In The Glass House, Karina Nimmerfall examines modern architecture and how it is staged in films. Combining details from different buildings by Californian modernists such as Neutra and Lautner as well as with images and video projections, Nimmerfall created a fictitious model, The Glass House, in an installative space which points to the contrast of film and reality, viewers’ expectations.
Having an interdisciplinary educational background in Visual Arts and Art History, the artist bases her work in a well thought through conceptual framework. She developed a research-based artistic practice which reflects vastly on relevant social and political, as well as on artistic and medial issues, working on and with videos, photography, and installative practices.
Currently her work 'Transparent Scenario (Set for a Possible Movie)' is part of Marl Media Art Awards 2013 exhibition at Skulpturenmuseum Glaskasten in Marl, Germany. It is based on the utopian idea of glass architecture and its social-political impolications, with a paritcular regard to Sergej Eisenstein’s never realized film script 'Glass House' (1930).
Architecture is popular for photo motives, yet it is not that common as main topic for film and video – or, if at all, it is only used as background setting, probably because architecture is “stiff“, while film is dynamic. Are architecture and the moving image compatible? Why are you interested in the combination of filmic and architectural subjects?
I would actually argue the opposite. With my project The Glass House, I was aiming to point out that architecture in film is never just a backdrop, it is always used to support the narration of a film – a phenomenon that was already observed by the French architect and designer Robert Mallet-Stevens in 1925 when he wrote that “It is undeniable that cinema has marked influence on modern architecture … Modern architecture does not only serve the cinematographic set (décor), but imprints its stamp on the staging (mise-en-scène), it breaks out of its frame.
More generally speaking, not only that architecture is a very popular subject for many other contemporary artists, architecture and film have historically a long and reciprocal relationship since the beginning of cinema itself. In his essay Montage and Architecture the filmmaker and theorist Sergei Eisenstein already links in the late 1930s the architectural ensemble to film, and Le Corbusier chose very specifically the moving image to visually represent his buildings, as we can see in L’architecture d’aujourd’hui directed by Pierre Chenal (1930/31).
These are only a few examples, yet many scholars and research studies have been focusing on this topic. As an artist, this intruiging but also complex relationship of architecture and the moving image, and within this context, especially the reciprocal relation of architectural space to its visual representations, have always been of interest for me – as to many theoretical thinkers such as Colomina, the architecture historian Antony Vidler, and also Guiliana Bruno, to name only a few. Their thought processes have always been inspirational for my practice, and have helped to expand my thoughts and push my work further.
The Glass House is a sculptural model of several houses used as film settings, which combines your different interests. It is sort of a “filmic montage” transferred to a static model. What inspired The Glass House?
Starting point for many of my previous projects has been the examination of media image strategies and specifically the selective use of certain architectural subjects. I think I was always more interested in the idea of architecture as “mass medium” (Beatriz Colomina) and within this context, the representation of architecture in the media, than in architecture itself. The Glass House evolved from the negative connotations associated with modern and contemporary architecture, as it is commonly depicted in Hollywood cinema – a phenomenon standing in complete opposition to the ideas that the pioneers of modern architecture envisioned.
I started out by collecting cinematic images of modern and contemporary buildings previously serving as backdrops for vacant morality throughout film history – for example, Richard Neutra’s Lovell House from the film L.A. Confidential, John Lautner’s Jacobsen House that was used in Twilight, or also the famous Vandamm Residence, as seen in North by Northwest, which was based on Frank Lloyd Wright building details and conceptualized solely by set designers. These images were then being translated into a series of architectural models. Within this process I combined multiple architectural fragments with new appropriated images and video projections, in order to transfer the former filmic depictions into a 3-dimensional sculptural space where actual and projected architecture overlap. The construction of the models was not based on documentary recordings, but instead followed exclusively mediated representations and spatial descriptions found within the films. I was interested in creating experimental architectural and cinematic spaces with shifting perspectives and simultaneous views that reevaluate one’s relation to mediated images and conventions.
What is it that interests you in working on and with architecture, with spatial situations?
My work developed from a strong interest in the relationship of architecture, media and the perception of space within our world, based on representations and information. Originally, I started studying film, and soon realized that I was not so much interested in producing films, but instead transferring (filmic) images into a new spatial context. Based on my interest in time-based media, and combined with questions of sculpture and space, I started to develop sculptural video installations that created a new spatio-temporality, wanting to allow myself the ability to redefine the relationship between space, time, image and the viewer: from the continuity of former film sequences, I evolved actual arrays of space that the viewer could experience, not only by viewing, but by walking and participating in a space.
You started with spatial installations, including filmic projections, and then developed projects, which left the filmic medium behind. How do you find your subjects and the corresponding media?
The starting point for my projects is usually the examination around the impact of image production on architecture and urban settings, and relating to that, on a variety of concepts surrounding the construction of reality, memory and history. In the course of my artistic practice, interests have moved from investigating design and lifestyle magazines to television productions, by way of Hollywood films. More current projects deal with issues of architecture as power structures, exploring the reciprocal relationship of architecture, media and politics, as well as their conditions within a cultural and ideological system of representations.
Within the context of my research-based artistic practice, usually one project leads me to the next. The research made for my recent image-text based series Index of Livability (2011) for example – which investigates the lesser-known involvement of the renowned architect Richard Neutra with public housing in Los Angeles – not only lead me to the related sculptural film installation 1953. Possible Scenarios for a Discontinued Future (2012/13), about Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander’s never realized master plan for Elysian Park Heights at Chavez Ravine, but it also opened connections, references and questions, suggesting a causal and more broad relationship between Cold War politics, media and urban planning, which could not have been examined in a single project. Now the project is forming the starting point for a much larger investigation, where I cross-link housing projects with different historic and cultural backgrounds, aiming to propose new hypotheses and challenge common representations.
Simone Kraft is the Editor of deconarch.com and a contributor to T-R-E-M-O-R-S