Wendy is Coming … Look Busy!


HWKN, “Rendering of Wendy” (2012), low seating view. (via MoMA PS1)

Wendy is a 70-foot-tall, blue sea urchin at MoMA PS1 … and she’s Gotham’s new ecological savior!

2×4, “Wendy Tote” (2012) (via HWKN store)

The 2012 selection of MoMA PS1’s Young Architects Program, Wendy is a mammoth sacrificial eco-sculpture who will suck up environmental pollutants from Long Island City’s atmosphere. She was designed by NY-based architects, Matthias Hollwich and Marc Kushner, principles in the firm HWKN. Blue-skinned Wendy is covered in nanoparticles. Her nylon skin works like flypaper to capture pollutants in the air. (Though I can’t evaluate the science behind Wendy, MoMA PS1 claims, “Wendy will clean the air to an equivalent of taking 260 cars off the road.”) By all measures, the work is formally and socially engaging. She gathers visitors together, unites several parts of the PS1 complex, and offers a striking, multi-storied view from PS1’s gallery windows. And, Wendy is super-cute.

The problem with Wendy is the way HWKN brands her: as an anthropomorphic, supernatural hero. This spiny rescuer will pick up where we mortals have failed. Her success relies on psychological transference: we must emotionally project onto her the parental (even divine) power to care for us while simultaneously redefining ourselves as dependents. This transference is facilitated by the fact that Wendy is prominently anthropomorphized — HWKN brands her as a cartoon superhero.  The brand is in no way peripheral to the project — HWKN specializes in branding alongside its architectural services. In fact, HWKN has engaged no fewer than three design teams to generate consumable Wendy merchandise. If her human name weren’t enough, several of those products — like 2×4‘s adorable tote — make the anthropomorphic connection explicit by giving her a smiling face.

HWKN, “Rendering of Wendy” (2012) (via MoMA PS1)

Why shouldn’t we have a little fun while cleaning up our air? Well, there is a darker implication, one that artist Keith Piper observes in our cultural obsession with technological beings. Piper shows how our desire for the robotic other is really just a displaced desire for a master-slave relationship. (Lest we forget, as obliging as he was, C3PO of Star Wars fame was still Luke Skywalker’s property.)

Wendy fits this bill: she is kept inside an enormous cage, and must work to save us until her labor renders her defunct. Is this ideologically helpful for us? No doubt, we need good eco-art, and anything that moves beyond Greenpeace or the Sierra Club should be considered an aesthetic improvement. But, this happy blue monster stunts moral development: Wendy allows us to avoid any meaningful introspection by looking externally for environmental solutions.  :(

Related: A dinner party to celebrate Wendy via Tumblr

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