Constant's New Babylon: The Hyper-Architecture of Desire
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*A very, very nice color scan.*
From the preface...
To turn one’s gaze upon New Babylon today, at the close of our century, is to encounter another world, where surprise and the pleasure of the eyes mingle with innumerable questions, insights, and speculations. New Babylon was the focus of Constant Nieuwenhuys’s activity from 1956 to 1974. These very concrete dates encompass the creation of paintings, drawings, collages, lithographs, scale models, and texts, forming the corpus that we now rediscover at Witte de With, center for contemporary art. This rediscovery is motivated by a critical approach to the present, seeking to avoid a merely historical description of events from a past which, although recent, is nonetheless charged with significant paradoxes.
Constant is an artist who, with New Babylon, becomes one of the major visionary architects of this century. Both these domains interest us today: the art and its intentions, the expression and its content, the image and what it conveys, the text and the pedagogical system in which it is inscribed. The challenge is to present an artist whose complex, hybrid work finds no easy classification — especially in the present time of ideological flux, which allows us to elaborate new arguments and to form judgments.
New Babylon constitutes the last comprehensive formulation of an idea of the new man, or better, of a social space that allows for the emergence of an other man, of a new way of living in community, in society. New Babylon is engaged with man’s experience of the world — and thus with the function of art — but also with politics, with the values and instruments that we forge for our interaction with the world. Deeply rooted in the avant-garde tradition which, at the outset of this century, produced so many proposals for the renewal of society, New Babylon offers a sharp contrast with the close of our century, when the capacity to imagine the world differently has significantly declined. Here, then, is a first intriguing question: what today remains of our capacity to reinvent the world?
With this exhibition and monograph we seek to create a double effect. First, to offer the enjoyment of contemplating an oeuvre of exceptional quality which, since its last complete presentation in the Haags Gemeentemuseum in 1974, has only reached the public through fragmentary presentations (at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, with the exhibition On the passage of a f ew people through a rather brief moment in time: the Situationist International, 1957-1972 in 1989; and at the Museu d’Art Contemporani in Barcelona, with the exhibition Situationists. Art, Politics, Urbanism in 1997). Second, to recover and evaluate the impact that New Babylon can have in the present, where radicality, conviction, and audacity are rare.
’aujourd’hui on ‘Architectures fantastiques’ —the large collection o f experimental projects “follow the leader” .’ 127 He felt that providing mobility for those who wished to take ad from around the world that aroused the situationists’ disdain. The centerpiece was the vantage o f it was better than imposing endless mobility on all. The disagreement was re Space City o f Schultze-Fielitz featured on the cover. Like N ew Babylon, it was presented as peated in public at the conference
on w ood / 1 7 x 77.5 x 60.5 cm (photo 1, 2, 4 ,5 : Victor E. N ieuw enhuys / 3: Bram Wisman) Plattegrond van de oriënt sector (M ap o f the Orient Sector) / pencil and ink on paper 4 0 x 51 cm Inaugural Report to the Munich Conference [Original in French, ‘Rapport inaugural de la conference de Munich,’ presentation to the Third Situationists Conference, held from 17-20 April 1959 in Munich. Published in Internationale Situationniste, no. 3 (Decem ber 1959), pp. 24-27. Translated by
and dulled by mind-numbing static, material functionalism, to the aesthetic o f the m od the earth’s surface, the correlation between nature and hu labor and with nothing to lose but their chains? O r are they ern city. Unitary urbanism is flexible, it respects our free man habitation, which so dominates contemporary town the people o f the future, robbed o f their occupations by dom to change our way o f life, it adapts to every situation, planning, presents a far less attractive
second network, traffic. The Within these chains are found the services and everything In the first phase, the distance between sectors and groups ‘links’ are areas generally devoid o f building, though with pertaining to the organization o f social life, in the ‘links’ o f o f sectors increases the demand for rapid means o f loco the exception o f centers o f production and the installations the network, the entirely automated units o f production, motion. Crossing residential areas
was originally entitled ‘Notre ambition est dans l’ambiance.’ Debord found the notion o f ambience restrictive and pro posed ‘ N otre ambition est dans la con struction totale de la v ie’ when offering a few corrections to the text. 22 The most developed accounts o f the relationship between Constant’s N ew Babylon and the situationists are to be found in: Simon Sadler, The Situationist City (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998); Thomas Y. Levin, ‘ Geopolitics o f H iber nation: The D rift o f