The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2021

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OCT 2021 Issue
Critics Page In Conversation

Being Silica

Andrés Jaque, <em>Being Silica </em>(2021). Performa Commission for the Performa 2021 Biennial. Image courtesy the artist.
Andrés Jaque, Being Silica (2021). Performa Commission for the Performa 2021 Biennial. Image courtesy the artist.

Being Silica
Top Of The Rock At Rockefeller Center (Midtown)
30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, 10112
October 29 – October 31, 2021
Rail: What are you making for the Performa 2021 Biennial?

The starting point of the performance I am conceiving with the Office for Political Innovation is the human addiction to transparency in architecture: We’re all addicted to big windows with views! And with big skyscraper windows, looking at the landscape is like owning it.

With this performance, we’re exploring the impact that erecting glass towers in New York City has elsewhere. Our performance for the Performa 2021Biennial is titled Being Silica and examines the codependency between the city and its neighboring territories. For that, we look at UltraClear™glass which is made of silica. It is a new building material that became a fixture of skyscrapers across the city in the past 20 years.

Silica is a low-iron mineral that allows UltraClear™glass to be an almost invisible membrane between us, inside a building, and the exterior environment we observe. This really aligns with mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ideals of a pollution-free city, in which skyscrapers residents enjoy expanses of clear blue skies. But the mining of silica has a real impact on people living for instance in Ottawa, Illinois, where the mineral is extracted and the process requires high levels of energy generated by gas drilled by the fracking industry in places like Susquehanna Valley, in Pennsylvania.

So Being Silica is really about this intertwinement and questions of environmental injustice, and for this live experience, we want to find a way to “attune” with this reality. For that, we’re trying to use sound as a medium that can allow human bodies to perceive physically the reality of what's happening in places like the underground of the Marcellus Shale in the Appalachian Basin, where fracking pressures rocks to yield gas. We want audiences to experience it in their bodies, in their skin. This performance is very sensorial.

Although UltraClear™glass claims buildings as sustainable, we’re interested in it as an architectural material as much as a social territorial device that can produce inequality through the way it interacts with the environment. In short owning blue, clean skies in New York is always at the expense of pollution elsewhere.

Rail: Your practice exists at the intersection of art, architecture, design, activism, and theory. How would you describe your methodology?

Jaque: I would say the recent transformation of architecture into a multimedia project has allowed us to ask the questions of what gets to be visible and invisible, what gets to be sensed, and who senses what? That means that architectural practices are no longer the provision of space for societies to occupy but rather the making of the societal networks and assemblages through which life is enacted. It’s playing a political role, hence the name of our studio: Office for Political Innovation. For me, architecture today consists of rearticulating the social with the possibility of redistributing power. It’s what I believe is a crucial architectural business now. The political is the business of architecture now.

Rail: What are you hoping viewers will take home with them after seeing this piece?

Jaque: This is a radical performance intended to set bodies in physical transition so that their perceptive capacities could be attuned with a reality that is not possible to access otherwise. We’re hoping to make viewers sensitive to what big windows in skyscrapers imply. We’re trying to see things and access things by not providing visual material, but just resonances that come through your skin and through the vibration of your membranes. We don’t operate in a functional paradigm, like modern architecture. We are not providing a program, we're basically intending to transform the structure of the way life is enacted. In short: owning blue, clean skies in New York is always at the expense of others elsewhere.


Andrés Jaque

Andrés Jaque lives and works in New York where he runs the Advanced Architectural Design Program at Columbia University. His architecture firm, Office for Political Innovation, is split between New York and Madrid.


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2021

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