Archive for Ornamental Bodies

The Archive for Ornamental Bodies is an experiment in the documentation and description of bodies — natural bodies, human bodies, metaphysical bodies, linguistic bodies. The AOB collects bodies of all materials and forms. It is our particular mission, however, to gather bodies characterized by some extravagance or inessentiality, and to confer plentitude on their excess through the medium of language.

Our ever-growing cabinet consists of four boxes:

The objects one finds therein are products of their time in their tone, shape, mood, and design. They are decontextualized, however — placed within the scopic space of our virtual cabinet — in the effort to produce sensations in viewers existing in moments other than those in which these bodies have lived.

The role of ornament, as the role of all art, after all, is to invoke sensation and feeling. “It is finery glittering in movements,” explains Gottfried Semper in his 1856 lecture on Schmuckung. From this movement, of course, perceivers gather not only sensations, but ideas; ornamentation thus enhances the body it bedecks by supplementing it with meaning.

Without ornamentation, the world becomes a homogenous mixture of bodies, lacking intellectual and sensual engagement. Those who seek out ornament are not “stragglers” (Loos); they are, in actuality, variegators. A commitment to variegation thus leads the Archive for Ornamental Bodies to document objects that occupy beauty in a manner that is both expressive and subdued. That is to say, not all of our objects are extravagant, nor are they all simple. Common ground for the bodies we keep is the unique sensation and meaning they thrust forward.

Any body that serves an ornamental function is important to our mind. This may lead one to ask: what is the function of an ornamental body? Throughout the history of art, not only aesthetic embellishment, but color, skin, and hair, have been conceived of as ornaments — "inessential forms" secondary to the more “essential” aspects of art and architecture, such as structure, shape, or interiority. “Nobody wants ornaments in this world ... everybody wants integrity,” writes the Victorian art critic and architectural theorist, John Ruskin. The AOB believes the structure of integrity has been overvalued. We thus open our doors to the unnecessary excrescences of history, collecting under our skirts the baubles and bric-a-brac of the future. 

Where others position ornament as a thing of the primitive past — “We have outgrown ornament; we have fought our way through to freedom from ornament,” insists the Viennese architect Adolf Loos in 1908 — we take perverse enjoyment in the “backwardness” and “degeneration” of the ornamental.

In his lecture “Ornament and Crime” Loos prognosticates: “the physicist points today to colours in the solar spectrum which already have a name but the knowledge of which is reserved for the men of the future.” He meant: modernity is superiority. He meant: there is a single truth and only Western rationalism can discover that truth. The AOB rejects Loos' interpretation of his own words. In them we perceive the rogue indeterminacy of a space that has only begun to be decorated. “As for us we like a touch of kitsch in each room to juice up or pinken the clean lines of the possible” (Robertson). We find that there is color in the universe unimaginable to who we are now. Who we will be are discoverers of an ornament that can be found anywhere and everywhere.

Curators