No More Surprises, an exhibition about Content

organised by Marte Eknæs and Cookies

Martha Stewart: ...The world has become a smaller place. The internet has enabled every culture to relate to every other culture. There are no more secrets, nothing surprising anymore, and I think that is very valuable.

Rem Koolhaas: Why is “nothing surprising anymore” a good thing? Don't you like surprises?

Martha Stewart: I like surprises, but what's valuable is constant edification, revelation. I have China, the largest country in the world, yet to conquer - and I don't mean conquer egomaniacally. I would love for them to know about transfer-ware, because, in fact, they started it.

“No More Surprises: Global editing with Martha Stewart,” Content, p.227.

No More Surprises presents, through research material borrowed from OMA's archive, the working process behind the production of the book Content by Rem Koolhaas, OMA/AMO and &&& (Taschen, 2004). Content was initially conceived as a follow up to the book SMLXL (The Monacelli Press, 1995) and as a compilation of the projects and research developed by OMA/AMO between 1997 and 2003.

The book and the eponymous exhibition at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin in 2003 were developed side by side at the OMA office in Rotterdam. Spreads produced for the book were blown up to create a diagram for a wall, or a selection of models for the exhibition would become the background image of a page in the book. Whilst the exhibition was approached as a flea market, the book was approached as a magazine.

The global power shift witnessed after 9/11 also led to a shift in OMA’s commissions from West towards East. The structure of the book was initially planned to reflect this; projects were to be presented in geographical rather than in chronological order. The dynamic design with its notorious collages, overlapping layers and combination of layouts and typographies, was initially inspired by fanzines, men’s magazines, Japanese manga and a wide range of other printed matter. The graphic designers had very little previous knowledge of architecture and there was a mandate that the material was “treated without respect or reverence.” It mixes facts and fiction, opinion pieces about architecture and advertising. At the time of publishing it declared itself "not timeless" and "almost out of date already” and “like a magazine, it may be resurrected when there is more to report.”

Looking back from today, when the Internet is a platform monopolised by a handful of corporations, the book reflects the excitement over the information flood of the early days when it was a place of potential freedom and subversion. The new technologies available in 2003 made the working process global, allowed widespread movement of people (the designers of the book were based in London whilst the researchers were in Rotterdam) and also popularised the figure of the starchitect. At a time before the financial crisis of 2008, little could be seen as threatening the pace of globalisation. As Koolhaas put it, this was Globalisation1.0.

At this moment OMA also had to adjust to the field of architecture being increasingly dominated by the free market. Architects were previously seen as "public servants, relied on to articulate a public vision of a city" but then they became "henchmen for clients with no particular concern for the public or the possibilities of urban life.” As a response to this development Content places OMA's realised and unrealised buildings within a vast amount of research into the global condition. Architecture is presented as a communal effort and a tool for investigation but also as a potential tool of aggression. It reports from the state of architecture "as a poisonous mixture of omnipresence and impotence.” It shows architecture in revolt with the threatening presence of angry buildings throughout the book (illustrations by Simon Brown).

Under the headline "Martha Stewart Urbanism", a conversation between Koolhaas, Martha Stewart and Beatriz Colomina examines how the intimate space of the kitchen - the traditional safe space of architecture - is becoming a commercial public sphere. Martha Stewart built Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, turning her home and life into a brand. Utilizing all the new technology at hand she took her "life editing" to a global scale and created a network of aspirational home makers from her kitchen. As Koolhaas describes it: "Your home, The new Public Plaza."

The book's cover was selected from more than 60 options designed by Kenneth Tin-kin Hung, some of which are on view in the show. It places OMA's CCTV building in a mix of politics, religion and tabloid headlines. The title’s typeface is a reference to a catalogue by Constant Nieuwenhuys from 1959. Based on play rather than work Constant’s New Babylon imagined a world inhabited by the Homo Ludens—perhaps we should see Content as a book (and as architecture) for the playing (wo)man.

Twelve years after the publishing of Content information overdose is the norm, Martha Stewart Living products are widely available on and sharing has become an entrepreneurial strategy. The instability and self reflection that Content presented has been either rejected or absorbed into desirable architectural form and graphic design style.

"If I had to describe the [Content] process in one word, that would be friction." Maybe it’s time we reintroduce a new form of friction.

Marte Eknæs is an artist living in Berlin and Espa, Norway. Her recent exhibitions and projects include Open 24 Hours (with Nicolau Vergueiro), Munchmuseet on the Move, Oslo, 2016; Do I still have to sleep in the cupboard? (with ÅYR), organised by Cookies, Rotterdam, 2016; Now Open Free Parking (with Nicolau Vergueiro), What Pipeline, Detroit, 2015; Calculus of Negligence (with Sean Raspet), Room East, New York 2015. Her book Formal Economy, Mousse Publishing, came out in 2015. The permanent installation Materie, Vollebekk skole will be open in 2017.

Cookies is a collective of four designers based in Rotterdam. Formed by Antonio Barone, Alice Grégoire, Federico Martelli and Clément Périssé in 2015. Cookies works as a platform and catalyzer for art and architecture. Cookies has extensive experience in exhibition staging gained through collaboration with OMA and AMO the architecture office and think tank founded by Rem Koolhaas as well as with photographer Wolfgang Tillmans. Cookies currently produces and curates exhibitions (Do I still have to sleep in the cupboard, Rotterdam, 2016­ with ÅYR and Marte Eknæs), produces and develop installations (Digital Fossils in Utopian Dreams Tent Rotterdam, 2016) and works as production manager for exhibitions.