Both art and architecture today must be adequate to the most pressing needs of our time, and in particular to the demands of ecology: both sustainability and adaptability; preservation and impermanence. This is why I have tried, wherever possible, to avoid the top-down blockbuster model of curating, and have been more interested in exploring other means to produce reality through exhibitions, delegating decisions and possibilities to artists. Since its inception in 1993, for example, Do It has traveled to over 40 international venues and offers a model of art and exhibition making as the following-through of a variable set of instructions. Perhaps the pre-eminent challenge encompassing this project concerned how to perpetuate a show that no big museum wanted to touch: because it wasn’t the “real” thing—because it was about instructions and interpretations, not concrete “works”—it never hit the primary institutional radar. By consequence, Do It was a huge risk and it perpetuated only through an amazing grassroots mechanism that ricocheted across Europe, Asia, the Americas, and so on. From an economic perspective, the manner in which Do It produced its own circuit, a self-sustaining distribution model, is exemplary and I consider this to be among my proudest achievements.
So we come to Metabolism, which, for me, is one of the most fascinating developments in postwar architecture, since it explores all of these important aspects of adaptability, change, and renewal that I see as being especially important in the art context. To some degree, the moment of Metabolist architecture in Japan is inseparable from the tremendous forces of change and renewal affecting that country during the postwar period—the Japanese economic miracle that propelled the country into the premier league of developed nations and only began to stall in the 1990s.
Metabolism was anything but the manifestation of a recursive, architectural argument, but rather was profoundly open to the world, not least in its engagement with questions of environment and ecology. It therefore has many potential lessons for us today, as we search for ways in which design might lead us into the future.
On the one hand, the challenges of sustainability, and therefore of urban wellbeing, demand that cultural production today reclaims its old sense of ambition and scale; that it once again embraces the possibilities of total design. Bruno Latour has recently called for an expanded role for design that extends “from the details of daily objects to cities, landscapes, nations, cultures, bodies, genes, and… to nature itself,” welcoming this as a novel “political ecology” that might “ease modernism out of its historical dead end.”
This is not to say that we should resurrect anything like the monolithic aesthetic schemes of modernism itself, but rather that we should borrow from their ambition in order to form our own dynamic, shifting and alterable institutions and spaces of the future. Latour states that: “the little word ‘design’ could offer a very important touchstone for detecting where we are heading and how well modernism (and also postmodernism) has been faring.”