FIONA CONNOR : THE BRICK

Heavy! With thoughts? ― A BRICK

by Rosanna Albertini

Los Angeles, UCLA School of Architecture and Design, Room 1020 B Perloff Hall

An art exhibit in a classroom confirming that art is a strange ritual sometimes involving understanding and feelings, but not necessarily. The story features:

FIONA CONNOR, the artist, SIMONE FORTI, artist and friend, ROSANNA ALBERTINI, friend and writer, ALLAN KAPROW, the father of lifelike art

The three of us met the first time sitting on the grass of the Barnsdall Park with a few artists of Made in LA 2012 who were curious to know each other. Fiona was there, stretched out on her belly, handling a tape recorder.
She had in mind an alternative catalogue, and the conversation was a good starting moment, and was printed as it happened as a flux of words voiced by nameless people.

Simone felt easily part of that book out of order, more a bottle of water than a collection of statements. Words were kept in motion, escaping from their temporary blockage in meanings. When she performs, Simone’s body in movement is a fullness of feelings channelled into a slow motion physical language, almost savoring the quality of each gesture.

“I held a large grasshopper in my open hand. It swayed from side to side as we gazed into each other’s eyes. We sustained this alignment of sight through an exact correspondence in our movements, which created a certain resonance between us. We danced together like this for many minutes. I had just saved his life and we were very curious about each other.” (Simone Forti, Handbook in Motion, 1974)

Kaprow “When you do life consciously, life becomes pretty strange … so … a new art/life genre came about, reflecting equally the artificial aspects of everyday life and the lifelike qualities of created art. For example, it was clear to me how formal and culturally learned the act of shaking hands is; just try to pump a hand five or six times instead of two and you’ll cause instant anxiety. I also became aware that artworks of any kind could be autobiographical and prophetic. You could read paintings like handwriting, and over a period of time chart the painter’s abiding fantasies, just as you might chart writers’ thoughts from collections of personal letters or diaries. Happenings, and later activities, being less specialized than paintings, poems, and the other traditional arts, readily lent themselves to such psychological insight.” (Allan Kaprow, “Performing Life,” 1979)

The brick should be allowed to raise his protagonist voice in the room. No way. Kaprow hasn’t be around for a while. He never died for me. He might be happy to see a sort of happening resurgent in a school room in 2016. The brick, the English name doesn’t help to describe it. Italian is more direct: il mattone. Tongue and palate must stick to one another before the weight falls on the tip of the tongue and the lips shape an oval for the second o, that receives the accent. Sure heaviness, a compact thing. Like two teenagers dancing very close for the first time: il ballo del mattone, the mattone dance we used to call it. Brick, instead, is a Teutonic and French hybrid name: a broken thing, and the form of a loaf. Therefore, a baked form of clay. Architects of that day mainly saw the practical usage, the stillness of facts.

Our brick, along with 74 brick friends, lies in a corner of the room. On the walls, some bulletin boards replicate the originals at the Pacific Clay factory. Some bricks are wrapped with a printed sheet about the history of  bricks of the UCLA buildings. The building itself, and most of the other buildings on the campus, speak unmistakably brick language. But to hold only one, naked, unfinished, is handling a rough unit, a number asking to be a body, a body that would like to be something else: “I want to be an arch,” the brick told Louis Khan. The architect accepted the challenge. But here, in the school room, the only challenge is “doing life consciously” and feel a solid piece of clay transformed into a book.

Maybe Fiona looked at the brick like Simone at the grasshopper, were they very curious about each other? Clay is the opposite of an inert material. Minerals trap water into their molecules. And, in this Happening at the end of day, because of all the elements orchestrated around the little heavy red rough block, the mind goes through walls and buildings, the mind can feel what happens: the brick is a catalyst like any book, a substance that increases chemical reactions in our brain without changing her own composition. Water is trapped in our brain’s chemistry.

Suddenly The UCLA buildings appear melted back to the original condition of the clay, which was entirely dug from a site near Lake Elsinore. Let’s pretend it’s a virtual reality experience: bricks meet from ancient China, India, Egypt, and Northern Italy of course, they shake hands with their California siblings and go back to their functions in the walls, buildings reappear intact. It wouldn’t be history without hands and tools of their makers at the factory, without the people who provide the loafs, architects designing the forms, others teaching how to build, and inevitably taking the bricks for granted, as we do with our legs and arms. Fiona Connor gave to the brick a day of glory knowing it wouldn’t last. “Life,” also “conscious life” absorbs everything: geology, fantasies. The brick, a human idea.

bibliography: 

ALLAN KAPROW, Essays on The Blurring of Art and Life, edited by Jeff Kelley, University of California Press, 1993

SIMONE FORTI, Handbook in Motion, An account of an ongoing personal discourse and its manifestations in dance.  Contact Edition, Northampton MA, 1974

Commentary by Charlie Morrow:  

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