Liquid Incorporated

Gabrielle Printz

Liquid Incorporated,  Headroom , Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, 1995. Courtesy of Amy Landesberg and Lisa Quatrale.

Liquid Incorporated, Headroom, Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, 1995. Courtesy of Amy Landesberg and Lisa Quatrale.

Liquid Incorporated was a practice established in 1991 by architecture’s illegitimate daughters, Amy Landesberg and Lisa Quatrale—two women pursuing the liquefaction of a paternal profession they could never simply inherit. They were not legally incorporated (a joke or a dream or a precedent applied unscrupulously), but the corporate moniker came to define a collaborative entity that resisted the modern impulse to regenerate disciplinary concerns into a set of business protocols. Rather, in their corporate body, they attempted to dissolve the structural limits of architecture and its practice.

This wet and wild undoing of architectural subjectivity also extended to the disputed content of their domain: they embraced “merely mere” forms of architectural action through the expansion of ornament and in “minor” interior interventions. Exhibitions became an important vehicle for their work, and in the context of the gallery, their body-minded architectural gestures urged new intimacies between subjects and objects of design. The women of Liquid Inc embraced architecture in all its material possibility, privileging matter over concept while suffering no loss of the latter. It was the slippery stuff of architecture—plumbing and plaster and drapery—that attracted them. Inside wet walls and in newly conceived intimate spaces, they confronted the gendered dis-position of materials coded as feminine, inessential, unsightly, or excessive. Embracing Lilly Reich and Bruce Goff at the expense of Mies and Loos, they proceeded to indulge dissolution against canonization.

Landesberg and Quatrale formed Liquid Inc in the prescriptive disciplinary space of Yale, where they partnered as graduate students; they had both lost their mothers and grew closer around Amy’s young daughter. To the discomfort of some faculty and their peers, they banded together to elucidate a more fluid space of operation. Their (il)legitimate entity was formalized in their collaborative final project at Yale: see angel touch, a close examination of the cornice of angels on Louis Sullivan’s Bayard Building, as documented in the now twenty-year-old Architecture and Feminism anthology. Literally scanning Sullivan’s once-molten terracotta, a myopic view of thickened ornamental space, they found something they desired, “a superstitious space” in the company of angels.

After graduation, Landesberg and Quatrale went on to identify other opportunities for intervention in the marginal spaces of practice and in architecture’s marginal elements: cornices, door thresholds, modesty screens, weeping sections, expanding joints, collars for columns, desks for makeup and making up architecture, and other “incident[s] of furnishing in the unstable space.” These excesses, so called in their 1996 exhibition, were the superfluous matter arranged to loosely structure promiscuous relations between space, surface, and body. In Marilyn Kiang’s Atlanta gallery (“you know who she is”) and the private space of her office-cum-boudoir, excessive architectures take on subjective qualities, lives, ambitions, and ulterior motives of their own. Plexiglass is allowed to sink under its own gravity, and thresholds are outfitted with rubber gaskets and peacock feathers to catch passing bodies in an embrace. Their “modesty screen” reveals the body in its drawn and built states; it seems to sense, rather than simply show, what’s concealed. These exhibited designs anticipated other kinds of spatial occupations and perhaps also the unexpected content of one’s psyche, newly attuned to fluid spaces and fluid movements through them—a kind of derive in close quarters, over linoleum eskimo-kissed with eyelashes, toward a door that holds you like a keepsake.

But these were gestures with precise vocabularies. The deliberate use of text laminated into drawings and repeated in unison at lectures qualified the work and also their roles in producing it. Landesberg narrates a house—Adam’s Eye—to her daughter, and her reflections are incorporated into the narrative of the project as it’s published in ANY (No. 4, 1994). Drawings are text, annotations are structural. The scanned image performs as drawing, where section cuts open into photographs and technical details “present themselves as image,” as if of their own accord. They drew exclusively with ink on mylar, liquid on a surface that is translucent, but also reflective; it returns a gaze. Seeing these details “too close,” myopically, subverted a vision of architecture as necessarily whole, as in the humanistic tradition, and those details are recognized at points of vulnerability and instability.

In instances of building, which largely occured in the context of the gallery, they were also deliberate in their denial of structural efficiencies. Rather than performing the virtue of support, architectural objects are themselves held in a subjective embrace: there, a column is relieved of its duties and is instead held up by “a tight squeeze.” The same structural figure appears on mylar as a column of text, lived out through its own second-hand narrative. In the drawing, speculations about the columns’ gender question its classical applications: “they are usually girls, that is when ordered, well this one is pretty disorderly.”

Liquid Inc’s promiscuous architecture doesn’t reproduce feminine metaphors but instead exploits weaknesses in a discipline and profession so reliant on its preferences for masculine performance.

Their labor of dissolution did not arrive at the point of conversion where critical work yields to the compromising positions taken to forge a sustainable architectural enterprise. That is to say, their “unfirm” did not survive in Atlanta, where they worked and taught. Excluded from the arena of profit-making architecture even as they reproduced its corporate guise, Landesberg and Quatrale practiced a kind of poetry against what they saw as a violent hegemony enacted in diffuse ways throughout the making of architecture.

What kind of practice are we? Illegitimate daughters illegitimately claiming paternity. Promiscuous daughters with multiple fathers. Seeking fathers—an inevitable course in the process of architectural re-generation. Such a paternalistic discipline. Should we kill them like our modernist fathers do? Or try to fill their shoes like our classical fathers do? How do daughters claim an inheritance? Where for god’s sake are our mothers?

But in moments of solubility, at the edges of the discipline, where ornament stretches into space, where the wetness is made to spill into dry zones, a liquid practice found expression.