A visual environment that reflects the interrelations between art, architecture, design, ecology, and social movements.
Martin Beck's exhibition “Panel 2—‘Nothing better than a touch of ecology and catastrophe to unite the social classes…'” draws on the events of the 1970 International Design Conference in Aspen (IDCA) and the development of the Aspen Movie Map to form a visual environment that reflects the interrelations between art, architecture, design, ecology, and social movements.
The 1970 IDCA marked a turning point in design thinking. The conference's theme, “Environment by Design,” brought together venerable figures of modern design in the United States, including Eliot Noyes, George Nelson, and Saul Bass; environmental collectives and activist architects from Berkeley such as the Environmental Action Group, Sim Van der Ryn, and Ant Farm; as well as a group of French designers and sociologists, among them Jean Aubert, Lionel Schein, and Jean Baudrillard. The conference quickly escalated into a site of unresolvable conflict about communication formats and the potential role of design for environmental practices in a rapidly changing society.
The ensuing decade heralded the development of an interactive navigation system, which used the same Colorado resort town as its test site. The Aspen Movie Map—initiated by MIT's Architecture Machine Group (the predecessor to the Media Lab) and partially funded by the US Department of Defense—is an image-based surrogate travel system using footage filmed in Aspen. Meant to prepare users for quick orientation in places they have never been to, the Aspen Movie Map was a seminal prototype for today's military and consumer navigation systems.
The Aspen Complex documents two versions of Beck's exhibition—at London's Gasworks and Columbia University's Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery—and brings together yet unpublished archival material and new research on the 1970 IDCA and the Aspen Movie Map.
Martin Beck (born 1963 in Bludenz, Austria, lives and works in New York and Vienna), an artist whose interests lie at the intersection of art, design, architecture, and historical inquiry, is concerned with shifts and changes of perspective that occurred in the period of late modernism; how their material, formal, and social structure impacts contemporary culture. A number of projects developed over time include investigations into the history of communal living, notably the famous American commune of Drop City; the emerging discourse on ecology and politics at the 1970 International Design Conference in Aspen, Colorado; student protest and history writing in the case of the brutalist Art and Architecture Building by Paul Rudolph at Yale University; and the impact of modularity on the exhibition, exemplified by designer George Nelson's Struc-Tube display system, etc. Beck distills from these references a paradoxical coexistence of emancipatory promises and logics of control that run through and between them.
An interrelated concern for Beck is what generates form making and what rules govern it, whether it be forms of organization, display, communication, enunciation, knowledge, or research and how it comes together, operates, and is perceived in the format of the exhibition. Conversely, in using the exhibition as a medium, Beck asks how the exhibition and the artworks therein provide and negotiate a space for this investigation.
Martin Beck holds a professorship at the Academy of Fine Arts of Vienna. In conjunction with his artistic practice, Beck also writes critically about art, design, and architecture. He occasionally also works as an exhibition designer.