The project evolved due to the artists NYC studio being the first space in the world to be truly air conditioned back in 1902, by engineer Willis Carrier. The installation draws from the language and methodology of the essay film, playing with the compacting of sources and layering inherent in story telling.
'A Seedless Grape' AirConditioning
“A Seedless Grape” is an associative research project, taking the form of an installation and lecture series looking at the cultural implications of air-conditioning.
The project evolved due to the artists NYC studio being the first space in the world to be truly air conditioned back in 1902, by engineer Willis Carrier. The installation draws from the language and methodology of the ‘essay film’, playing with the compacting of sources and layering inherent in story telling.
The display-cases in the installation are layered with white texts, which describe various objects of significance. One case traces ‘ice-harvesting’ – a practice that transposed the weather from one place to another.
Air-conditioning is here approached as ‘artefactual event’ – an ephemeral entity, which is manufactured, distributed then dispersed. ‘Cooled air’ itself is a product, and as an almost metaphysical presence is absolutely reliant on an elaborate network of power hungry apparatus. This infrastructure is artefact in the tangible sense, such as an object of archeology we can hold. The air itself however, remains fleeting – a body or volume which requires maintenance and a constant feeding. The installation emphasizes this physicality through a series of discarded condenser/evaporator coils harvested from scrap yards around Brooklyn, essentially a sampling of the current state of the industry.
The next details the implications of hermetically sealed buildings characteristic of mid-century modernism. With this sealing of buildings, window washers no longer had interaction with the other staff of a given building. The membrane that encloses this air becomes delineation, segregation. Add to this the green house effect resulting from floor to ceiling glass walls, meant skyscrapers needed air-co even during the winter – a kind of passive solar design stupidity. Conditioned-air is in this sense is ‘conditional air’ – and becomes a marker of an exceptional space, a more expensive than usual space.
The Lever House, completed in 1952, became the 2nd so-called curtain wall building in New York City, with four sides of its structure completely clad in glass. These glass walls were in fact hermetically sealing the building for the purpose of climate control.
Prior to this architectural phenomenon, a window washer would be a kind of transitory member of staff, an additional employee with which to interact. A day’s work would consist of exiting through the very windows to be cleaned, cleaning the windows, then returning to the inhabited space of (presumably satisfied) workers – essentially the extension of the flux of a village. With the Lever House, and its windows sealed shut, the window washer would now need to drop to street level, or return to the roof, then enter the building in order to interact, or even hear a resident.
Glass is a crucial ultra-thin, enveloping, and enabling a visibility of the outside world, but without participation. Somehow inviting, whilst simultaneously forbidding – the drawing of a line. A window washer is in a way as close as possible to this threshold of privacy. Through the nature of maintenance of this membrane, the washer almost shares the space with the resident, as much a flirtation as an invasive presence.
Here he/she becomes the ultimate voyeur. In a near comical interaction, one player is suspended from strings, bustled about by the wind, whilst the other is trapped in a kind of complex viewing aquarium.
Cool: (Salvatore Basile) It justified all those old sci-fi stories, by offering a completely controlled working environment. Lever House allowed employees to avoid all contact with the grubbier aspects of the city; they could drive directly into the building’s underground garage, take meals in the company cafeteria, and work in its well-lit offices… One observer noted acerbically that Lever employees didn’t even have to breathe the same air as other New Yorkers.
Another display case touches on the visceral nature of air-conditioning’s presence – detailing teens huffing Freon, and that fact Legionnaire’s disease is named after a conference of the American Legion in 1976, when a contaminated roof-top unit distributed the pneumonia inducing bacteria into the lobby of a hotel in Philadelphia.
In its life cycle, this conditioned air is manufactured, channeled, contained, maintained, and eventually replaced. In turn, it has a series of artifacts of its own, peripheral entities that have come to shape its’ identity and reputation in areas of architecture, environment, health and industry. If the process of conditioning air were to be likened to the production of a chair, one could say the chair is the desired artifact, whilst the wood shavings are the more residual, or unintended artefacts.