Sunday 22 February 2009

Lecture Eight: From the ‘Dream of Venus’ to ‘Atlantis in Hi-fi’

so my darling and I
make love in the sand
to salute the last moment
ever on dry land
our machine has done its work
played its part well
without a scratch on our bodies
and we bid it farewell

starfish and giant foams
greet us with a smile
before our heads go under
we take a last look
at the killing noise
of the out of style...
the out of style, out of style

From ‘1983... (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)’, The Jimi Hendrix Experience,
Electric Ladyland

‘Anything writ in water will succeed,’ was the advice given to Edward James and Julien Levy as they embarked upon their project to realize Salvador Dali’s ‘Dream of Venus’ sideshow at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Part surrealist fun house, part burlesque showgirl review, the result combined water, eroticism and spectacle in one immersive environment. While the 1939 Fair made a big show of demonstrating TV for the first time, and the Communication Building displayed ‘the progress of the art of speech from the age of myth to the age when myths become household fixtures’, it was the ‘Dream of Venus’ that showed what the modern home would really be like.

With the expansion of Suburbia after World War II, space and sensory experience took on a powerful presence in daily life. Ranged in precise grids, connected to its own set of local amenities, the suburban conurbation became an isolated colony, a behavioural laboratory in which individuals were to be studied by a growing professional elite of social scientists. What they found was subsequently labelled by one psychiatrist as ‘Disturbia’: a place where audiovisual technology had invaded the already overheated environment of the modern home.

Suggested Reading:
Ingrid Schaffner, Salvador Dali’s Dream of Venus: The Surrealist Funhouse From the 1939 World’s Fair, Princeton Architectural Press, 2002
Thomas Hine, Populuxe, Bloomsbury Press, 1989
Rem Koolhaas, Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan, The Monacelli Press, 1994
Joseph Lanza, Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-Listening and Other Moodsong, Quartet Books, 1995
Beatriz Colomina, Domesticity at War, MIT Press, 2007
Celeste Olalquiaga, The Artificial Kingdom: A Treasury of the Kitsch Experience, Bloomsbury, 1999
Francesco Adinolfi, Mondo Exotica: Sounds Visions, Obsessions of the Cocktail Generation, Duke University Press, 2008

Related Viewing:
1939 NY World’s Fair – Industrial, featuring Elektro the Robot
Billy Rose Aquacade Show World’s Fair 1939
The Magic Worlds of Walt Disney, National Geographic, August 1963

2.00pm Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Top Image: Promotional Fashion Shoot for Dali’s Dream of Venus

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