For Josephine’s sake (or not)
…Unlike spectacle which implies the existence of an eye looking at it, the notion of landscape derives from its geographical origins an impersonal nature that departs completely from the subjective point of view. The neutral sexuality of plastic experience can be described as a dislocation of feeling in a geotypical context. It is no longer man who feels the landscape because now he is himself a part of it…
Mario Perniola 1
The primitive man, conceived and introduced at Laugier’s sight, was captured alone in a hut made of woven branches, finally sheltered in, overlooking the violent nature. After having occupied caves, leaving his blood inked murals as signatures of ownership on cave walls, he continued planning his occupation strategies towards the same disobedient nature, always restating his spatial dominance with more delicate manipulations, that incorporate restless desires in the forming of his abodes. Modernity stresses Laugier’s speculation sharing the same anticipation for new morals and principles, praising functionalism followed by industrialization’s accomplishments, while cogitating on the escape of civilization’s dirt. At the same time, rich, exotic nature―containing all, lacking nothing―announces its exuberant presence in the vibrant paintings of Gaugin and Rosseau and performs as the most prominent spectacle at Champs-Elysées, throughout the alluring librations of Josephine Baker. Captured in Josephine Baker’s web, Le Corbusier as a promising partner and Adolf Loos as a charmed admirateur, is the starting point for this paper to analyze the architectural perspectives of this peculiar menage i trois, renegotiating the meanings assigned to nature, shelter, lines and occupation.
I. Of Le Corbusier, Josephine Baker and other occupation cases
Le Corbusier’s romance with Josephine Baker was imprinted in Le Corbusier’s detailed letters to his mother, postcards, in photographical archives with common attendance in Music Hall and dinners, a ten-day marine trip and last but not least, in a series of drawings representing Josephine Baker. 2
Before we evaluate the tension of this relationship, we can pause and re-examine the symbolic meaning hidden behind Le Corbusier’s “manual” habit of drawing. The drawings unfold episodes of occupying intensions, and at some extend, these drawings developed in manuscripts of architectural importance. Such was the example of Cabanon, Le Corbusier’s version of primitive hut, the final outcome in an evolving line of control apparatuses.
In the book Creation is a Patient Search, Le Corbusier, clearly states “Once the impression has been recorded by the pencil, it stays for good―entered, registered, inscribed.” 3 Drawing for him is an action of understanding, and through this knowledge he penetrates and occupies the impression, object, experience. One could claim that the limits of his own kosmos are prescribed within the fine lines of his pencil. The drawing habit allows Le Corbusier to overlook real time factualities, to fully perceive them and finally transmit in paper, as lived, perceived and occupied. Going through, the multiple versions of his favorite theme―Algerian girls 4―drawn and redrawn on tracing paper, one can record Le Corbusier’s persistence of conquering the girls, reconfiguring them as bodies of his own. The drawing process brings back to life the lived experience, prolonging his hedonistic continuum and denying its orgasmic telos.
Cabanon as the construction of a drawing set, at first glance satisfies criteria regarding the originality of this machine as a primitive hut―its presence haunts nature as architecture’s other and as a vacation home, cabanon confirms the escape of the metropolitan living, introducing the occupant to an outdoors retreat. 5 Though this regeneration ritual counteracts the backdrops of urban living, Cabanon’s raison d’être lays in the context of its surroundings, Eileen Gray’s E.1027. Cabanon’s wooden walls shelter Corbu’s alert gaze observing the every-day life events of E.1027. Its openings frame the outside, classifying it in a vertical plane whose horizon is met in Gray’s territory. Its footprint “leaks” the limit of Gray’s ownership and highlights Corbu’s attack by bringing down her initial perception of choosing that site due to its inaccessibility physically or by sight. 6 Eileen Gray’s body―as constructed lines, as aura, as site―is overlooked by Le Corbusier’s gaze. The wooden walls are the shivering defense for Le Corbusier’s surrender to Gray’s ubiquitous presence. Le Corbusier’s “watching” prescripts, including long walks along the coastline, restless drawings and writings, are fleeting occupations of Gray’s life. His persistence in overlooking is the clue that acknowledges Gray as his nature, the only nature that he strives to occupy. But E.1027, cannot be his “contained and controllable site”, as long as Gray is present. When Gray abandons E.1027, Le Corbusier rashes into fitting her shoes in everyday life events, provides mutual correspondences that auger to erase Gray’s involvement in E.1027, and as a caveman at excess he signatures the authorization of E.1027 with his famous murals. Le Corbusier poses naked in front of the completed murals at Cap Martin’s E.1027 marking the territory as his, merrimently “sealing” Gray’s body in silence. Once again, Le Corbusier was captured alone in the Cabanon, finally sheltered in, overlooking at Gray’s “domesticated” nature.
II. Of Adolf Loos, Josephine Baker and the hunt of the eluding presence
Loos’s house for Josephine Baker, a contemporary example of maison de plaisirs, functions as “shelter” for two interrelated natures. Following the simmelian discourse over the metropolitan being, Adolf Loos directs a well balanced architectural proposal, oscillating between the “protection of the secret” and the communication of a domestic cue addressed to Le Corbusier, via Josephine Baker’s seduction.
Its masqueraded presence is a camouflage serving the aegis of bedroom stories, that tend to deviate from the commodities of the metropolitan living. The house is self-referential, with its back turned back to the city. The visitor enters the house and his gaze is incapable of permeating the window view to the metropolis, as it is driven to focus on the interior, on the natural spectacle that resides in, Josephine Baker in her routine moments.
Secondly, the house is designed as manifestation of an escape from family living―indoors intercourses sans reproduction are celebrated and dictated by a multi-layered game of looks and gazes. 7 Navigation within the house is directed by the promise of capturing Baker bare. The visitor is depleted in the anticipation of longing Josephine, while she strolls down the staircase, while she undresses to enter the swimming pool. 8 Moving along the passages, the visitor is aware of Josephine’s presence through multiple juxtaposed shadows of her silhouette on the wall, or Baker’s blurred reflections disturbed by the pool’s waves.
Υet, the visitor’s gaze is forensic―while immersing in the very core of the house, as he/she cannot be certain of not being followed in a similar way. Αll possible voyeristic lots provide an unstable ground for the “players”―the contingency of reversing the roles of object and subject renders the shell in an always-becoming. Josephine Baker’s house is a battlefield in “tentativeness” following the line between prey and predator. Nature’s rules of surveillance are brought home, seeking for comfort in other places.
Nature’s violent character is intentionly engraved on the facade of the house, with a bold, black striation referencing tattoos. Adolf Loos succumbs on a non-exaggerating, decorative sin in exchange of validating in public his desire for Josephine Baker. Loos proceeded in positing misleading memoirs for his relationship with Josephine Baker as a pretentious attempt to carry this covet in public and reassure his prevalence over Le Corbusier. Both Loos and Le Corbusier seem to prefer primitive signatures as formalities of ownership, and acknowledge the same merit in occupations, at the brink of rumors and frauds.
ΙΙΙ. Obscure dialogues
Adolf Loos and Le Corbusier cherish a long relationship à propos to architectural discourse. Le Corbusier has been the main contributor in L’Art Decoratif d’aujourd’hui, which was closely related to Adolf Loos’s work. They are both warm supporters of their opinions regarding art and architecture, and choose to communicate their principles by applying common strategies.
A quite irritant anthology is constituted by recording these two figures’ showdowns. Le Corbusier cooperates with L’Esprit Nouveau participating with articles and illustrations, while Adolf Loos introduces Das Andere.9 We can witness obvious similarities in complete works, such could be the comparison of Moller house and Maison Planeix, or even actual overlappings in their architectural vocabulary, as the flat roof.
Quotes criticizing each other’s preferences with implications regarding materiality and graphics, industrial manufacturing or handcrafting, windows, gaze and culture, have been inherited to latter generations.
So, Josephine Baker could just be admeasured as another chapter for a battle between the two―it is actually the amorous fascination of exoticized Baker that provokes the most of our interest, dislocating our focus from a real war.
In the example of the primitive man, nature is overlooked. Architecture in its most severe form functions as the built guarantee for man’s prevalence over nature. The hut becomes man’s colonist base, and gaze renders the outside, the other as his. Primitive man is utterly possesed by his desire. Le Corbusier uses Cabanon in a similar way and attacks in the absence of his prey, he marks his territory in its most powerless moment. Adolf Loos delivers a designed narrative, where the voyer is enjoying at overriding distance Josephine Baker weak and unarmed. Keeping in mind the obscure dialogues of Loos and Le Corbusier, along with sight as the integral weapon of their occupation strategies, we can revisit the story of the primitive hut and paraphrase it with the two protagonists performing as man and nature. The numerous confrontations, the obsessions with the revisions of mastership’s prescriptions, the close observation of each other’s work progress, the acknowledgements as equal opponent, reassure that one’s development in history cannot be perceived without the context of the other. Loos as Corbu’s disobedient nature, Le Corbusier as Loos’s unpredictable outside, corroborate in finding contemporary primitive huts in sui generis surroundings. Allow me to comprehend “these huts” as monuments of virility that memorize man’s desire for prevalence. In the history of architecture, Loos’s and Le Corbusier’s stories are written in bold, including all possible ways of operating in architecture (drawing, designing, writing, etc.) Noting that the greek word for desire “επιθυμία” traces back to the words “θυμός” (which means rage) and “θύμηση” (which means to memorize) upon someone, these two men desiring the prevalence of one over the other, could not avoid the conflictual nature of this deal nor overcome tactics of dislocating and replacing memory. Primitive huts do not escape civilization’s dirt, but bring the violent nature back home, back to the self.