pro.


Fig. 10. SCI-Arc Spring Show Premiere Pro tracks. Credit: Mariana Curti

The narrative of the procession is produced wholly by the editing process. Original Unity recordings extracted from the model were far from being in any way chronological or ordered. Mari, who produced the edit, received from Zane a file with hundreds of minutes of footage: an excess–excessive not only in the quantity of artifacts it contained, but also in the richness and intensity of the data. This was a reflection of the wasteful and excessive process of designing in the digital, and that was what made it all more interesting. There was an exponential growth of footage that had to be processed in a short period of time. The curating was in the editing, the packaging, and the enunciation of it all through sound. It was editing according to the logic of the dung beetle rolling its beautifully shaped pile of dung collected from the various piles of waste it discovers. The waste was the architecture produced, repurposed into the procession instead of placed into the usual white gallery on a pedestal—untouched—as is the dung beetle’s pile of sculptural accumulation. Models were procured, further reduced, reformatted, and transformed into a spectacle of climactic accumulation. The project which had been—like food—cooked, consumed, and digested, was also excreted, and then found itself finally rolling into the digital hallways of SCI-Arc, while being nibbled on, run over, thrown around, and eventually officially disbursed by flood. This is how the procession was edited/eaten into a video file that tells a story of the life and death of the model. The life was full of disorder and the death full of delight.


Fig. 11. SCI-Arc Spring Show procession. Credit: John Cooper, Mariana Curti, Saleh Jamsheer, Zane Mechem, Kumaran Parthiban, Justine Poulin.


When John received the first version of the sound for the procession he said: “This is horrible — in a good way!” Mari laughed and thought that was the best way to describe it. It was as if we had taken all the ideas for the procession, digested them, and vomited them in the form of sound. After that, the sound was imagined as its own sentient monster, gobbling up all sorts of farm sounds, Mariachi music, percussion drums, electronic wobbles, and gargling sounds (most of these Mari’s own) it could find, eating it like food, and vomiting everything into one big mp3 file. It was done in the most Pollockian way possible, violently and delicately throwing buckets of sounds into the Premiere Pro audio canvas. In the end its making was in some way a reflection of the “crazy shit” happening in the actual film. Everything was edited as one big organism, the footage, the sounds, dances, costumes, speeches, title sequences, to be cleared away through the open orifices of the SCI-Arc building suspended in the groundless space of a modelling environment.

Processional form projects the architectural model not only into the dimension of time but into the aspect of sound. What do models sound like? It is part of their attitude–some of them squelch, some fizz, others are clamoring horns. To be present, the model must announce itself audibly. Sound emphasizes two further aspects of the model: its itinerancy and its volatility. The audio trace of a model in the procession is an artifact of its apprehension. Location in space is ultra-sonic and volatile. A sonic section of the procession might show you, in compressed form, the ebb and flow of studio life over a whole year. Isolating the sound–for example, of masticating–plunges you into the interior of an event (like eating). It is intimately corporeal and publicly atmospheric and can be both disgusting and fascinating and not what you expect. The charge of the whole procession is carried by the audio dimension: it initiates its suspense, builds its energy, announces its phase changes, delivers its climax, and controls the dissipation of its ending. If the exhibition of architectural models is to remain, as it appears it will, purely digital, the digital must be milked for every dimension of viscerality it has.

[Audio clip of gargling and spitting] from Offramp Editor on Vimeo.