By Kitnick, Alex
Artforum International , Vol. 50, No. 7
FOR AN UNREALIZED 1937 PROJECT, Fernand Leger proposed to bathe Paris in colored light. "I asked for 300,000 unemployed to clean and scrub the facades," the artist recounted in his 1946 essay "Modern Architecture and Color." The goal was to "create a white and luminous city," and "in the evening the Eiffel Tower, like an orchestra-leader," would play "the most powerful projectors in the world upon the streets." Leger conceived of his project, collectively scaled in both production and reception, as a way to trump the alienation of modern life by maximizing its effects. "What, in the end, makes advertisements so superior to criticism?" Walter Benjamin had asked some ten years prior. "Not what the moving red neon sign says--but the fiery pool reflecting in the asphalt." Following Benjamin, Leger imagined a media architecture that would turn advertising's seductive surfaces toward other, "postcritical" purposes. Color had the power to alter environments, create ambience, and mobilize affect, and all these things were crucial if art was going to maintain its relevance in the face of an increasingly overwhelming commercial culture. If Leger's project envisaged the co-optation of advertising's techniques in order to exceed them, however, today such tactics have been assimilated to more ambivalent ends. In her recent book Kissing Architecture (2011), Sylvia Lavin describes how "color, reflection, pattern, and texture" have now transformed architecture into a complete "sensory apparatus" that responds to "the full range of affective demands made by culture." Rather than provide a respite from current forces, or an attempt to collectivize them, architecture, too, now contributes to an environment that bodies forth sensation at all times.
In the past few years, the artist Rey Akdogan has begun picking apart our contemporary mediascape by examining the connections between ambience and affect, and their relationship to color and collectivity, in a studious, idiosyncratic, and poetic manner. Armed with devices borrowed from the worlds of stage design, commercial photography, architectural seriography, and the everyday--among them fluorescent rods, lighting gels, and various forms of packaging--she has pur Together assemblages that literally objectify the elusive elements of environmental stimulation while never quite cohering into things sturdy enough to be called sculptures. In AWC, 201 I, for example, various items simultaneously come together and stand apart in a tentative encounter. A sheet of crinkled yellow lighting gel is suspended on the wall with magnets while a cylinder of black kraft paper and a rolled-up poster reading ART WORKERS won't kiss ass stand on the floor as if ready to be laid out or shipped off. Taking its title from the Art Workers' Coalition, the work strikes an uneasy balance between the desire for a politicized role for artmaking and its embeddedness in contemporary design. Similarly, the title of Yanher 12850, 20 1 1--an illuminated fluorescent light positioned at the base of a wall next to a vintage pressed-tin tile and a host of other props including "Cinegels," lens tissue paper, and colored plastic--has a geopolitical association: It is taken from the name of a Costa Rican company that produces packaging for bananas and other produce. Where Dan Flavin used similar materials to create environmental and immersive installations full of exalted halations and radiant glows, Akdogan lays her materials bare, treating them more like castoffs and leftovers of some larger project. Her interest is not in enveloping the viewer but in allowing him or her to regain a modicum of critical distance. One is invited to gaze at the devices of theatricality from a welcome
As part of her investigations into the mechanisms of contemporary visual stimulation, Akdogan has also produced several sequences of handmade slides that she displays with the help of a standard Kodak projector. …