“Beauty today can have no other measure except the depth to which a work resolves contradictions. A work must cut through the contradictions and overcome them, not by covering them up, but by pursuing them.” Theodor W Adorno, 1965 (translated from German).
“There is aconnection possible between the two, but neither Dada nor Zen are fixed tangibles. They change; and in quite different ways in different places and times, they invigorate actions. What was Dada in the twenties is now, with the exception of the work of Marcel Duchamp, just art.” – John cage and architecture of Silence.
How does one trace any influence of any movement on the work of such a person who has seldom cited, even the most obvious of the influences? That is the first and foremost challenge of establishing any Dadaist influence on the architectural practice and work of Charles Correa. Despite the ambiguities there are direct connotations in the work, never in words, to the methodology developed by the Dadaist artists- the literary cut-up, the obsession with ‘image’ and most importantly the engagement with the ‘present’ (neither the past nor the future). This is the second contradiction implicit in this project.
Correa along with several other architects was engaged with the contradicting question of ‘what is Indian Architecture?’ Correa had undertaken a marvelous project of identifying -if not the ‘archetypes’ then- the ‘didactic models’ from the plethora of architectural history of the subcontinent which he thought provided key ideas of organizing life and hence architecture in the subcontinent.
What distinguishes Correa’s approach is that he takes this question ‘What is Indian Architecture?’ and looks at it as a rhetorical question. True to his idea of identifying ‘deep structures’ he would delve into a genealogical search of the key typologies found in India. Along with searching for inherent archetypes present within India this method of looking for genealogies would also allow him to transgress the nationalistic boundaries and geographically locate the precedents that were brought into India from as far as the Mediterranean and ancient Persia.
One only has to read the essays authored by and on him to identify these of the didactic models; the ‘Court yard’, ‘verandah’, ‘Mandala’, ‘Fatehpur-sikri Palace’, ‘Rural settlements’ (especially this one could directly be attributed to the studies of African Kasbahs by TeamX, Netherlands), etc.
Unlike the avant-garde Dadaist, Correa could be perhaps best positioned as ‘transitionory’ a kind of revolutionary person who’s project is not that of ‘destruction’[i] and ‘transformation’ but that of subtle ‘construction’ and ‘transition’.
Dada, Correa, Modernity
It would be, of course, very reductionist to say that Europe is culturally homogenous and that since modernity is a European ‘construct’ it was very natural and easy for the Dadaist to dive into the ‘chaos’[iii] of modernity. Yet, undoubtedly modernity is an earlier history of the European continent than its colonies in the east and the west. Needless to say the reach of Dadaist movement in the subcontinent must have been limited to a very few privileged.
Nonetheless, in a few decades after the Dadaist movement was initiated -and later merged with Constructivism and had then branched into Surrealism and all its branching (manifestations) up until into post-modernist theories and perhaps right unto 21st century – India would be a free nation(1947), Correa would finish his basic education (1948), he would travel to the United States of America (1949), graduate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1955) and start a career as an architect back in Mumbai (1958).
What was the ‘present’ -the ‘modern’- condition of India in the late 50’s? What were the large pre-occupations of the Indian artists, thinkers and those in power?
India like several other young nation was trying to ‘define’ by brut, wit and intellect first of all, its ‘self’. Secondly, its cultural identity (one could argue that such an attempt and practice continues right into the present day; for some reason) and (among other endless issues of governance, poverty, economy, natural resources, internal security, Portuguese still occupying some territories, etc…) thirdly, the tedious task of constructing a bridge between apparently ‘long lost’ ‘tradition’ or popularly known as ‘culture’ and ‘modern’ practices.
In this fissure of history of the territory of the subcontinent- across which the bridge is being built- lies the key in reading Correa’s method of practice in Dadaist light. Also, in this fissure lies the fundamental difference of dealing with the idea of ‘modernity’ or ‘fissure’ or ‘destruction’ as advocated by the Dadaist and as practiced by Charles Correa. This is to say that it is important to establish the ‘object’ of criticism in both the cases.
Contrary to Kenneth Frampton’s argument that Correa is not a man of ‘image’ this project argues that he is indeed a man who was interested in the notion of ‘image’ especially the ‘popular’ -and hence the ‘mythic- image’. It is important to recall his engagement with cinema as a medium for architectural representation.[iv] This suggests that may be Correa was not just aware of the notions of montage but also practiced it through the medium of cinema. More importantly, however, it would be interesting to understand how this early engagement with cinema informed his practice of architecture. Can it be said that the engagement with cinema and montage informed his practice of reading the built-environment as a reservoir of ideas, and architecture as a practice of ‘assembling’ these historically developing ideas to deal with contemporary conditions- like montages?
Correa’s work, as observed by Kenneth Frampton, is not so much about the visual but the ‘organizational’[v]. His is a work that understands spatial practices of domestic and the public domains- some continuous and some disrupted and uses the physical manifestations of these practices (architecture)as the ‘fragments’ – which more often than never are interestingly ‘ruins’.
‘Ruins’ are the reservoirs of those spatial practices that have been rendered obsolete by the shifting political and economic systems that govern the territory. Interestingly the idea of the ruins emerged as an important preoccupation across all the modern landscapes of the world including in the modern state of India. This indicates that the revival of the interest in ruins, perhaps after Renaissance, is extensively a modern construct. As Andreas Huyssen notes ‘The architectural ruin is an example of the indissoluble combination of spatial and temporal desires that trigger nostalgia. In the body of the ruin the past is both present in its residues and yet no longer accessible, making the ruin an especially powerful trigger for nostalgia…The cult of ruins has accompanied Western modernity in waves since the eighteenth century.’[vi]
Correa skillfully uses these popular ruins –the ‘mythicized’ objects- and constitutes a practice and perhaps even ‘an aesthetics of selection and assemblage’[vii]. This choice and attitude of only ‘organizing’ and ‘assembling’ his buildings and not overtly ‘designing’ is what renders Correas’s method as Dadaist more than anything else.
So far Correa’s body of work has always been viewed through the lens of ‘Critical Regionalism’- a post-colonial theory of architecture- advocated greatly by Kenneth Frampton. The idea of this project is to understand the methods that Correa has formulated for his practice of architecture, which this project argues are very close to the Dadaist methods.
Given the premise that there are no direct references or attributions provided by Correa, the aim of the project is not so much to ‘prove’ or establish –per say- a direct Dadaist influence on Correa’s practice. Neither does it try to prove that Correa is ‘Dadaist’ –as Frampton has written he is an ‘Arendtian man of action and speech, rather than a McLuhanesque figure preoccupied with the Image.’ The intention is to establish a Dadaist reading of Correa’s work i.e. through very specific Dadaist method of ‘Cut-up’ and ‘montage’ – ‘an aesthetics of selection and assemblage’.