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  • Totally Useless Totems

    Scott CLAASSEN, Totally Useless Totems.
    ann arbor MICHIGAN

    University of Michigan, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning
    critics: Ellie ABRONS & Ben SMITH

    suckerPUNCH: Describe your project.

    Scott CLAASSEN: Totally Useless Totems develops a series of architectural totems and their configurations, free of prescribed function or meaning in order to create spaces defined by subjective relationships. These totems are objects that have figure, but shape the space around them primarily through experiential, tactile, or narrative relationships. In this way they embody both the graphic characteristics of images as well as the spatial potential of objects occupying territory.

    The figures started as forms loosely scaled to the human body, that then aggregate to establish relationships between one another. Grouped together, they become a medium through which to create an interior without superstructure or clear enclosure. While the totems are figures in their dissemination as an image and tool of discourse, they become an interface in their built form where the figure recedes to questions of surface, material, and experience. Ultimately, the drawings bloat, bulge and slump their way into three dimensions.

    sP: What or who influenced this project?
    SC: A lecture on “The New Domestic Landscape” exhibit given by Thom Moran of Thing Thing was the first time I’d heard of Ettore Sottsass, and particularly his “Superboxes.” These were brightly colored monoliths that seemed to completely occupy whatever room they were in. At the same time, but on a completely different track, I was reading a lot of discourse on functionalism and how the insides of architecture are often burdened by heavy functional justification. But these “Superboxes” worked outside of that system; they provided a way of shaping interior space without the emphasis on partitioning or enclosure. It expanded from there into taking a look at the role that objects and things play in forming space. To do this, the aim was to design a group of architectural scapegoats (the totems) that could be piled or prodded into a variety of situations.

    sP: What were you reading/listening to/watching while developing this project?
    SC: Reading: C. Ray Smith, Supermannerism; Sigfried Giedion, Architecture and the Phenomena of Transition: The Three Space Conceptions in Architecture; Adrian Forty, Objects of Desire; John Harwood, The Interface; Jacques Rancière, The Future of the Image; Taryn Simon, An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar; and, in the world of fiction, Patricia Highsmith’s The Black House and Mark Binelli’s Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die!. Listening to and watching: mostly Gorilla vs. Bear mixes and Dogville.

    sP: Whose work is currently on your radar?
    SC: The Bouroullec Brothers, Thing Thing, Bureau Spectacular, Los Angeles Design Group, Makkink & Bey, Cero 9, and EM2N.

    Additional credits and links:
    The recent “Possible Mediums” conference that took place at Ohio State University was definitely important in developing this project. The Midwest Mafia and Los Angeles–linked faculty were fantastic and helped jump-start the project. And definitely crucial was the eclectic, and exciting, mix of student and faculty work happening at UM right now.

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