Monday, 21 February 2011

The Grotesque

"The Grotesque is the estranged world. But is our world which has to be transformed. Suddenness and surprise are essential elements of the grotesque. Its representations in the plastic arts... do not refer to a state of repose but to an action, a "pregnant moment", or at least — in the case of Kafka — a situation that is filled with ominous tension...

We are strongly affected and terrified because it is our world which ceases to be reliable, and we feel that we would be unable to live in this changed world. The grotesque instills fear of life rather than death.  The various forms of the grotesque are the most obvious and pronounced contradictions of any kind of rationalism and any systematic use of thought."

- Wolfgang Kayser, The Grotesque in Art and Literature, 185

"The most consistently distinguished characteristic of the grotesque has been the... mixture of the heterogeneous, or conflation of disparates."

- Philip Thomson, The Grotesque, 11 

A powerful esthetic category involving disruption and distortion of hierarchical or canonical assumptions. The notion combines ugliness and ornament, the bizarre and the ridiculous, the excessive and the unreal. The term derives from the Italian term for grottos (grotteschi), i.e., the ruins in which statuettes of distorted figures were found in the XV and XVI centuries. The Romantic era, with its interest in the dispossessed, in all those who before the age of Revolution had been nameless and invisible, made the grotesque its indispensable adjunct. Victor Hugo, for whom the grotesque was indispensable opposite the sublime, aptly indulged his penchant for antithesis when he claimes that the grotesque is "the richest source nature can offer art." M. Bahktin placed the grotesque at the heart of the carnivalesque spirit.

With its insistence on ironic reversals, on fluent and fertile opposites, the grotesque also resembles the topos of The World Upside-Down, that topsy-turvy universe where things are no longer in their place, where order is disrupted, where hierarchies tumble, and the Fool is king. Both the Grotesque and The World Upside-Down possess a darkly comic portent, that the fantastic uncovers and explores; both serve the key function of revealing the constructed nature of rationality, of the mandate that everything be in its place. The surface relationships by which daily life is governed are anything but ordained and stable; indeed, they can be understood as absolute only by dint of a sustained illusion.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Mutable Program

In 1853 one London clergyman argued that the City of London had too many Churches, and that 29 churches should be demolished. Seven years later, in 1860, the Union of Benefices Act was passed, allowing the reorganisation of benefices or church livings and parishes - resulting in the reduced number of ten churches being demolished in order to make way for the City’s growing trade infrastructure.

Some 150 years later, in 1992, the Templeman report again concluded that the organisation of religious life in the Capital should be drastically reconsidered. All Churches have reported reduced congregations consistently over the past three decades. As result, many have resorted to a combination of private enterprise, or special cases of ‘religious specialisation’, whereby a specific denomination or demographic is catered to. As result, the number of churches in the City of London is to be reduced to only twelve, leaving twenty seven redundant.

Before the dissolution of the monastery in 1543 under the protestant reformation, which saw the destruction of more than half of its built structure, the church of Great St Barts acted as a centre for multiple programmatic functions: A school, livestock market, blacksmiths, private residence, hospital and jousting hall were all held within the church itself, while still functioning as a holy building.

Being one such church that will be decommissioned as a result of the Templeman report, Great St Barts will become the centre of a medical wing with hybrid programmes: Allowing for rehabilitation of IAD patients within an environment of variable community program.

Site: A Vision for the Virtual

In 1123, a courtier of King Henry I named Rahere fell ill whilst on religious pilgrimage in Rome. During his fever, Rahere had a vision of St Bartholomew, the patron of tanners and believed to hold healing powers, who instructed him that in the event that he recovered, he should build a hospital.

This virtual encounter led to the founding of the churches of St Bartholomew-the-Great and St Bartholomew-the-Less, as well as St Bartholomew Hospital. The former now remains the oldest church in the London, the latter the oldest church in England, both having existed on the same site for almost 900 years, surviving both the Great Fire of London and the Blitz.

By 1872, St Bartholomew’s contained 676 beds. About 6,000 in-patients were admitted every year, besides 101,000 out-patients. While the hospital now operates with only half these beds, and its Accident & Emergency facility was closed in 1995, it remains one of the most important centres of medical research in Europe, with a new £200m Cancer Research Centre having opened in 2009.