Catalogue:  A.D.I.E.U - Joyriding
Catalogue text:
Architectural Developments in Escape Units by Dominic Pettman



Catalogue: A.D.I.E.U - Joyriding
Published by Artcite, Windsor, Canada and YYZ Artists' Outlet, Toronto, Canada, 1999


Catalogue text: Architectural Developments in Escape Units by Dominic Pettman
From the A.D.I.E.U. - Joyriding catalogue
Published by Artcite, Windsor, Canada and YYZ Artists' Outlet, Toronto, Canada, 1999

For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive [and] remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4

The only way is up, baby.

It seems that as we approach 2000, our anxieties have been projected onto the Y2K problem and its alleged catastrophic effects. Pre-millennial tension is accelerating, and the usual historical escape routes are being considered by those who believe that the world will end with the twentieth century. One such option concerns what Mark Dery so succinctly called "the theology of the ejector seat," referring to the religious faith of those who sport bumper stickers which read, "In Case of Rapture, Car will be Unmanned." Indeed, pious Christians have no fear of faulty software, for they feel sure that they will be scooped up by the hand of God before the apocalypse begins. On 22 October, 1844, the followers of the North American Baptist preacher, William Miller, were said to have put on white "ascension-robes" on the appointed Last Day, and even sat in trees and on hay bales in order to "make it easier to rise into the sky when Jesus returned." It is this historical human urge which prompted Ballard to state that " we are all looking for some kind of vertical route out of the particular concrete jungle that we live in." Our project is thus rooted in our fascination concerning the different ways in which we try to reach "escape velocity" in perceived times of crisis, especially as integrated into the environment through architecture. The skyscraper itself, is just such an attempt. Witness the constant race to build the tallest structure in the world, swinging vertiginously between America, Asia and (until recently) Australia, via Grollo's doomed tower in Melbourne. These spires are all monuments to the psycho-social power of millennial anxiety and human hubris (for let's not forget that the entire twentieth century has been millenarian). While on an obvious level these structures represent various Towers of Babel for the Viagra generation, they also offers us a concrete symbol of Jacob's twenty-first century ladder. For only the most prosaic amongst us could deny that the urban bar-chart of the modern metropolis points a blasphemous finger at heaven (to borrow a phrase from Mervyn Peake).

The resiliently ubiquitous Jean Baudrillard has described our hyper-alienated era as obsessed with what he calls "horizontal immortality," an impoverished state brought about through secular technologies. Yet he rejects traditional rapture as a solution, since he blames the Christian monopoly over verticality as the root of the problem in the first place. For when human history itself hit escape velocity, he argues, it left us adrift in a symbolic anti-gravitational field. Social relations started to break free of any reference point, moral, legal or otherwise. A reading of Elias Canetti's The Human Province persuades Baudrillard that at a precise moment in time the human race . . . dropped out of history. Without even being conscious of the change, we suddenly left reality behind. What we have to do now . . . [is] find that critical point, that blind spot in time. Otherwise, we just continue on with our self-destructive ways. This hypothesis appeals to me because Canetti doesn't envisage an end, but rather what I would call an "ecstasy," in the
primal sense of the word - a passage at the same time into the dissolution and the transcendence of a form.

Baudrillard exercises considerable latitude in dating this ironic ejection, although it roughly coincided with the Apollo moon landings (still the most significant of various hubristic launches into the unknown). ADIEU - Architectural Developments in Escape Units - begins with a similar premise: that history itself has launched into the stratosphere, so that everything we deem as "culture" is not so much rooted in tradition, as orbiting the earth in satellite form. As a consequence, our generation is witness to the galactic entropy of Planet Mir.

ADIEU, however, concerns itself less with the subjective motivations of the engineer, than the objective imperatives of the structure itself. For this reason we are seduced by the new "Smart Buildings" which rely on a computerized nervous system in order to detect its own stresses and weaknesses, before adapting accordingly. It seems that Neal Stephenson's futuristic vision of semi-organic, nanotechnological buildings, growing like coral in the New York skyline, is perhaps closer than we think. For these reasons we offer the design of Escape Pods, which launch away from the building when its structural integrity is compromised. Taking a cue from Roald Dahl's glass elevator, ADIEU says farewell to the gravity of all situations, and propels itself somewhere over Pynchon's rainbow. Just as Cold War architects proposed collapsible skyscrapers in case of nuclear attack, the millennial engineer harnesses the optimism of flight in the opposite direction. Terry Gilliam's office-buildings break loose and "sail the wide accountanseas," but Chicago's skyline stands ready as a silo of missiles, waiting patiently to complete the bottle-rocket trajectory of an adolescent imagination. Perhaps Freud was too grounded in his thinking of primal lacks and restrictions to recognize the tyrannical and universal
repression of gravity.

ADIEU offers the escape unit as a form of inherent technological rapture, leading the subject to a profane form of salvation (and perhaps even transcendence, however fleeting). Ignoring the homespun logic of "what goes up," ADIEU stages a collision between the dusty discourses of dissemination, with the immortalist desire to flee/fly. The masculinist fantasy of human spores colonizing the heavens is re-articulated by the more pragmatic exigencies of surviving something like the World Trade Centre bombing. A design for living. As a consequence, this project has grown from the mythic apple-seeds of both Eve's erotic temptation and Newton's dozy epiphany. It springs from our belief that the rationalizations of rapture is always underwritten by the convergence of desire and knowledge, the extra-terrestrial perspective of the angel.

Of course ADIEU means goodbye, and not au revoir. The name itself suggests a final parting, a definite departure. But this is not the Christian appropriation of deus ex machina (the god in the machine). It is rather the ironic design of machina ex deus. Just like the little arcade-game creatures in Toy Story, which pray to "The Claw" that occasionally selects one for a sacred and enigmatic duty, we patiently await the silver fingers to pluck us out of this gonk-machine existence . . .. . . A fuzzy gonk sits neglected on a desk in NASA's aeronautics department. He shares his immediate area with some blueprints, a Dilbert calendar and an apple-core. The room is empty. According to the calendar it is the day of the ill-fated Voyager mission. A sign hangs on the outside of the door, a prime example of boffin humour. It reads: Out to launch.