If We Want to Continue (from the exhibition 'Tu casa es mi casa')
A meditation on smoke and mirrors, If we want to continue takes its title from Wenn wir weiterleben wollen, a book by Richard Neutra found in the library the VDL House, which was damaged when a fire consumed the original house in 1963. (Presciently, the English language edition, published in 1954, translates the title as Survival Through Design.) The installation plays on Neutra’s predilection for using mirrors to “continue” walls and create a sense of interior panorama by deploying a mirrored partition, which cuts diagonally between the Seminar Room and the Music Room on the ground level, frustrating the Modernist view through the space, but offering a recursive reflection of the house back on itself.
Installed in Richard Neutra’s VDL House in Los Angeles and in collaboration with Mexico City–based gallery Archivo Diseño y Arquitectura, Tu casa es mi casa grapples with questions about architectural space, mass production, and domesticity within the legacy of modernism. Both Mexico City and Los Angeles absorbed the initial precepts of international modernism and have adapted them to singular social-political-environmental contexts. A return to these twin interpretations re-investigates the promises of the utopian project through a contemporary lens. The steel and glass VDL House is a showcase of the tropes of California Modernism — transparency, reflection, and open living. Archivo is headquartered in a 1952 modern residence designed by architect and artist Arturo Chávez Paz and is located next door to the weighty and iconic Casa Barragán. By engaging two modern homes, the exhibition considers the lingering relevances and limitations of the universal language of modernism within the cultural milieu of the private sphere.
Tu casa es mi casa acknowledges a history of architectural, critical, and literary exchange between California and Mexico. Neutra visited Mexico frequently during the 1930s, noting in his writings the different strains of modernism developed in the two places — the modern expression of the “prima donna” architect in L.A. and the more revolutionary collective form of producing architecture in Mexico. Los Angeles–based critic Esther McCoy was also part of this exchange of ideas. In the eclectic work of Mexican architect Francisco Artigas, McCoy identified the influences of Neutra and R.M. Schindler, writing that “his form of expression did not gradually evolve, but rather expressed parallel trends in time and separated in space.”
Curatorially, we are interested in the material, geographic, and temporal translations, especially as they point to the overlaps and tensions produced by the parallel trajectories of the modern project. With exchange comes regional adaptations and the potential for misinterpretation of a supposedly universalist movement. Our precepts of mid-century design are shaken loose as contemporary evolutions by the architects and authors in the show reveal alternative narratives.
Tu casa es mi casa features texts by Angeleno writers Aris Janigian, Katya Tylevich, and David Ulin; each reframes the Neutra VDL residence through story and speculation. The authors, whose practices focus on issues of territory and urbanism, culture and identity, and the visual and popular arts,
were asked to spend time in the house and then write a letter to Mexico City. That letter is a tool, an interpretive device, an artist brief of sorts, that remakes history and offers new readings of place. The recipients of the letters, Mexico City–based architects Frida Escobedo, Pedro&Juana, and Tezontle, were asked to develop their own relationships with the Neutra VDL and respond to the writers with site-specific installations that transform both the house and its descriptions. The architects also were invited to include, reference, or draw inspiration from some of the 1,500 national and international industrial design objects from the Archivo Diseño y Arquitectura collection. Their works play with critique, inversion, and disorientation. Both the texts and the designs in Tu casa es mi casa remind visitors to the VDL House of the ultimately interpersonal nature and human scale of international movements, cultural and political, alike.