Saturday, January 22, 2011

the world according to Schütte-Lihotzky

I like the following paragraphs from John Irving's The World according to Garp:

He spent his day writing (or trying to write), running, and cooking. He got up early and fixed breakfast for himself and the children; nobody was home for lunch and Garp never ate that meal; he fixed dinner for his family every night. It was a ritual he loved, but the ambition of his cooking was controlled by how good a day he'd had writing, and how good a run he'd had. If the writing went poorly, he took it out on himself with a long, hard run; or sometimes, a bad day with his writing would exhaust him so much that he could barely run a mile; then he tried to save the day with a splendid meal.

Helen could never tell what sort of day Garp had experienced by what he cooked for them; something special might mean a celebration, or it might mean that the food was the only thing that had gone well, that the cooking was the only labor keeping Garp from despair.'If you are careful,' Garp wrote, 'if you use good ingredients, and you don't take any shortcuts, then you can usually cook something very good. Sometimes it is worthwhile product you can salvage from a day: what you make to eat. With writing, I find, you can have all the right ingredients, give plenty of time and care, and still get nothing. Also true of love. Cooking, therefore, can keep a person who tries hard sane.'

--John Irving, The World according to Garp, Black Swan, p.236)

I have just one thing I disagree with the above Garp's statement about cooking: even if you have great ingredients, still so many things can go wrong. Cooking reality shows, such as MasterChef, prove that (I always wonder why Top 50 of the 5000 participants cannot separate egg yolk and egg white....they remind me of Columbo appearing in a cooking show). And it drives the contestants mad. But I couldn't agree more that cooking can save your day, as long as the "ambition" of it is controlled by the other activities.For me, cooking at home is good not because I can make something splendid, but because I can always pick up a fallen pancake, as Julia Child put it.

I love mediocrity and decency.

I'm nostalgic especially for public housing. When it comes to housing, Japan in the 1970s was, I imagine, more egalitarian than today. The government built public housings everywhere and a young engineer who worked for a not-so-big company could afford a decent flat which consisted of the living room, kitchen, dining room, bathroom, 2 bedrooms, and modest balcony. It was allowed to play piano there, so he put a modest upright piano in the living room and his son could practice it (that was me). It was a 5 story building with 5 or so stairways, and each stairway led to 10 units, so the children from one or two stairways could form a baseball team (there were so many children that time). The government had been building such housings since the 1920s to a decade or so ago (Japan as a welfare state started in the 1920s, especially after the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923). But, since the 1980s, it has been busy privatizing things, and Tokyo completely ceased building public housings, I think, in 2000.

Mass production is often scorned. But we should remember that it used to have something to do with the egalitarian dream. Grete Schütte-Lihotzky, the architect who designed Die Frankfurter Küche, or the Frankfurt Kitchen, embodies this dream. MoMA recently acquired a model of the Frankfurt Kitchen, and it is featured at the MoMA's exhibition called Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen. It is the earliest work by a female architect in MoMA's collection. You can see the pictures and the plans here. It says:

The Frankfurt Kitchen was designed like a laboratory or factory and based on contemporary theories about efficiency, hygiene, and workflow. In planning the design, Schütte-Lihotzky conducted detailed time-motion studies and interviews with housewives and women’s groups.

Each kitchen came complete with a swivel stool, a gas stove, built-in storage, a fold-down ironing board, an adjustable ceiling light, and a removable garbage drawer. Labeled aluminum storage bins provided tidy organization for staples like sugar and rice as well as easy pouring. Careful thought was given to materials for specific functions, such as oak flour containers (to repel mealworms) and beech cutting surfaces (to resist staining and knife marks).

Martin Filler in The New York Review of Books introduces this exhibition.

Rotifer, The Frankfurt Kitchen.

By the way, I always enjoy reading Marc Weidenbaum's blog Disquiet, which almost every day introduces experimental music, sound art, and things revolving around them. And today I was very (and positively)surprised by him, finding my name on it. He introduced my track of super slow J.S.Bach's Aria (the theme of Golberg Variationen BWV 988), which was originally provided for Thomas Plischke and Kattrin Deufert's dance performance based on a scene from Ridley Scott film Hannibal, in which Lecter cuts out part of Klendler's brain. They first translated the scene into language, then into movements. The choreographers at that time were working under the name of Frankfurter Küche.

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