COUPLE FORMAT: The Identity Between Love and Work Review

by Shumon Basar, Curator of FORMAT – the AA’s Summer Lecture Series

29 November 2016
Istanbul, Turkey

 

As part of the 3rd Istanbul Design Biennale whose title and main focus asks the question, “Are We Human?”, curators Mark Wigley and Beatriz Colomina have collaborated with the online platform e-flux to create a project titled Superhumanity. Within this project, they asked Shumon Basar, curator of the AA’s FORMAT lecture series, to write a piece reviewing this summer’s series that focused on Couple Format: The Identity between Love and Work. Below is an excerpt from the article, which discusses the ideas that shape the series, the structure behind the conversations that ensued, and a whole host of other topics spanning from Brangelina to Brexit…

 

“As of September 2016, “Brangelina” was no more.

 

That most super-famous of celebrity portmanteaus—Brad + Angelina—which began in 2005, during the pre-social media age, ended eleven years later, in a feverish hysteria of cruel/funny Twitter/Facebook memes. This supercouple, who had surrendered their individual identities to become a clickbait-friendly brand (worth an alleged $400 million), were breaking apart. And there was nothing any of us could do about it. Some of us schadenfreuded. Others lost faith in eternal love. The rest couldn’t care less.

 

Couple FORMAT 1: Catherine Ince on Charles and Ray Eames, and Sam Jacob on Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi

Couple FORMAT 1: Catherine Ince on Charles and Ray Eames, and Sam Jacob on Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi

Truth is, couples do matter.

 

They’re vessels of human hope.

 

Whether doomed and romantic or cynical and wrong, couples are design projects with narrativity, predestination and failure built into their wiring. A couple is, mathematically speaking, the smallest unit of collaboration and perhaps therefore the most potent (or, poisonous).

Inspired by a comment made by Jean-Luc Godard—“The identity between love and work”—can we think of a working life together, in tandem, as something possessing shape; or format? Whether beds are shared or not, couples who make their love their work remain as compelling for us as they seem to be for each other.

 

Couple FORMAT 2: Guy Mannes-Abbott on Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein, and James Westcott on Marina Abramovic and Ulay

Couple FORMAT 2: Guy Mannes-Abbott on Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein, and James Westcott on Marina Abramovic and Ulay

Is this the “Couple Format?”

 

A powerful, pervading idealism often drives people in their late-teens or early twenties. Passion! Immortality! This heady cocktail delivers a delusion that the person you love is the one you must work with. Thus, the Couple Format becomes the ultimate public/private Gesamkunstwerk, a total theatre of reciprocities and supposed syntheses.

 

In the design world, the 1920s and 1930s produced female pioneers such as Charlotte Perriand and Lilly Reich. They remained forever in the shadows of their male architect counterparts, respectively Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, with the not-so-subtle subtext being that buildings are made by men while interiors—from furniture to soft furnishings—is the necessary province of women. Power lay with the former. Prettiness with the latter.

 

Aaron Schuster on Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari

Aaron Schuster on Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari

Disentangling the major and the minor in a couple-unit is like trying to measure the colour of love itself. The continued ways in which couples are erroneously remembered and credited proves that lazy, male-hero worship still wins the messy custody battles of legacy and myth. It usually occludes the true nature of creative authorship, making the close study of Couple Formats forensically relevant.

 

Natasha Sandmeier on Broadway and Fifth Avenue, and Madelon Vriesendorp on the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building

Natasha Sandmeier on Broadway and Fifth Avenue, and Madelon Vriesendorp on the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building

In Summer 2016, I organised a series of conversations at the Architectural Association in London, where guests were invited to share one “Couple Format” that has, in retrospect, made some kind of mark upon them. I asked each guest—from the worlds of art, architecture, curating, literature, and philosophy—to present the ways in which their chosen couples’ roles were delineated; the way in which the things the couples produced rendered the relationship; or the way in which the relationship may have been a kind of work or product itself. It was inevitable to consider how couples come together, what mystical force might continue to bind them, a force which may be the very same that, ultimately, tears them apart. Of which, the best possible outcome, in the 21st century, surely is Gwyneth Paltrow’s “Conscious Uncoupling,” where mutual consent negates typical toxic meltdown. Arguably, the worst kind of break-up, which was unfolding while these conversations took place, was that of the United Kingdom’s referendum vote to leave the European Union. It too earned a quippy portmanteau, such that the end of “Brangelina” marks the beginning of “Brexit.” Or, perhaps more conspiratorially, did the sudden advent of “Brexit” mean the ensuing end of “Brangelina”?”

 

For more information:

Read the full article on e-flux

FORMAT microsite

FORMAT 1 – 2016: Sam Jacob and Catherine Ince

FORMAT 2- 2016: Guy Mannes-Abbott and James Westcott

FORMAT 3- 2016: Aaron Schuster

FORMAT 4- 2016: Natasha Sandmeier and Madelon Vriesendorp

The 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial

Homepage image: Aaron Schuster and Shumon Basar re-stage a photo of Deleuze and Guattari prior to the 3rd lecture in the Couple Format series this summer. Credit: Valerie Bennett.