February 5, 2010

Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head


Apologies for the lack of posts in January. We'll do out best to make up for it in February.  Our recent détournement-of-sorts to the American Southwest has generated many unexpected surprises - all of which have been well documented, yet are taking a bit of time to make sense of.  In the meantime,  a glimpse into the work of one of last century's most prolific cartoonists, Bernard "Hap" Kliban.

Figure 1. cover illustration, circa 1976*

At first glance, B. Kliban's cartoon drawings look childish and immature.  Decidedly low-brow, in fact.  Although upon further consideration, we come to two important conclusions. 

One: the author (despite presenting work that has the aesthetic of a bored high school student) has managed to get his work published and, in fact, has made a living off of it.  This observation alone is noteworthy for today's struggling architect.  

Two: the value of simple cartoon sketches in presenting a fundamental conceptual/spatial idea should not be underestimated.  All of the following drawings graphically construct a narrative in a universally understood manner.  In doing so, B. Kliban demonstrates the power of graphics in communicating a message to the observer/cultural consumer. 

Figure 2. high-tech failure

A good deal of Kliban's work involves the creation of ironic and paradoxical spatial constructs.  To put it simply, his scenes visually tell a joke.  But what is most compelling about Never Eat... is Kliban's commentary on the "sacredness", or monumentality, of architecture.  Cartoons are used to construct radically "anti"-monumental, or Non-umental spaces.  In fact, his most powerful illustrations are those which have quite visibly let down the people interacting with his creations...a depressed tourist here, a sad looking visitor there: 



Figures 3, 4, 5. Examples of Kliban's anti-climactic architectural monuments, or, "Non-uments." On a side note, his "Nixon Monument" looks strangely similar to a proposed George W. Bush monument.

Perhaps this is how humor is most easily achieved: by creating unexpectedly anti-climactic scenarios.  Kliban was a master at this.  After earning a living by making illustrations for Playboy in the 1960's, he went on to develop a series of images that, in a dystopian manner, full handedly mocked the images broadcast by "playboy".  Via Wikipedia:
The books that followed Cat [Kliban's most popular work] consisted mostly of extremely bizarre cartoons that find their humor in their utter strangeness and unlikeliness. Many of these are cartoons that Kliban drew for Playboy. They often contained dysmorphic drawings of nude figures in extremely unlikely environments, as if to spoof Playboy's own subject matter. Another frequent subject of satire were the type of wordless, step-by-step visual instruction manuals typically found with such things as office furniture. Kliban also had a recurring series of drawings called "Sheer Poetry", in which the page would be split into six panels, containing images of objects whose names, when spoken in the order presented, would form a rhyming, nonsensical verse.
Kliban's satirical take on everything from life's most ordinary moments to the most spectacular events establishes a body of work which is both whimsical and inspired.  What would happen if Kliban's illustrations were to be adopted as a set of instructions for the construction of a series of monuments to the his legacy? Would onlookers laugh? Or would they denounce the constructs as deviant appendages to the city?  Let's be honest: the health and welfare of the public would certainly be at risk with many of Kliban's ideas. 


Figures 6, 7. Radically experimental architecture juxtaposed within the ordinary city.


The ultimate question emerging in Kliban's architectural cartoons is this: will the legacy of radical architecture be confined to print media; remaining forever unbuilt?  How does the experimental artist-architect (conjuring up visions of rubber towers, "world's largest" monuments, and wobbly clown aesthetics) make a living?  Kliban did it by working for the institution, then mocking the institution.  Perhaps such low-brow, critically un-acclaimed ideas only come into being through rebellious acts of deviance by otherwise respected professionals?  An architecture of secretive and subversive conjectures.

*All images in this post have come from: Kliban, Bernard. Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head & Other Drawings. New York: Workman Publishing Company, 1976.

3 comments:

jolly said...

very nice blog
Aman Toor
Linux

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Anonymous said...

Looks like the Obama budget monument.