A celebration of the gorgeous grotesque, these glinting arachnoid fabrications exhibit an idiosyncratic formal language
Hernan Diaz Alonso and his practice Xefirotarch excite many conflicting emotions. Diaz Alonso’s architecture is like the man himself, a tad Gothic, exuberant, convoluted and often handsome and theatrical. His watchwords are ‘Mutation, Horror, Grotesque’, the ‘boredom of perfection’ and ‘monstrosity is the new sex’.
Yet behind all the PR and showboating is a visceral understanding of scenic rhythms, of space and void, filmic establishing shots and the metamorphosis of composition learned from decades of looking at movie and computer screens − in short an almost Baroque sensitivity. Diaz Alonso, like many of his colleagues in the rarefied atmosphere of SCI-Arc in Los Angeles, is pushing the computer and its softwares as far as possible to create architectures that are almost floral, biomorphic and cyborgian.
In this ‘new world’, the old aphorisms of Modernism (‘form follows function’, ‘ornament is crime’) are not just ignored but actively abused. Function, space, programmes and constructional pragmatism are thrown to the winds, supplicant to the synthetic, sinuous curves of the new bio-computational replicants.
Currently housed in the MAK archive in Vienna, Pitch Black is a modest installation for Diaz Alonso, yet it is one of my favourite pieces of his work. It has poise and a lightness of touch but equally it is astounding in its fragility and alien-ness. ‘Fear and lust hide in the dark’, Diaz Alonso says of the project.
A swarm of arachnids of indeterminate size: are they nano-spiders or of Louise Bourgeois-style proportions?
The installation consists of five elements including projections, line drawings and digital 3D prints. But the real focus is the ‘spiders’, whose spindly, splayed limbs resemble baby deer learning to walk, and the beautiful 3D-printed silvery forms surmounting them, which combine metallic driftwood and the mercurial fluidity of a nanotech Terminator 2.
The whole ensemble gives the impression of cyborgian forms becoming stronger − at the moment benign but for how much longer? Fear, yes, of which might come next − what these aliens might turn into? Lust, maybe, a lust for the strange, the different and the chromed digital caress. You are also reminded of the jewel-like quality of these pieces and their a-scalar appearance.
In terms of scale, Diaz Alonso’s work has explored such subjects as cutlery for Alessi in his ‘Instruments of Manner’ series, chairs and other installations, as well as competition entries and invitations to apply his skills to a variety of architectural issues. I find the smaller pieces more convincing mainly for their anthropomorphic tactility. Some of the ‘Instruments of Manner’ are exquisite.
Up close, a chrome-plated thorax glints like jewellery
A few critics have seized on the apolitical nature of Diaz Alonso’s oeuvre and it is partly true that the politics of his work are undeclared. Yet, this trait is not confined to Diaz Alonso but is shared by many younger architects. Indeed I would argue that architects across the world are mostly apolitical except for the transparent worthies who eat grass, ride bikes and transmit contagious boredom in company. Apoliticism in youth can be excused for a while, justified by unrestrained exuberance and a less deep understanding of the vicissitudes of history. It is after all what late capitalism wants us to do − forget and crave the new in all its cyborgian forms.
But this quest for the new, in all its forms, can sometimes throw the baby out with the bath water. Once we discover something ‘new’ how long does it satiate our desires for the even ‘newer’? Or can it leave us with a sense
of anti-climax when we discover it is not as earth-shakingly original as we had hoped. Diaz Alonso’s work straddles this paradox.
In an age of paradox, paradox is what comes through in Diaz Alonso’s work. It has the exactitude of digital logics yet also he strives to ‘dirty’ the process up. He maintains the humanist and aesthete position yet it is not, he says, about craft. Are the traditional tools of judging architecture failing us? Do we know what architecture is any more? As Cedric Price once suggested, is it about finishing the already assumed to be finished?
Above all, I admire Diaz Alonso’s guiltless rhetoric and his unburdened creativity. Watch him, he will go far − he’s gone pretty far already. He is staking new terrain. Few architects do this.
Architect: Hernan Diaz Alonso
Photography: Courtesy of the architect