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source material from the Lost Cornerstone project, a part of the Goliath Concussed show at the Lehmann Maupin Gallery

Of Men and Monuments,
Vessels and Vectors...
Julian Laverdiere's Art of Uncertainty: "Goliath Concussed" at the Lehmann Maupin Gallery NYC

by Paul D. Miller a.k.a. Dj Spooky that Subliminal Kid

"in architecture form is a noun, in industry form is a verb"
R. Buckminster Fuller

In Egypt's sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows.
"I am great Ozymandias," saith the stone,
"The King of kings: this mighty city shows
The wonders of my hand." The city's gone!
Naught but the leg remaining to disclose
The sight of that forgotten Babylon.
We wonder, and some hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when through the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the wolf in chase,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What wonderful, but unrecorded, race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.
Horace Smith, "Ozymandias" 1817

Horace Smith composed this sonnet on 27 December 1817, during an evening sonnet-writing session with P.B. Shelley, but the echo, the sense of quotation of content and context is what I want to evoke with this piece. Think again: Rhetorical bodies, matter and memory, teleplex tautologies, suture and synedoche... codes and modes... like I always enjoy saying: it all just flows. It's been a long time since 1869 when the U.S., as an aspiring regional super-power, laid the first trans-continental telegraph and railroad lines throughout the newly reconsolidated polity that the Civil War had given birth to. It was an ambitious project, but like all American endeavors of size it had a small beginning. During the month of May 1869, in the middle of Utah, and at a place very few of us would ever check out, a silver spike hammered into the a railroad track that was almost finished completed a continent wide circuit in the newly linked transcontinental rails. The spike set off a electronic trigger pulse that was supposed to celebrate the occasion: a current moved through the newly connected and then infantile networks linking the East and West, and spread throughout the rail and telegraph lines like some newly remade disembodied Paul Revere howling through the wires. In New York and in San Francisco two cannons - one facing the Atlantic and the other, the Pacific Ocean - fired a shot triggered by the phantasmal pulse sent from the joining of the railroads in the middle of America, making the newly ambitious U.S.'s sense of Manifest Destiny telephonically clear to the rest of the world - from the heart of the country a silver spike closed the circuit on reality as our ancestors knew it. The rest, as it's always said, is another story. Ah, the logic of history. Like the poem that I begin this essay with, its something that at first glance evokes a series of historical allusions, and then one realizes the legerdemain - it's not Percy Shelley's, but an echo, a remix, a quote within a quote. One could argue that that's the sense of uncertainty of origin that Laverdiere strives to convey with his work.

The above mentioned event is true but hovers someplace in my imagination at a point mid-way between Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, with dashes of Thomas Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow" thrown in for good measure. That's what Julian Laverdiere's work is like: it puts a spin on a commonplace situation and for better or worse creates a place where fiction and reality, like everything else these days, seem to be completely meshed with one another. In "Forbidden Aspirations for Ascendancy," Laverdiere's first solo show at Gallery Andrew Kreps back in 2000, one entered a room where two capsules sat on funerary trestles, and another work - a hyper-meticulously rendered model of a rusted safe - sat spinning in an almost holographic video projection several feet off the floor. In another section of the show a couch made of material normally used for NASA's space programs invites a hypgnagogic reverie of the rusted safe spinning on the wall. It was all about inducing a kind of hypnotic, mesmeric, fictional, mode of contemplating the installation. The soundtrack made by Wolfgang Voigt (a techno-minimalist composer who works under the name "GAS" for a german avant-garde label named Mille Plateuax - that's based on the philosophies of Deleuze and Guattari) was set in a minimalist drone of techno -pulse like beats, a kind of repetition that reminded me of the timelessness that you feel in a nightclub - that sense of the "prolonged present" completes the installations sense of suspended time. The two major pieces of the show, "First Attempted Trans Atlantic Telegraph Cable Crossing" and "First Attempted Manned Space Flight" pointed to two major failures at the edge of two eras of the information age. Both pieces were rendered as kind of optical sarcophagi, each one a puzzle piece in a mental map made of loosely tied fictions and near-real hypothetical situations. What better way to look at today's information saturated world where no one is exactly sure of events and the news about them?

The 1854 cable venture of Cyrus WW. Field , a would be media mogul in the mold of a prototypical Bill Gates of the early industrial age, and the mid-WWII German rocket scientist Werner Von Braun, have little in common except their sense of being rendered into historic vector motifs - they inspired other people on to carry their ideas to much greater heights than either of them attained, and it's that sense of engagement human frailty in the face of technology's omnivourous gaze that Laverdiere evokes with an uncanny sense of hyper-realism. The capsules contain exquisitely rendered models of the failed projects, rendered exactly to scale, and the optical quality of the plastic encasing them gives the objects an almost holographic quality - Laverdiere has worked on film shoots and video shoots for several years, and the experience gained in rendering reality into a video shoot has paid off handsomely. Indeed with the exquisite detailed attention paid to every aspect of the show - the capsules, the digitally rendered hyper-realistic photos of the ficitional events that he's encapsulated - Laverdiere can say, as so many of us feel in these heady days of hyper-modernity, like the main character of H.G. Well's 1894 classic "The Triumph of The Taxidermist" who creates new hyrbid creatures from the bones and skins of extinct animals for kicks so he can convince people he's found new species: "But all this is merely imitating Nature." In the story the Taxidermist then points to his models in a shop filled with artificial creatures that he created for media spectacle - "I have done more than that in my time. I have - beaten her...."

I have to admit: the precedents for this kind of work in the conventional artworld - Racheal Whiteread's fascination with making everyday life into a funereal reality, or a larger scale artist Micheal Heizer's project "City" - a huge simulated metropolis made of monumental mastabas and other regalia that we normally associate with Necropoli and the other effects of the wealthy or elite aspects of cultures world wide, Chris Burden's minature model cities, Gregory Greene's exact replica's of weapons and satellite communications systems, or even more cogently relevant, Constant's fascination with his "New Babylon" worldwide city of architecture and dispersion - have with Laverdiere's show been rendered into their scientific counterparts. This is the impulse of contemporary society's deep fascination with archival reality - what I like to call the "museum impulse"- and it makes its way into the installation via the route of the "rusted safe" encapsulated and then made into a video image projected spinning aimlessly on the wall. But before the musuem, before the collections of the contemporary artworld, there was the tradition of the wunderkammer or "wonder cabinet" that focused on a mode of display that was deliberately eccentric, and expressive of the personality and history of its creator. The first wunderkammer is believed to have appeared in Vienna around 1550 and the tradition grew and evolved for about one hundred years until its function was taken over by conventional museums. Where Laverdiere makes reality a transparent parenthetical statement about desire and expansion, other artists - for example, Rachel Whiteread's sense of space encapsulated like a concrete shell, or Mariko Mori's "Time Capsule" - a sarcophagous inverted and made transparent - contain a strange sense of trying to outrun death and impermanence. The museum impulse is the congruent - it ties everything down to its last impression, and acts as it assigns. Let's face it: it's a fixed place in the history of objects.
Laverdiere points us in another direction. Just as his casket-like investigations of near historic events hover on the edge of reality point out, in his work, everything is up for grabs, everything is remixable. This is something people have started noticing on-line as well - omnipresence doesn't imply omniscience - in fact it usually creates a muddled sense of what's going on in the "real" world. This is the central metaphor "Forbidden Aspirations For Ascendancy" points to - Icarus and Daedulus - think of faded outlines and shimmering optical indeterminancy, and you'll get the picture, but the idea is there: the memory of an event and it's transposition into a living museum time shard is what creates the artistic tension in the installation. Again, a poem:

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled hp and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
.And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my works. Ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
– Percy Shelley 1818

I'll end with a metaphor about permanence and impermanence: when he was asked to come up with an idea for the New York Time's recent efforts to freeze time in a media sphere of, of course, a time capsule, media artist Jaron Lanier came up with a novel idea: he felt that genetically encoding the information into cockroaches would ensure the information's retrival 1000 years from now. The Times felt that they needed the obvious statement: a capsule. One is forced to wonder which will be around longer.... We always want the obvious ways to encode and preserve time, when it may not be the best route to take. Like the soma-tropic statue come to life in Robert Wiene's "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," we're left with a sense of extreme indetemincany in the cultural landscape: a nine foot model of a ship-wreck that can still be found at the bottom of some of the harshest areas of the Northern Atlantic, a rusted safe put onto a solaris-like optical pedestal, and a hauntingly rendered model of a shattered space craft that could have existed, and that was created from the V-2 rocket notes of a Nazi aerospace scientist who was brought over to the U.S. to aid in our space program.... sometimes I think of this century's sense of trying to capture time - think, for example, of Duchamp's famous "Nude Descending a staircase" and it's critique of Edweaerd Muybridge's stop motion rendering of a woman walking nude down a staircase... when we examine every last item holding our perceptions together we're left, like the techno soundtrack that backs the installation, silently marooned in the repetition of the present, left wondering if one action or another would have produced some radically different situations and moments. Laverdiere in his own way, cleverly critiques this. Who knows... perhaps a rendition of the shells that announced the first transcontitnental land networks is in the works. All I can say, is given Laverdiere's historical breadth and craftsmanship, I wouldn't be surprised. This was an excellent first show. He tells us, like the New York Time's project (I'm not attacking the project, by the way, I think it's a good idea) that will probably decay with time, some things are best forgotten. The more recent "Goliath Concussed" shows the evolution of an artist concerned with todays images of empires, and like Horace Smith's Ozymandias remix, we're asked again to think about

"What wonderful, but unrecorded, race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place."


Artist's Statement about Lost Cornerstone by Julian LaVerdiere

Lost Cornerstone, is a massive sculpture, which serves as weighty evidence of the architectural regime change between the ideologies of Neo classicism and Modernism. This piece will be presented as a large weather worn architectural artifact presumably recovered from the ruins of the original Pennsylvania Station. This artifact is a massive guardian eagle, hanging off kilter in a sling, suspended from a construction hook and cable.

The piece in motion at the Lehmann Maupin Gallery

This particular Eagle is a replica of the last surviving cornerstone of the twenty-two that adorned the facade of the late great Pennsylvania Station. These heroic eagles crowned the original Pennsylvania Station, which was torn down in October of 1963. This action was the principal catalyst, which ignited New York’s historic preservation movement and was the direct reason for the formation of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1965.

With respect to the extraordinary architectural changes that have taken place in New York City since September 11, 2001, I believe that the historic moment of Penn Station’s demolition is now cast in a new light, and is a vital and important subject to revisit, so we may better understand the importance of the symbology of our iconic public buildings as well as the multiple trajectories of American Imperialism. The dethroned Eagle is an apt symbol of the fallen empire of Neoclassical Architecture that largely personified the public buildings of New York City and its Empire State, as well as the artificial heraldry upon which we have founded aspects of our culture and our selves. The abrupt deposition of these sculptural icons metaphorically illustrates the indictment of the old guard by the new. This fallen Eagle is one of the obvious casualties of the paradigm shift between Western Neoclassicism and International Style Modernism. Obviously, the 1960’s were a volatile and complicated moment in American history -- the razing of Pennsylvania Station and the conservationist response to its destruction and loss were symptomatic of the many important cultural revolutions occurring at that time.

“It is inconceivable that a twentieth-century city should have torn down such patrimony”
-Philip Johnson

I am using a laser range scanner to generate a twenty first century “digital casting” of this 3,500 lb. marble Eagle artifact. This range scanning technology is used by engineers, architects and archeologists, to document remote and historic structures. Incidentally, this scanner was used to document the ruins of the Roman Forum, Chartes Cathedral, and the Guggenheim Museum. The scan of the Eagle will be used to control a CNC milling machine that will carve a perfect scale replica in Polymer foam. This replica will actual weight of only 250 lbs. The eagle will then be painted and treated to look like weathered Iron.
The act of digitally scanning and rapid prototyping a physical 3d rendering of this artifact, as a work of contemporary art, will aptly demonstrate the manner in which this 21st century technology of mass production pays critical homage to the lost traditional study of classical architectural artifacts. The plaster casting and replication of the marbles and ruins of ancient Rome is a Renaissance practice that is now simply symbolic trope of western education and culture. This reverence for classicism is indicative of the manner in which our culture mindlessly repeats history as it aspires to meet the nostalgic ideals of antiquity.

Evidently, This eagle icon of the Roman Empire has had many re-incarnations in descendent Empires. Always as a symbol of power, pride, and Prowess, these Empires in turn have come to ruin.

This Sculpture is not necessarily intended to suggest that the symbol of the American eagle has fallen like those of other empires, but rather that this volatile symbol may have brought ruin upon its self through the hubris encoded within its own tradition.

-Julian LaVerdiere

© 2003 21C Magazine