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Our New System: A Collection of Source Materials

Our New System, Gallery 400’s current exhibition, spotlights Christa Donner’s new collection of work. Concerned with the complexities of the human organism, she further explores collectivities and spaces for new forms of human sociality. Donner’s drawing process culls from a myriad of research sources, some of which become part of an installation in the exhibition that visitors can visually interact with. This collection of visual materials reflects her research interests in motherhood, architecture, biology, animal behavior, science fiction, and alternative communities. The book collection actively works to supplement the viewer/reader’s experience of the show and understanding of Donner’s artistic process. Below is a collection of quotes from the materials in the installation that elicit the central themes of Donner’s artwork.

The Model: A Model for a Qualitative Society (1968) by Palle Nielsen

“The mind which plunges into Surrealism, relives with burning excitement the best part of childhood—Andre Breton (p.31)

“We often find ourselves standing and watching children play. And we have a strong interest in their play. At the same time, we have a feeling that they are also watching us —watching our play. We notice that they try to play at things they have learned from us. When we see them playing it is as though we recognize something of ourselves. It is as though we see how they use their play to try to comprehend the world around them. They imitate our actions in play, because we have given them a picture of the world around them. And that frightens us, because we would prefer it if they could comprehend the world around them by themselves. But that would require that we ourselves understand them.”—Palle Nielsen (p.115)

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“If we are to build a society on different premises, we have to work with the very material of humanity.”—Palle Nielsen (p.120)

Herland (1915) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

"People marry, not only for parentage, but for this exquisite interchange—and, as a result, you have a world full of continuous lovers, ardent, happy, mutually devoted, always living on that high tide of supreme emotion which we had supposed to belong only to one season and one use. And you say it has other results, stimulating all high creative work. That must mean floods, oceans of such work, blossoming from this intense happiness of every married pair! It is a beautiful idea!” (p.72)

After Oil by Petrocultures Research Group

"Since oil shapes our ideas and values as much as it does our infrastructures and economies, an intentional energy transition will require us to think anew about wealth, beauty, community, success, and a host of other ideas that form our societies and our selves." (p.41)

"The arts and humanities provide spaces for individual and collective reflection on the consequences of oil culture for life on earth in ways that are more holistic and empathetic than the ideas generated by corporate interests or the 24-hour news cycle." (p.42)

"Who gets to imagine energy futures? Corporations, geologists, and engineers put a lot of thought and care into a future with fossil fuels. As artists, humanities scholars, and social scientists we offer something unique to help consider alternative energy futures. Moreover, conversations about energy transition create an opportunity to talk about broad social change in the world: economically, ecologically, politically, and socially." (55)

"If we prioritize quality when imagining our future with energy, how does this allow us to see energy infrastructure differently? Much of the discourse concerning the control of energy supplies is conceived in terms of a centralized vs. decentralized system—in other words, a state/corporate controlled power supply vs. a power supply generated by technologies owned by individual users. For instance, homes that access energy through power grids stand in contrast to homes off the grid that are self-sufficient and utilize an array of resource generating technologies." (p.57)

Architcture Without Architects (1964) by Bernard Rudofsky

"We learn that many audacious “primitive” solutions anticipate our cumbersome technology; that many a feature invented in recent years is old hat in vernacular architecture—prefabrication, standardization of building components, flexible and movable structures, and, more especially, floor-heating, air-conditioning, light control, even elevators. We may also compare the amenities of our houses with the unadvertised comfort of, say, some African domestic architecture that provides a respectable man with six detached dwellings for his six wives. Or we may find that long before modern architects envisioned subterranean towns under the optimistic assumption that they may protect us from the dangers of future warfare, such towns existed, and still exist, on more than one continent." (image 5)

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"Primeval forms: "This is neither a case of nature imitating conical houses, nor of man copying conical rocks. The volcanic formations in the Anatolian valley of Göreme were eroded by wind and water. Whether the stylized shapes suggested houses or not, the many crevices, holes, and hollows that occur in the soft stone had only to be enlarged and smoothed in order to provide habitable space." (image 49)

Unit architecture: "The use of a single building type does not necessarily produce monotony. Irregularity of terrain and deviations from standard measurements result in small variations which strike a perfect balance between unity and diversity." (image 55)

African Nomadic Architecture: Space, Place, and Gender (1997) by Labelle Prussin

"Consideration of the architecture of African nomadic cultures has, however, now gone far beyond mere redress: new perspectives have been added to the cultural contexts within which the built environment unfolds. By the same token, the definition of architecture has been broadened and extended, and the issues the new definitions invite may be more relevant for society at large, even though their resolution remains a challenge." (p.22)

"It is hoped that the results of this effort will fire the imagination of a new generation in ways the nomadic experience did for me and my contributors. If it can inspire the adventurous and the curious to research for new directions and new experiences in other worlds, or challenge the young and inquisitive to search for new insights and new interpretations of their own, then it will have been well worth the effort." (p.22)

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Mothernism (2014) by Lise Haller Baggesen

"Because if we can accept motherhood as one sex among many, we can perhaps relieve the inevitable burden of motherhood perceived as a stagnant destination. Perhaps we can instead introduce it into a conversation opened up by queer theory, in which categories of gender are more fluid, moving and bleeding into each other." (p.82)

"…few people still want to hear what we have to say as Mothers. What I am asking for here, I guess, is for mothers to occupy spaces and conversations within art and academia, to claim a voice, many voices, to speak within and against the cannon, to reflect on the complexities of mothering and motherhood within that context." (p.83)

"We can time-manage until we are blue in the face, but we won’t change the conversation until we come up with a new set of ideas, of content, as to what this conversation about mothering, art, and discourse could be about. Not simply as a kind of administrative role that one must juggle on a professional field, but also the meaning of communicating a legacy to future generations, or the philosophical immensity entailed by being an autonomous adult carrying an emerging sovereign consciousness within her body." (p.84)

Compiled by Communications Intern Jae Hwan Lim
Images: Christa Donner, Center for Pragmatic Optimism, 2016