Book Works

In 1969 Buckminster Fuller listed a series of Strategic Questions in his work Utopia or Oblivion. Gavin Wade invited artists and writers to respond to Question No. 2, Has Man A Function in the Universe? The result is this new Book Works publication.

Although Buckminster Fuller was a polymath, I knew him first simply as the man who patented the geodesic dome. The iconic radomes at Fylingdales Early Warning Station had been part of my childhood landscape. As with their counterparts at Menwith Hill, Fuller’s utopian vision of shelter became a model for surveillance and defence.
Juneau Projects treat the Cold War as a descent into a decommissioned complex, ‘The Federation’. Military might and intelligence are reduced to defunct electronics and folk propaganda:
“An eagle comes flying by
Making a whoosh of wings and slash of claws
It takes it prey and whizzes away
And the evil eye of an owl is watching us
Identification is assured…”
Federation Song
Mark Titchner, by contrast, summons the spirit of Fuller the Futurist. His joyful glowing font marches on, destination 2012, towards the apocalypse as foretold by the Maya.
Fuller’s name came up again while researching Black Mountain College, where he briefly taught and developed his ideas for the dome. Black Mountain was a site of transdisciplinary learning and students’ lessons were tailored to their interests, rather than a rigid curriculum.
Throughout Utopia or Oblivion Fuller rejects specialisms in favour of a responsive environment in which one can operate and evolve. He gives the example of a wasp, which flies against a windowpane:
“In short the humans spontaneously try to “shoo” the wasp, i.e. to reform the
wasp’s behavioral pattern instead of spontaneously thinking of how to reform the environment so that the wasp would be spontaneously stimulated by the reformed environment to escape and thus terminate the interference episode between man and wasp.” Utopia or Oblivion
Much of Fuller’s text takes this holistic approach to a quest for common understanding. The strategic questions try to find a language with which to speak about such things, as much as they search for man’s purpose.
Fuller often referred to man in this mechanic/organic way, as a sensitive, endlessly adapting system.
This resonates with the photo-spreads from Karin Kihlberg & Reuben Henry. Scandinavian forests are peopled by glistening, muscle-bound hulks in Mega Posture, Meta Posture. The posing “creatures” adopt roles that imitate the functional systems in nature where “their efforts can be seen only as teamwork”.
Scattered through the pages are Neil Chapman’s library notes. He muses on his legitimacy as a researcher, the scorn of the librarian and the paraphernalia that may or may not lead to writing. Because his texts appear in fragments, charting the sporadic nature of his work, I draw links between the artists on a double page spread.
He quotes Calvino and Bataille on recombination and subdivision of narratives. This links to Per Huttner’s antihero Poiiv, in his quest for new written forms, and contradicts Fuller who searches for structure and a shared definition of concepts.
Exploding in on this earnest debate are the wonderful cartoons by artist and children’s book illustrator, Jessica Spanyol. The minibugs have no other purpose, but to Crash! Bash! And Splash!
What’s more, they are an inspired reminder that Fuller valued the happiness of children and their holistic education in his vision for humanity.
Poiiv by Per Huttner is a story at the heart of the book. The narrator, ‘C’ exists as pure data. This disembodied consciousness meditates on the kiss and wonders at the sensuality of bodies. It’s tempting to draw on Fuller’s text here, the splitting of body and intellect as the distinction he regretted between the sciences and the humanities. The story revolves around an addictive drug that enables one to exist for a time in another person’s body, but what begins as experimentation ends in tragedy; those under the influence of the drug cannot bear the painful truths they perceive.
The gap between information gleaned by the intellect and that experienced through the senses is polarized and the tale ends when Poiiv falls violently in love. Finally he abdicates control of his body and emotions and hopes that the “pain of life” within him will also be removed.
“It does not appear to be an illogical conclusion at all, but life and love are rarely rational and predictable.” Perhaps that’s an apt response to Fuller?