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Support Structures

(p. 6-8)

Support Structures is a manual for what bears, sustains, props, and holds up. It is a manual for those things that encourage, give comfort, approval, and solace; that care for and provide consolation and the necessities of life. It is a manual for that which assists, corroborates, advocates, articulates, substantiates, champions, and endorses; for what stands behind, underpins, frames, presents, maintains, and strengthens. Support Structures is a manual for those things that give, in short, support. While the work of supporting might traditionally appear as subsequent, unessential, and lacking value in itself, this manual is an attempt to restore attention to one of the neglected, yet crucial modes through which we apprehend and shape the world.
Support Structures is the culmination of several endeavours. The first is the collaborative project ‘Support Structure' by ourselves, Céline Condorelli and Gavin Wade, from 2003 to 2009. The second, prompted by the first, is a critical enquiry by Condorelli that exposes an almost complete absence of literature or theory on what constitutes ‘support', and therefore the imperative need to create a bibliography on the subject. Lastly, this book, Support Structures, is itself articulated as a supporting structure, a manual for engagement in and with its subject, which attempts both functionally and structurally to operate much like it.
This book was produced by and constitutes the last phase of the Support Structure project, and includes its corresponding set of works, actions, and manifestations. The ten phases of Support Structure form a process of investigation into the methodologies and conceptual devices offered by thinking through what a support structure could or might be. This act was informed by our belief in and understanding of inherent and primary functions of the role of art and architecture as supportive, which quickly led to a discussion of utopian references as much as pragmatic ones. Indeed we began the project by asking if a universal support structure could be developed. The cumulative parts of this project form a research archive, with a set of terms and possibilities for thinking through support outside the traditional terms that are assigned to it. It is present in this book as an art project and the primary research towards developing the argument that support, though often unrecognised or belittled, is an important, productive, and qualitative work.
The conditions of cultural practice have been extensively questioned and transformed in the last decades. This implosion can be credited to the rethinking of representation in the late 1970s and to the practices coined as institutional critique and relational aesthetics, these three moments or movements having been instrumental in reshaping critical discourse in contemporary art and architecture. The effects of this transformation of the cultural field were to shift the focus away from objects and products towards processes of labour and production, and towards the discursive — in some ways, from foreground to mid- and background. This was accomplished through a substantial re-politicisation of the cultural sphere, and was developed alongside considerable theoretical and philosophical work that is emblematic of this particular shift. For this turn, we must indebt ourselves first to Marxist and feminist discourses, and secondly to what they made possible, to the works of Artist Placement Group, Marcel Broodthaers, Daniel Buren, Andrea Fraser, Louise Lawler, Group Material, and to the writings of Hannah Arendt, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Félix Guattari, and Claude Lévi-Strauss.
And yet something still seems to be missing. Some simple observations seem to be at odds with this apparently mature movement. For instance, as yet, architecture seems not to have addressed or created a discourse around its own making. (Where is the history of the workers of architecture?) And the modes of exhibition and display are more conservative and homogeneous today than they have ever been in history (as the white cube — also in its black box guise — is, finally, all-prevailing). In the wealth of writings on space and politics, there appears to be a lack of critical literature on the means, relationships, and underlying ideologies in the making and representation of space. This book addresses this black hole in the self-consciousness of art and architecture, and asks where the discourse of support is to be found, by proposing to uncover it. Can we refocus our attention to thinking through the lens of support? While this might reveal hidden relationships, foregrounding support also proposes to understand production through forms of mediation and interface towards the making of place, which does not produce objects but relationships to context. This book addresses important questions for art and architecture practices on forms of display, organisation, articulation, appropriation, autonomy, and temporariness, and the manifestations of blindness towards them. In addressing these issues, Support Structures can offer a constructive criticality, articulating borders and notions of territory, their supplementary position in the taking place of a work, and the product and production of ‘frames'.
Finally, this book is constructed and designed as a support structure in itself, with designer James Langdon. Support Structures, therefore, starts with a set of Directions for Use, outlining support's function and intent (‘Necessity' and ‘Requirements') and its operation (‘Features', ‘Structures', ‘Modes', and ‘Entries'). It then proceeds to investigate notions of support within the realms of art, architecture, and other spatial practices. It proposes a curated bibliography with a collection of contributions that offer different possibilities for engaging in this unchartered territory — from theoretical frameworks to projects, existing systems to ones invented for specific creative processes. Towards this end, we are grateful to our contemporaries and those we have had the pleasure of working alongside: Kathrin Böhm, Clare Cumberlidge, Nathan Coley, Barnaby Drabble, Liam Gillick, Avery Gordon, Paul Hirst, Per Hüttner, Vasif Kortun, Andreas Lang, Maria Lind, Antoni Muntadas, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Doina Petrescu, Cedric Price, Jane Rendell, Stefan Saffer, Eyal Sivan, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and Carey Young, amongst many others. And those from before we were born whom we continue to draw upon: Herbert Bayer, R. Buckminster Fuller, Eileen Gray, Frederick Kiesler, El Lissitzky, Lilly Reich, Luchino Visconti, Virginia Woolf … the list is impossible to finish. Support Structures offers support through potential methodologies, inspirations, and activations for practice. While registering and collecting reference projects (‘Entries') in a new archive of support structures alongside its ten-phase project, different writers, thinkers, and practitioners were invited from various fields to elaborate on frameworks and work on texts (‘Modes'), which form the theoretical backbone of the publication. These commissioned essays cover a wide range of writing styles, some of considerable complexity, and others that are more casual in tone. Their variety corresponds to that of the task at hand, as they were commissioned specifically in relationship to different kinds of support. These include the psychoanalytic function and resulting theoretical reflections on support (Mark Cousins), support for democracy (Andrea Phillips), considerations on humanitarian aid as a possible form of support (Rony Brauman and Eyal Weizman), an exposition of the state's supports for culture (Jaime Stapleton), an investigation of how to support culture (Bart de Baere), the history and function of art supports (Jean-Claude Lebensztejn), architectural support (Wouter Davidts), and, finally, personal support as care (Jan Verwoert).
Inasmuch as any manual is proactive in character, this book is productively forward-looking, and does not attempt to provide a complete summing-up of the possibilities to think with support, nor is it able to ground them in established directions, as those simply don't exist. It can only suggest a range of possibilities in the hope of opening up further considerations and horizons for thinking and acting. Such an approach inevitably is lacking and wanting and creates its own exclusions — of what has been left out or never found, of what has not been done or documented, and of what will probably never be done or written, given the present institutionalised practices. Furthermore, many questions present here have not yet found answers, and we would like this work to be read as a collective construction site, to be added to, subtracted from, and passed onto others, or simply used. In spite of these limitations, further demands can be made by dedicating this manual to future practice, urging it to explore the political or economic motivations and alliances of dominant cultures, to examine methods of promotion and repression and consider how these elude representation, and stubbornly retain access to modes of production, continuing towards new uses for the practice of support structures.

Support Structure: Céline Condorelli and Gavin Wade

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