Architecture as fetish
Kaaba / Mekka ©2012 by Julian S. Bielicki
Architecture as fetish
by Julian S. Bielicki
In the desert sat a dervish,
proud of his pricy carpet.
He was proud, the carpet silent,
his new fetish from the market.
So the story went.
Fetishes are one of those tricky things. Karl Marx himself gave thought to the fatal tendency, almost a human craze, to make everything into an object – a commodity that can then be bought and sold. To turn something into a commodity, it needs to be an object with a fixed size, width, height, or time dimensions. Like work for example. You can then work out how to purchase more cheaply and sell to make more money. By objectifying something, you can use advertising to convince people that the object is worth more than other similar objects. It becomes a branded good. Once an object has reached a very, very high value in people’s imaginations as a result of such “marketing propaganda”, it can be sold for a very high price. Women’s primary and secondary sex organs, for example, have long been turned into a fetish by people, like some kind of monstrance, altar, devotional object, Caaba or other fetish. It’s a simple formula: provide open access or exposure to something, and people whisper straight away about something precious and secret, holy and healing; see it or touch it and you experience exaltation, enlightenment, healing or something along those lines. And this needs to be paid for – maybe even in advance, it always depends. The Swiss, to give an example, have created an expensive fetish out of their otherwise rather worthless mountains and make a good living from them. The mountains aren’t any different from their counterparts in, say, Poland, but, even so, most people want to go to St.Moritz and not Szczyrk because St.Moritz is a fetish, while the same cannot be said for Szczyrk by any stretch of the imagination. (The moniker ‘sport’ is then used to cover this.) Women with their mammories and vaginas, all pimped up with silicone and Botox, selling or renting to the highest bidder. (The moniker then becomes ‘love’.) With their eyes firmly on the cash, many human beings are resorting to plastic surgery to transform themselves into this kind of fetish monster. Real life, however, is not about what is profitable, and true love does not mean foraging around in the internal cavities of the other, whatever the manner in which this is being done. If one person loves another, this person will not try to rip off the clothes of the other person. Otherwise it’s just lust (against which I have nothing), and not love. Love has more to do with abstinence than with grubbing money. Looked at that way, former German President Christian Wulff was the perfect representative of the German people, because his values stretch no further than grubbing money, even if he was merely gathering breadcrumbs from the tables of the rich. Let’s not forget, the Führer is dead, but the Volksgemeinschaft (“people’s community”) lives on, and the Volksgemeinschaft keeps on grubbing. Architecture is not immune from being turned into a
commodity or an object on a regular basis either – a lot of money is there for the taking, after all. Investors, promoters, initiators and other various fools like to turn architecture into an object, a commodity, a fetish. Let’s not forget the architects though – architects are not servants to the oh-so magnificent economic system that is currently leaving half of Europe staring into the abyss. I myself studied architecture under two individuals in particular, Ottokar Uhl and Heinz Mohl, learning from both as a master scholar about forty years ago. Ottokar Uhl reiterated to me and my fellow students on many occasions that architecture is a process and not an object, while Heinz Mohl had a nose for the real and the authentic, comparable to a pig seeking out valuable truffles. As a result, I became a processual creature, and have been happily trotting, grunting and sniffing my way forward for many a year. Architecture is a process, not an object; in other words, please don’t lay bricks all over the place and don’t lark about with architectural gadgets, but please do think about what should be happening, and why it should be happening. A human being will never be an object, even if the global economy in its entirety reifies them, or wants to make them a commodity. Fake and artificial, a fetish is an object. Architecture should be a process, not a fetish; it should be real, authentic. As Robert Venturi once (rightly) said, “Main Street is almost alright,” while ever since Adorno we have known that “there is no right life in the wrong one” and that good health means nothing if you are an idiot (also Adorno). So be clever and learn a lot. Life is very simple. Go about it right, and it will turn out right. And if not, it will turn out wrong, and you will know it is wrong due to the simple fact that it is not working – it simply does not work. Just like when a chicken tries to fly – a shoddy mess ensues. Architecture works along similar lines. Shoddy messes come about through a will to do something, an inability to do this, and an attempt to do this despite this inability. Even at its lowest, an eagle still flies higher than the chicken jumps in its attempts to fly, as one has the ability and the other does not. The ones that do not have the ability produce shoddy messes no end, and this is when fetishes develop.
(No animals were harmed in the making of this text, nor were any genetically modified ingredients used.)