Pasztor, Erika Katalina | media artist
Budapest, Hungary
 
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published in:

Balkon, Budapest 2003 September

[Hungarian]
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Delphic retro / In memoriam Doug Michels

 

ThunderMac, Doug Michels: Teleport 2020
Image(1): ThunderMac, Doug Michels: Teleport 2020 Ford Motor Co. and Apple, Inc.
resource: http://www.hfac.uh.edu/MediaFutures/AT/thundermac.html

 

Some of the guerrilla television people were able to acclimatize luckily after the period of radical video activism disappearing with the 70's. Michael Shamberg produced video clips in the 80's; later he became film producer. Chip Lord from the Ant Farm is the head of the department of film and digital media at UCLA. Doug Michels took his degree in architecture at Yale in 1967; and he won an award in progressive architecture in the same year. He met Chip Lord in 1968, together they founded Ant Farm, an artist collective.  One of their most famous work is the Cadillac Ranch (Amarillo 1974) sponsored by a Texas millionaire, Stanley Marsh. They dug halves of 10 Cadillac's from the 50's into the earth, at about 45-degree bottom-up. Two classics of early video art also belong to the Ant Farm. During the Media Burn (1975) performance in San Francisco, a prepared 1955 Cadillac crashed into a wall built of television sets. The photo documents of the event became the most popular post cards in the 80's. The Eternal Frame is an ingenious remake of the Kennedy murder.

 

Ant Farm: Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo (1974)
image (2): Ant Farm: Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo (1974)
resource: http://www.libertysoftware.be/cml/cadillacranch/ranch/crabtr.htm


In 1979, an innovative and daring banker, E. Rudge Allan, who invested in the Apple Inc., met in Houston the young Doug Michels showing similar qualities. The banker commissioned Michels and his partner Richard Jost to rebuild the Allan residence. The outcome was the Allan Teleport room (1979), which was the very first Apple computer shrine, a futuristic family media centre in Houston. After the death of Allan the family presented the Architectural Faculty of Houston University with the room, so the E. Rudge Allan Media Centre was founded at the University of Houston in 1998. Performing an operation on the design to rebuild in the university wasn't going smoothly, the professors were a bit skeptical about the benefit of this relatively small and intimate room according to university scale. Only around a dozen students can surf on the Internet or arrange a teleconference here. This presentation, however is an exemplary idea to reserve an excellent design and useful installation from 1979, which would had probably been dismantled or rebuild by the new owners after selling of the Allan residence.

 

Doug Michels, Richard Jost: Allan Teleport Center (Huston, 1979)
image (3): Doug Michels, Richard Jost: Allan Teleport Center (Huston, 1979)
resource: http://www.hfac.uh.edu/MediaFutures/AT/allenteleportpicture.html

 

In 1977, Michels took part in a project in Australia researching dolphins. "These ancient mammals have advanced telecommunication system, actually they are floating workstations." - writes in his email to Bruce Webb[10]. In design Michels gave preference to converging curves he discovered in nature - especially in dolphins -, despite of the forms based on intersecting planes of Euclid's geometry. "The shape is purpose." [11] - continues in his mail later, or in other words, the purpose of design is to reach inseparable unity of form and function as it is perceivable in dolphins. Based on and inspired by nature studies, Michels created the delphic style as he named non-Euclid architecture in his designs, in which he always inspected the forms of zero gravitation - the floating - as perfect as man ever able to create.

 

Physical constructs of philosophical expression become symbols for aspirations and desires of the cultures they personify, and in that sense... architecture is an important "Lifemark" on the eternal landscape, a brief human imprint on the ever shifting sea of atoms. Architectural style is significant because it reflects the "Meaning of Life" for a particular era.

 

Between 1979 and 1982 Doug Michels worked at Philiph Johnson's New York office, later at Hellmut, Obata + Kassabaum (HOK) in Washington DC. It's easy to imagine that Michels' delphic style just didn't fit in the professional business architecture of the leading offices in the early 1980's. He arrived too early, there were no specific design tools and technology of building construction accessible and cheap enough to realize his unconventional concepts in large inflexible architectural offices and their clients wanted safety and increasing profit. It is well discernible on the old black and white videotape from 1979, documenting the building of the Allan media room that all curves and slopes are of accurate handy work. That time they haven't got advanced computer workstations, they haven't got Catia for instance, which is able to produce highly exact 3D manufacturing plans of any complex digital surfaces as it was bound to happen in case of Frank O. Gehry's enlarged-to-industrial-size Bilbao statuette.

 

In 1985-1986 Michels had a scholarship from Harvard, later founded his own studio. After the stopping of the Ant Farm collective and developing his independent works and architectural visions inspired by nature studies and based on the integration of electronic images and new technologies, he was far ahead of the successful business architecture of his time. His utopias were annexed by the film- and media industry; now there shouldn't be a third class science fiction movie missing sets, telecommunication and transport tools designed in his delphic style. Last year Michels worked together with Chip Lord on the Ant Farm's retrospective exhibition. The traveling exhibition will open in Berkeley first in January 2004 and it will be presented in Santa Monica, Philadelphia, Houston, and in Karlsruhe, at Europe's largest media centre, in the Zentrum für Kunst und Medien (ZKM). In mid June, when I started to write this article, Doug Michels died just few days before his 60th birthday near Sydney. He was on shooting a film about whales and he tried to climb up to an observation post. He was found only a few days later.

 

Erika Katalina Pasztor

Budapest, August 3, 2003

 

Doug Michels: House of the Century (Texas, 1973)
image (4): House of the Century (Texas, 1973) designed and built by Doug Michels and Richard Jost
resource: http://www.hfac.uh.edu/MediaFutures/AT/hocpicture.html

 

Erika Katalina Pasztor

 

Budapest, August 3, 2003

 



 

 

[10] Bruce Webb's interview with Doug Michels. August 12, 1997 online: http://www.hfac.uh.edu/MediaFutures/AT/page7.html [2003.07.02.]

[11] Bruce Webb's interview with Doug Michels. August 12, 1997 online: http://www.hfac.uh.edu/MediaFutures/AT/page6.html [visited: 2003. 07.02.]

 

   

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