(Eugene Bavinger House, Norman, Oklahoma, 1950 by Queer Architect Bruce Goff)
Robert MacNeill is a working architect in Chicago. He has worked for Wesley Wei in Philadelphia and is currently an independent thinker and activist. He was the director and designer for "The Cowboy and the Pegasus," an exhibition for Queer Fest Midwest in August 2007.
I have know Rob for years and we have collaborated on many projects together. He is fiercely independent and has a fresh view on the world. Below is our conversation on the state of DESIGN.
JP:What is architecture and design?
RM: Design is making sense of the patterns in the three types of human activity: labor (biological), work (creative), and action (political). We make spaces for these patterns that reflect the activities, and at the same time enhance the experience of acting them out.
JP:What do you see for the future of architecture? Will it change in the digital age?
RM:I think the changes will be fewer than most people think. Let's not flatter ourselves into thinking that we can overthrow the whole history of architecture.
JP:You designed the Queer Fest Midwest art exhibition for 2007, can you talk about the project?
RM:Queer space exists, although it is hard to describe exactly. On one hand, it is formed by things like music and street culture. But it can also be defined by a set of spatial conditions; when I think of queer space I think of shadow and veiling.
JP: Why shadows? I thought being queer was like coming into the light, and coming out for the public to see?
RM: In the modern movement, architects hoped to achieve a transparency - both literal and symbolic - that would eliminate dark spaces, the sublime, and ambiguity. Think of the Phillip Johnson's Glass House or the Farnsworth House; what is it like to live in a glass box with limited boundary between interior and exterior? Queer space is directly opposed to transparent space. It is about refuge and fantasy, limited visibility. There is a definite transition between interior and exterior. This is equally true of the queer body/self. The queer self is never fully revealed to the public. We cast ourselves in shadow. We retreat into the interior.
JP: Like going back into the closet?
RM: The closet has not been eliminated. Maybe we should embrace it. It represents our interior lives.
JP:What do shadows give us?
RM: Shadows are like closets, physically a place to store things, a place to get away and a place for self-refection. And as queer people we like the shadows as a space to be ourselves.
JP: Can you give me an example of queer space?
RM: One example is the store front, which is a window onto the world inside but is also blocked from the world outside. It is temporary, theatrical, mask-like. It does not reveal with accuracy what lies beyond. Store front windows display dreams or fantastic worlds. They are some of the queerest spaces.
JP:You worked on a project to design a pill carrier to honor 20 years of HIV/AIDS activism. Can you talk about how you came to that project?
RM:I thought of the project as a way to give voice to the HIV/AIDS community. It is a very simple gesture that turns the taking of pills into a generative process. Plant seeds are sown as part of taking HIV medication.
There is still a great silence in the HIV/AIDS community. This project gives voice by taking back public space - in this case, with red flowers that appear in unexpected places.
A new map of the city will emerge.
Sunday, November 18
at 11:44 AM