Friday, October 28, 2011

Sometimes

Sometimes, my candle scarcely out, my eyes would close so quickly that I did not have time to say to myself: "I"m falling asleep." Swann's Way

Monday, October 17, 2011

House & Garden 1914

Riding the Mainline, reading House and Garden, January 1914. Transcribing interesting company fonts for Brunswick Refrigerating Co. and the Kelsey Warm Air Generator. Must return to Mott's plumbing, the inspiration for Duchamp's R. Mutt persona in Fountain (1917).

Roman Architecture

Here's all you need to know about Roman architecture (to pass my class)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Henry Darger

Henry Darger is my new favorite artist. Sadly, I learned about him while learning about the failures of the Folk Art Museum in New York, where most of his works have been donated. These are tough times for anything vernacular. The Folk Art Museum is an of the Bilbao Effect, gone array. The new building by Billy Tsien and Tod Williams has contributed to the institution's demise. My sketchbook re-appropriation of Darger's appropriation includes elevations of the iron columns from Metal Vitruvius.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Lechaion Basilica Graffiti

William Caraher has posted his working draft of "The Ambivalent Landscape of Christian Corinth: The Archaeology of Place, Theology, and Politics in a Late Antique City," a fascinating paper that seeks to pull together direct and circumstantial evidence about a power struggle between local and imperial identity in mid-6th-century Corinth. The paper combines new survey data on rural villas (potentially domus-ecclesiae) with the better-known excavated mega-churches, such as the basilica at Mount Lechaion.

In one section of the paper, Caraher seeks the voices of local craftsmen employed by the imperial building boom left behind on the fabric of the building (p. 17). He cites Sanders wonderful discovery of fish graffiti in the mortar bedding of the Panayia Bath, Lechaion basilica and other monuments in Corinth. To this list, I would like to add a couple of additional evidence, based on some notes and slides that I took in a 2000 visit.

1. "Save Me"Few of the marble blocks of the Lechaion basilica contain evidence for a numbering system related to the process of production, transportation and erection. One such block, an Ionic column base dividing the nave and the aisles contains number 1 (Greek letter "A"). The block, however, also contains an inscription of Christian content Σώσων, referring to salvation. Like the numeric Alpha, this inscription would have been disguised by the next column drum. It offers a fascinating example of the mason's temporarily visible/permanently immured apotropaic prayer. Unfortunately, I didn't transcribe or trace the inscription in detail. This slide from 2000 is all I have, but enough of it is visible. The photo also illustrates the evidence for attached parapets that would have divided nave from aisles.

2. Kappa for Korinthos?

In addition to the fish scratching on the plaster, I also noticed the pattern above, vertical lines flanked by two angled lines that make up two Kappas, one Chi, or even some vestige of Chi Rho. I have the vague memory that this slide was taken from the exterior surface of the apse (but it's 11 years ago). As in the case of the fish, these lines were scratched on the plaster to create an adhesive surface for the decorated layer. They were never intended to be seen. Yet, one cannot help but speculate whether these scratches have any linguistic significance. The Long Building that Sanders excavated in the Panayia Field also had such lines (if I remember correctly). In the Middle-Byzantine period the letter "K" or "X" was used for intentional decorative purposes in exterior walls. In Corinth, one can see it at the lower courses of the Tower Building that still survives in the Forum area. The letter "K" is rather common for such Middle and Late-Byzantine walls throughout Greece. Its appearance in the exterior of churches in Kastoria has been used as evidence for urban insignia. The examples from Corinth warrant further thought. Was this just a standard way to prepare a wall surface? or did it have special significance? I let Bill Caraher sort this one out.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Monument List

The latest manifestation of my History of Architecture class includes a global perspective and lots of drawing exercises that include measuring columns, constructing orthographic documents, crafty tools that diminish the distance between the sacred canon illustrated in our textbook and the profane vernacular that surrounds us. The first exam is slowly approaching before Fall Break and covers Neolithic, Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Aegean, Greek and Roman architecture. Rather that handing out my usual list of monuments to memorize, I've decided to step up my game. Since I'm making students communicate through drawings, I've decided to create a graphic handout. My goal is to convince them that drawings have less to do with skill or beauty but with communication. By seeing my drawings, they realize that although a little better than theirs, they are not masterpieces. What separates their drawings from mine is a bit of practice.

The hand-drawn sheet contains a richness of information that a Word-Processed list cannot replicate. More importantly, the hand-drawn sheet immobilizes the students from their natural habits of manipulating digital information (cutting-and-pasting, googling instead of reading, etc.) The monuments are selected from our textbook, Moffett and Woodehouse, Buildings Across Time: An Introduction to World Architecture. I do these sketches quickly on the train and they highlight issues that I have covered in lecture. For instance, we spent some time in class unpacking imbedded proportions in the classical buildings on campus. The students tested Vitruvius by measuring their own bodies, their bodies in a Doric colonnade and the bodies in relation to the parts of an Ionic base. When they meet Robert Stern in person next week, they'll have a different apprciation of his architecture by having actually measured the proportions of Stern's Ionic base.

The handout is drawn in pencil and then Xeroxed. Unlike these scanned images, the Xerox copies are crips and punchy. I enjoy the qualitative difference between the analog and digital versions. When I assign drawing exercises, I handout special paper. Most of them approach the thicker stock with greater reverence. The change in weight, texture and quality destabilizes the notion that a print-out is a portable version of a computer generated file (that costs 10 cents). Students know that something is special when crafted by hand. I've been amazed by how much my students appreciate (even fetishize) drawings and the process of generation.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Pointy Students

I get depressed as I write letters of recommendation for students applying to Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships. In trying to sell an extraordinary package, I realize my academic contribution to the economic polarization of American society. James Atlas spelled it out succinctly in his Sunday New York Times opinion piece called “Super People.” Indeed, the academic arena is devoted to the cultivation of a new class of individuals that are groomed from young age to achieve in all the registers that spell out success. Since collegiate success is the surest indicator for economic mobility, whatever humanistic endeavor we accomplish in the classroom translates into hyped market value. Our academic goals have long transitioned from the Enlightenment notion of Bildung to the instrumental notion of Academic Excellence. The former was intended to construct a full human being with the very critical faculties necessary for citizenship in the nation-state. The latter is intended to teach students how to excel above the socio-economic mean, how to accumulate and replicate power. Whether measured by SAT scores or peer-reviewed publications, academic excellence cannot be dissociated from what actually is going on in American society and its reflection in college admissions. Quantifiable relative value works in the marketplace and, for that very reason, we use it in our classrooms.

Civic service and other explorations into the human condition (the subject of the humanities, after all) become creators of surplus value in a pool of already perfect people. Extraordinary experiences are strategically acquired by the Super People to boost their perceived value. So how will a Super Person stand out in their college or graduate school application? They need to have a spike in their profile, choreographed by an extraordinary value-free "humanistic" experience like building refugee centers in Bosnia or volunteering at day care centers in Guatemala. Admissions officers have a special word for these people, they are “pointy.”

Like most liberal arts colleges, Franklin & Marshall specializes in the cultivation of “pointy” individuals who will excel in post-graduate arenas. We, the educators, have been very disingenuous in maintaining the Bildung myth, while inflating the market with seemingly value-free collegiate experiences. We all aspire to cultivate full individuals with humanistic depth and breadth. But we should all realize that our actual role in the dynamics of American society is the fabrication of spiky profiles, a strangely subverted ideal. There is nothing that I love more than creating Pointy students, but it depresses me to think that Pointiness is the single most operative capitalist value in the marketplace of the liberal arts college.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Reporting from Athens: The Ohio Tradition

When William Caraher was Carpenter professor at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in 2007, he started an interesting experiment: blogging his experiences of Greece for a digital audience. His New (and Old) Archaeology of the Mediterranean World has been one of the most enduring and popular blogs, which Caraher continues to write from North Dakota, Cyrpus or Australia. Caraher's reporting from Athens was captivating for readers who had been through the ASCSA program and were hungry to read accounts of daily life. The experiment of reporting from abroad did not die with Caraher's return to the U.S. Katie Rask picked up the torch as a fellow at the ASCSA with Antiquated Vagaries. Among a myriad of other things, Rask conducted urban topographies of 20th-century Athenian avant-gardes, a unique oral history project and the first documentary record of archaeologist tombstones.

Beginning as foreign correspondents, both Caraher and Rask created a coherent genre that became addictive. It is with great pleasure that I learned today that blogging from the American School continues with Dallas de Forrest's Mediterranean Palimpsest launched on Sept. 18. What is fascinating about the Caraher, Rask, de Forrest trilogy is one common thread, namely Ohio State University. Superficially, this link reveals an organic circle of friendships and the need for human encouragement for blogging that defies the inherent digital distance. But I think there is something more important to the Ohio connection. Those following the current debates over Modern Greek Studies in the U.S. are aware of the concept of Ohiology, put forth in the May 1998 issue of the Journal of Modern Greek Studies. Ohiology refers to a highly theoretical strand of the discipline that received criticism by older generations of scholars. Although they may not agree with my assertion, Ohio State contains a powerhouse of theoretical Hellenism: Gregory Jusdanis, Georgios Anagnostou, Anthony Kardellis, Tim Gregory. To use a Greek colloquium, δεν παίζονται. Caraher, Rask and de Forrest are archaeologists with no stakes in Modern Greek areas studies. Yet, their sensitivity to post-classical Greece is so incredibly acute that the imprint of Ohio cannot be coincidental. It is with great pleasure that I read Mediterranean Palimpsest as the third manifestation of a blogging genre. I have no doubt that future historians will assess the postings from Greece as primary documents of a new digital relationship with a physically present Greece.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Card players

Cezanne's Card Players series from the early 1890s is currently on view in a mini blockbuster at the Metropolitan Museum. The series is based on Cezanne's studies of peasant life in Provencal. The Austrian painter Georg von Peschke must have seen the series in Paris during the 1920s before moving to Greece. He carried out his own version of card players in Skyros. As I prepare the first Peschke exhibition in the U.S., I think of artistic lineage. Interestingly enough, Peschke's Skyros' Card Players best resembles Cezanne's Card Players in the Barnes Collection. Peschke's Card Players was exhibited in Athens during the 1930s and was bought. My sketch on the left is based on a woodcut that is based on the original. I must now follow the paper-trail and figure out where and when Peschke saw the Card Players that ended up in Barnes' collection in Lower Merion, Pa. Strangely enough, the Peschke is coming closer than ever to its model.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States