The world's worst architect

by german fernandez. Published in 2021

Well, let's start with, well, the very end. In the end, we find out, it was the joke, the laughter, the comedy. Because we find Alternatino, from “alternative” and “Latino” (just in case), a series of comical videos premiered by the cable channel Comedy Central. And specifically one episode. A short video-sketch titled " The world's worst architect", which present us with a genius of a fictitious name, titled "Gerard Fjuck, architect"(link below). He is, to our amusement but also obviously, one-of-a-kind artist, an example of a type of revered figure we know well in the contemporary world: the starchitect, the latest incarnation of the branded genius, an "author", a creator blessed by the uniqueness of his creations. Because, as we see from the very beginning, being praised by friends and foes alike, Gerard Fjuck is admired, venerated and followed by fans and spectators with passionate admiration. He is an impassioned man with a unique vision, the uncompromising prophet of a personal conviction.  The initial scene takes us to the architect as creator, a demiurge, thinking, alone in front of the paper, in his ample, clean studio, located in a high skyscraper, where he starts describing to us the magical moment of the conception with a phrase that has become something of a commonplace: “all starts with a line”. After that, we get to the chorus of flattering compliments: from his assistant (is he a genius?, I think so”), to the amazed commentators ("This is the kind of shit he does!"); we see the creator, in action, revered by acolytes, specialists and strangers. Also present is the expert's endorsement (the so-called "talking-heads", experts and critics), the " before him/after him" take (placing him in a situational "divortium aquarium" and making him the "axis mundi"), the interviews, the footage, all assembled carefully and neatly. Nothing new here, as we probably have seen this before. But maybe that is the point. The familiarity is carefully built in the set up of every scene, from the spectacular intro of omnipotent aerial views to the occasional interview excerpt.  This familiarity only sets up the surprise that goes developing across the sketch, to our (most probably) disbelief; it turns out that the mantra of this genius is to make buildings useless, torturing to the users, to the real persons that stay in the buildings day in, day out. As Gerard says: " I like you to feel that I hate you personally... because I do." At the time, I was preparing a storyboard for a presentation profile for a client. I saw the video of Fjuck and recognised that jokes aside, all the formal and visual elements could be easily transplanted to the work I was doing. Why?. Because there is a type of humour that uses the conventions or commonplaces as scaffolding upon which spark the laughter of the contradiction or absurdity; jokes about stereotypes work only because they are told assuming certain context shared by the listeners. Take out those references and shared understanding, the context, and the amusement, flavour and hilarity get lost, as usually happens with translated poetry and frozen food. Jumping to another field, this also can happen to works of art when devoid of context, they risk losing their meaning without a specific context: the gallery, the temple, the museum. Art academic Erwin Panofsky shows how a similar process happened in a different (more serious?) scenario with his study on the representations of classical divinities in the Middle Ages. Somehow, Ares, Hermes, Zeus and Venus, among others, are represented as contemporary characters, dressed in medieval ways in the conventual manuscripts, while the style of the sculptures made of them in antiquity is used for the representation of biblical characters and other representations of the Christian art; form and content are dissociated in a new context. This is, in a more modest way if you will, the kind of cultural alchemy that subtly starts to take place in Alternatino’s video.  The cultural, meaningful creations(artworks, writings, etc), astonishing and innovating when they appear, have, like their creators, a sort of lifecycle as well; they appear, usually and allegedly, as challengers of the status quo; they become canonized classics, referred, alluded, reflected and as such they get and worn by their use, being connected, disconnected and reconnected to other pieces by association or counterpoint, losing their initial meaning or power, growing their corpus of associations in a multi-formed and unexpected way, being necessary the intervention, from time to time, of scholars, poets or artists, to bring afloat the original sense of the piece. The side effect of such cultural meaning-weariness result can be a meaningless shape bordering the absurd.  And this is the point where comedy and humour find the cultural space ripe to work. From its remnants, innovators pick the freshness of new ideas, like fresh clay, like a flaming fire, create and develop a more intense game of “what if”, all of which slowly could-and would, arguably- become more “serious”. If at some point this juggling idea becomes mainstream, it needs to become more conventional and schematic, so it can be passed around faster to a wider public. Those conventions in turn, with time, will get to be so recognizable that they will disconnect from their original spirit, and become translatable, portable, recyclable; becoming again the ground for ironic critics and comedians to work. And then, the circle starts again:  Innovation --> research --> mainstream --> cliché --> comedy --> innovation-- > mainstream…and so on And thus, comedy breaks the mould, helps to see things in new ways, mixes up stuff, and as a result, demolishes conventions. Let us not forget Juan de Burgos, the fictitious monk of The Name of the Rose, eating to death the only, poisoned, surviving copy of Aristotle treaty on comedy. With all its nuances, different approaches to comedy and innovation, and its what-if and what-if-not forks, all this happens at a wider societal level, at a meme-like level, imperceptible, to not call it viral, from people that comment and share ideas to other people, crossing around the world of a society idea universe, from popular wisdom to academic paradigms, a granular process that can take decades, if not centuries.

_______________________ Notes Panofsky, Erwin and Saxl, Fritz. Classic art in Medieval Art. . Metropolitan Museum Studies, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Mar., 1933), pp. 228-280 The intrusion of laughter in Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose. The Free Library. S.v. Retrieved Oct 12 2021 from ,and also Power of laughter. Castro Florez, Fernando. Philosopher and art curator Fernando Castro Florez review of Terry Eagleton's book, Humor. and the corresponding WSj review, by Barton Swaim: which has treasures such as: "He drops the names of authors like bombs and leaves you dazed and wondering how they apply (...). ‘The value of the joke,’ writes Jacques Lacan, ‘. . . is its possibility to play on the fundamental non-sense of all usages of sense.’ Jokes let the contingently constructed nature of social reality out of the bag, and hence betray its fragility.” This makes me want to cry. A bit of perversity is a necessary thing in a writer, but with Mr. Eagleton perverse dicta have become a shtick. “The profound is not necessarily the valid.” Huh? “The opposite of comedy is destiny.” Right-o. Often he supports these mysterious pronouncements with negations that don’t signify. “It is worth noting that comedy does not need to be funny,” he writes. Really? “There are not many gags in The Tempest." Adams, by James L. Conceptual Blockbusting: A guide to better Ideas,. Perseus Books, Cambridge Massachusets. It mentions (page 57) humour as a factor for creativity, referring to Arthur Koestler's "The Act of Creation" and his three levels schema: art, science and humor. Silva-Herzog Marquez, Jesus. La risa de Arendt (Arendt's laugh). Nexos. "la risa es el instinto del juicio. Antes de las albores de la argumentacion, las contracciones abdominales" Alternatino. Gerard Fuck, architect, sketch: Perfetti, Lisa R. Dialogue of laughter: Bakhtin's Theory of Carnival and the "Charroi of Nimes". Olifant, vol 17.Nos 3-4.(adapted from a paper at Virginia medieval Symposium, 1992). For example, the genre of the mockumentary works on the premise of taking all the elements of a real documentary, but emptying them of the original content and twisting it with absurdity, highlighting the contradictions of the format and achieving this by separating form from content. In this case, the sketch has successfully taken the elements associated with a biopic. The movement of the camera, the timing, the voices, everything made it look like the real thing. We, in recognising the form but not the content, find the contrast eye-opening. Schollmeier, Paul. Aristotle on comedy. Philosophical Inquiry, vol 40,n 3-4, summer-fall, 2016. Golin, Denis. "Is this sh** for real?: Adorno, Benjamin and anti-comedy. Gnovis magazine, volume 18, Issue 2. Spring 2018.