Smith-Miller + Hawkinson

Imperfect Utopia, a Park for the New World, Museum of Art, Raleigh, Caroline du Nord, 1987-1996

Located in North Carolina, the Raleigh Museum of Fine Arts’ project to create a “Park for the New World (1988-1996), challenges the limits of the discipline of architecture through the osmosis of the approaches of architect and of artist. Henry Smith-Miller and Laurie Hawkinson worked with the American artist Barbara Kruger (1945) on the project’s preparatory phase. Taking photographs from popular culture and images from advertising, and by always using an identical typography, Kruger superimposes parodies of commercial or political slogans. The message in each advertisement is turned into an injunction, or even a threat. Working backwards from the constraints of the program, the team began by defining the “theory,” while at the same time generating the architectural space based on the study of words. The space inside the park is defined by an outdoor theater and an outdoor cinema (the rest of the program is comprised of landscaped parking areas, a sculpture park, artist studios, picnic areas and a reading garden). Barbara Kruger’s intervention is comprised of short sentences, emerging from the ground in letters that articulate them like the stones of a building: TO BE RATHER THAN TO SEEM, and PICTURE THIS. Each letter is made out of a different material and supports other phrases and quotes. This litany of injunctions directly confronting the visitor combines with literary texts engraved onto other letters. By destabilizing through the offbeat context and content the binary way that advertising messages function, Kruger seeks to shed light on the processes of social and political cooptation and exclusion. She reveals and denounces the mechanisms of identification (which induce behaviors of passivity and submission) generated by the messages flowing from the media.

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