Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas’s Karaoke

Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas, Karaoke, 2001. Video still.
ACT at MIT

Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas’s Karaoke has been included in the online exhibition of BodyBuilding, presented as part of Performa 17, New York’s City-wide biennial, as well as in the companion publication. BodyBuilding is the first book to survey and examine the use of live performance by architects.

Karaoke is part of the “Memory Palaces” segment streaming for free daily at 6am and 6pm, across time zones, i.e. wherever you are, for the next two months!

Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas
Karaoke, 2001
Video (color, sound)16min, 41sec
Music: “Money, Money, Money”by ABBA (1976)

On the final workday before the LTB, or Lithuanian Savings Bank—the country’s last state-owned bank—was privatized in 2001, Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas staged a series of actions that rubbed up against the happy-go-lucky narrative of a post-communist Lithuania. Since 1997, the duo has practiced in entangled terrains across architecture and the urban environment, media, and politics, devising participatory works that limn possible alternative forms of self-organization. For Karaoke, they gained access to the bank at an uncanny moment between two financial regimes. Bank employees, alongside actors, performed ABBA’s “Money Money Money” inside the bank’s lobby: the camera pans across a chorus of women in demure skirts and pantyhose while they gave alternately dispassionate and spirited deliveries of the song—“I work all night, I work all day, to pay the bills I have to pay / Ain’t it sad / And still there never seems to be a single penny left for me / That’s too bad”—edited together into five seemingly continuous takes. The ease with which Lithuania embraced both the allure and mundanity of the private market is repeated here ad nauseum, and a building embodying the ideals of Marxist economics becomes a soundstage for the cheesiest subordination to the free market. What results is a grotesque melody of capitalist hustling, clumsily voiced by the last representatives of the dismantled socialist state

The publication of BodyBuilding focuses on works by architects and collectives who use bodies, actions, and staged situations to challenge the discipline’s conventional imperatives of stability, permanence, and consistency. Featuring newly commissioned historical analyses, essays, and portfolios, BodyBuilding uses the lens of performance to reframe critical questions about the built environment, including relationships between architecture and labor, security, race, migration, mobility, gentrification, and modes of public assembly.

With its emphasis on permanence and stability, architecture at first resists an easy pairing with live performance, usually considered ephemeral and elusive. But architecture and performance share a core concern: the interplay of bodies and space.

Looking past the unbuilt, utopian projects of the early modernists or the postwar avant-garde, the authors unearth an alternative canon of architects who actually employ performance to fortify the process of building, or else to explore architecture’s enmeshment with labor, security, race, migration, the environment, gentrification, and public assembly. For these architects, performance can be a tool, a method, or a heuristic device; in every case, performance is a blade that cuts into the matter of architecture.

With rates of construction plummeting after the financial crisis of 2007–08, newly minted architects have had to find alternative ways to continue working within the field. BodyBuilding grounds these new practices within a century of precedents, and insists that performance is a critical tool to rethink architecture’s agency, goals, and aesthetics.

Edited by Charles Aubin (Performa, New York) and Carlos Mínguez Carrasco (ArkDes, Stockholm), BodyBuilding features a foreword by RoseLee Goldberg; essays by Victoria Bugge Øye, Lluís Alexandre Casanovas Blanco, and Mabel O. Wilson and Bryony Roberts; and interviews with Elizabeth Diller and Andrés Jaque.

Architects and architecture collectives studied in BodyBuilding include Kunlé Adeyemi, Ant Farm, Arakawa and Madeline Gins, Basurama, Lina Bo Bardi, Cooking Sections, Coop Himmelblau, Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Estudio Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman, Fake Industries Architectural Agonism, Didier Fiúza Faustino, Forensic Architecture, Yona Friedman, Anna and Lawrence Halprin, Haus-Rucker-Co, Hans Hollein, Arata Isozaki, Toyo Ito, Andrés Jaque / Office for Political Innovation, Francis Kéré, Ugo La Pietra, Moore Grover Harper, Office for Metropolitan Architecture, Gaetano Pesce, Gianni Pettena, Julieanna Preston, raumlabor, Aldo Rossi, Alex Schweder and Ward Shelley, Alison and Peter Smithson, SO – IL, Bernard Tschumi, and Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas. Graphic design by Riley Hooker.

BodyBuilding is supported by the Graham Foundation, Elise Jaffe + Jeffrey Brown, and the Performa Institute with funds provided by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the Elaine and David Potter Foundation. Additional support provided by the Royal Norwegian Consulate General in New York.