Monday, September 14, 2009

Obsessions with Extremities

So much to report! Been busy since my last posting and am currently sitting in the National Library of Sydney prepping for the weeks ahead. Over the past few days/weeks little birds have been whispering in my ear about different ideas/projects relating to my topic of study. The "not late, still great" Peter Lingamfelter brought to my attention a fascinating recent post on the BLDGBLOG concerning "Art of Extreme Environments" {also make sure to check out the HUGE shout-out to fellow Branner Nick Sowers on the BLDGBLOG in another post here! I felt like a proud sibling at a soccer game reading through it}. The exhibition about "Art of Extreme Environments" is going on in Paris right now and a lot of the work has to do with existing in arctic environments, as well as the overall issue of citizenship there. Very similar to the "no man's land" issue brought up in the previous post on Svalbard.

In other news the author Ruth Slavid has totally stolen my book idea! Not really of course, but do you know the crippling feeling when you have a bright, beaming light bulb of an idea only to find out someone else has already invented it? I can still remember when I "invented" personal-size popcorn bags and then found them in the supermarket a week later... Well Slavid has just came out with a book entitled Extreme Architecture: building for challenging environments. Its actually an extremely well done book, though I still believe the best chapters to be the first two {hot & cold}. Later in the book she devotes a whole section to ski lifts it feels like, which somewhat misses the point in my view. Though again this might just be the little green monster talking. I had pre-ordered a copy before it even came out and as soon it arrived at my door a week ago I disregarded my normal unwillingness to unwrap the package and tore right into the amazon envelope.

Taken together, all of these interactions just confirmed what I've already began to believe. People have become obsessed with extreme locations. Extreme architecture. Basically anything with the radical adjective in front of it. What are most people's definitions of extreme? Why the need to differ so much for the norm? Perusing random bookstores I've began to become like Jim Carrey's character in the movie 23, completely obsessed with relating anything and everything back to my topic of study. A book on "Tropical Architecture." Of course. "Semi Non-Urban Landscapes." Okay... why not? "How to Train Police Dogs." There might be something in there... Everything is relatable if you can argue it correctly, or get your listener drunk enough. But many titles actually did seem to have something to do with my topic, or at least my semi-cynical fascination with our current use of the word extreme.

Books I've recently found with "extreme" in the title:

Extreme Architecture
Extreme Hotels

Extreme Restaurants

Extreme Bars

Surviving the Extreme

Small Buildings : Extreme

What makes a restaurant extreme? What an odd book to publish. Unless you're having to fight off a gorilla while eating a cheeseburger I don't understand it. Personally, in the case of Slavid's book, I consider the obsession with "extreme" mankind's willingness to dream of far off lands. Lands where we're not supposed to be. Tell a person they're not allowed in a restricted area, they start looking for the nearest fence to jump or wall to climb. Its just human nature I guess. I'm in Australia now and keep seeing the similarities in the American and Aussie Spirits. The need for adventure, exploration, the wide open road stretching out before you. I hadn't given the American sense of restlessness enough thought until I read Steinbeck's book Travels with Charley. In driving across the States for 3 months in a camper he lays out the American need for exploring better than I ever could.

"Could it be that Americans are a restless people, a mobile people, never satisfied with where they are as a matter of selection? The pioneers, the immigrants who peopled the continent, were the restless ones in Europe. The steady rooted ones stayed home and are still there. But every one of us, except the negroes forced here as slaves, are descended from the restless ones, the wayward ones who were not content to stay at home."

-John Steinbeck 1962

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