Jason Payne Final Winter Review


Infrastructural Indifference 

Course Objectives

A seascape is different from a landscape in that the former, no matter the state of its surface, tends to resist comprehension. The latter, in contrast,gives itself over readily. This discrepancy in legibility of character exists despite the same level of detail in the visible qualities of each. The ocean’s surface is no less clear, in terms of physical attributes, than that of the land, and yet it remains very difficult to describe. We might make from this difference between land and sea two contrasting models for definition; land’s easy definition toward known quantities versus sea’s resistance, or indifference to the same.
An engagement with the difficulty of description native to seascapes ranks high among the fundamental objectives of this studio. To be clear, interest lies not in the ocean itself but in oceanic qualities of expression (so we will not be studying the sea.) The specific object of design is the landscape retention device common throughout northern Japan as photographed by artist Toshio Shibata1 (Figs. 2and 3.) This device takes a variety of forms, has no identifiable origin, appears both “strong” and “weak” simultaneously, is anexact yet rigorous, draughterly and painterly, and is highly mutable such that a designerly agenda might be brought to bear on its otherwise purely functional bearing. As it happens, these devices were the only non-natural things that survived the Tōhoku tsunami of 2011 in those areas hit hardest by its physical force. It would appear that their indifference equaled that of the sea that day.
A second objective, one more polemically charged within our discipline, involves moving infrastructural discourse and form away from pure utility toward values associated with aesthetics. One might ask if this second objective overrides the first - after all, how can aesthetics be indifferent? Per careful analysis they probably cannot. However, it is possible to imagine forms and compositions for infrastructure that strive for minimal reliance upon well-known tropes, clichés, patterns, scales, and utilities. Indeed, the landscape retention systems already in use in northern Japan do seem to exhibit such ambivalence, making them the ideal mode of entry into this problem. Indeed they allow us to ask the question: what are the aesthetics of indifference?