Discos as Architectural Media
In 1967 Andy Warhol was asked to open a disco in an abandoned aircraft hanger in Queens. He filled its interior with a media content that could make sense of the architecture in acoustic terms. This was the Velvet Underground. At the same time, Quentin Fiore and Marshall McLuhan used images of the VU in The Medium is the Massage to claim new modes of spatial mediation. Old buildings were becoming containers of new sound: ‘We are back in acoustic space . . . We begin to structure the primordial feelings and emotions from which 3000 years of literacy have divorced us.’ (Mcluhan, Counterblast, 1969)
This revolution differed according to the specific conjunction of architecture and sound. The US saw factories colonised by happenings, linear production supplanted by cultural consumption, and instrumentalism and rationalism by emotion and sensation. But Space Electronic was created in Florence, in a different architectural medium. The intersection of bodies, ideas, acoustics, images and motions echoed the broader radical transition from one type of space to another. The ‘global village’ was condensed into the charged localism of the dance floor and the tactile, visual and acoustic effects that connected people in new ‘verbi-voco-visual’ environment that McLuhan and designer Victor Papanek explored (McLuhan and Papanek, Verbi-Voco-Visual Explorations, 1967).
Lori Ortiz, referencing McLuhan’s claim that a medium shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action, observes that ‘in discos, dancers give in to the power of music on a tribal scale’ (Ortiz, Disco Dance, 2011). Space Electronic’s projections, performances and instrumentalisation of new technologies explored Mcluhan’s idea that new media always take old ones as their content, but for new sensory and psychological purposes.
So discos are contradictory spaces, and Space Electronic is a particular version. Created within Florence’s urban fabric, it was new content born in an existing architectural medium; yet disco was a new medium itself, one that incorporated existing content (music, texts, images). Further still, those emergent media involved a radical reversion to ‘tribal’ forms, ones waiting to resurge after the decline of the dominance of text and linearity, to be harnessed for social, cultural and political purposes. Space Electronic and its recreation in Venice expresses this multimedia mosaic.
Dr Chris Horrocks is an Associate Professor at Kingston University, where he researches, writes and lectures on art and cultural theory.
Mcluhan, Marshall, The Medium is the Massage (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967)
McLuhan and Victor Papanek, Verbi-Voco-Visual Explorations (New York: Something Else Press, 1967)
Mcluhan, Counterblast (London : Rapp & Whiting, 1970)
Ortiz, Lori, Disco Dance: The American Dance Floor (Santa Barbara, Ca: Greenwood, 2011)