26 years ago, the Guggenheim hosted an exhibition of work by Will Insley, focusing particularly on Insley’s project ONECITY.
The New York Times described it at the time as depicting an “imaginary labyrinth 650 miles square.” It is “‘situated’ between the Mississippi and the Rockies and consists of many 2 1/2-mile-square structures, each divided into an ‘Over-building’ and an ‘Under-building’ and each containing nine arenas.”
The artist described his own interests as having “very little to do with advanced planning theories of the present” and no relation really at all to the ”utopias of the future, but rather with the dark cities of mythology, which exist outside of normal times in some strange location of extremity.”
Courtesy of a comment left a while back on the sorely-missed site The Nonist, we learn that Insley once quipped: “what was absent from the ruin is often less marvelous than we imagine it to have been. The abstract power of suggestion (the fragment) is greater than the literal power of the initial fact. Myth elevates.’” These mythic fragments of a city that never was thus take their artistic power more from suggestion—of possible archaeologies and future extensions, impossible events this civilization of the plains might yet undergo—rather than any sense of intended realizability.
Continuing from the New York Times, meanwhile:
It’s clear, however, that the city’s inhabitants are segregated into day people, wholesome types who study at home with their children by means of electronic devices, and night people. “Tattered ghosts in phosphorescent clothing,” the night people sound a lot like the more Felliniesque denizens of the Lower East Side, being given to masks and elaborate makeup; they “mutter a lot” and “often carry around personal abstract structures” that they exchange “according to mysterious rituals.” And while they have homes in the Over-building, they frequently sleep in the cubby holes of the Under-building, ignored by day people going about their business.
ONECITY is a “masonite labyrinth,” the article concludes, complete with “Wall Fragments” that have been “gridded with white or yellow lines and shaped like garment sections waiting to be sewn together.” It’s the city as dystopian clothing that we tailor to fit our future selves. Imagine a dusty third-floor walk-up in the Garment District of Manhattan, where precise plans for megastructures are produced on massive looms, needles and yawn moving to a hypnotic drone in semi-darkness. Architectural invention by way of sewing diagrams.