Xefirotarch makes vampire architecture. The reasons for this go beyond the now well-known series of incidents at the group’s 2006 SF MoMA show, during which, over consecutive days, several children were left bleeding and traumatized by their encounters with the installation. Each claimed to have been “bitten” by its forms, but more likely, the children had fallen upon one of its dangerous, fang-like angles, and left punctured by the sharp contours. One boy was hospitalized for nearly a week because of his injuries. The linear gash in his abdomen healed, but he remained adamant that the work lunged at him and not the other way around.
Hernan Diaz-Alonso was home in Argentina when the San Francisco Chronicle ran coverage of all this, and as I have co-taught several classes with Hernan at SCI-Arc (Southern California Institute of Architecture), the suspicious journalists seeking quotes eventually buzzed my phone instead of his. I patiently repeated that Hernan was not really in the architecture business in any normative sense, that his work was pursuing something else, and that, no, I was not really surprised by what had happened. The quote that ended up in the paper the following week had me suggesting that Xefirotarch was some combination of Victor von Frankenstein, Alfred Hitchcock, and Raytheon. “What began for [Diaz-Alonso] as a pursuit of cinematic botanical monsters, became, in ways he himself does not necessarily control, profiles of allegorical cannibalism … and probably even actual weapon systems.” San Francisco’s political culture being what it is, my remarks were positioned as ethical warnings or as criticisms, though I meant them as neither.
Philip Johnson visited the Greek island of Naxos in 1927 and was caught up in a local vampire panic spurred by a cholera outbreak. This visit and its predicament would change his life. Johnson’s extensive travels during this period were greatly influenced by his Harvard studies of the pre-Socratics, particularly Zeno and Parmenides. Naxos is the island where, as mythology has it, Zeus himself was raised in a cave. For Johnson, this particular pilgrimage to Naxos’s caves, to a primal architecture of sorts, was an important but unplanned addition to his itinerary. His diary notebooks from this period, now in the archives of the Getty Institute in Los Angeles, suggest that this trip through the Cyclades Islands was to last for no more than a few days. “I will be back in Athens before you know I was gone.”
Shortly after his arrival, several locals fell ill with cholera. Though this disease is by no means uncommon in the area, its treatment, including isolation of the bodily fluids of those infected, was unsophisticated. Infection spread quickly across the island from its first point of outbreak in the village of Filoti, where Johnson was staying at the time. Johnson, probably unaware that having type O blood made him unusually susceptible to the bacterium, seemed to register the situation with more annoyance than fear. “They are dropping like flies, and it’s even harder to find a decent guide or dinner for that matter,” he writes. His guest (and perhaps host as well) on this trip was a mysterious Italian a few years his senior, Aldo Gelli. Little is known of him, other than that he was the older brother of Licio Gelli, head of the notorious Propaganda Due, a “black” Masonic lodge that operated out of Rome from the 1870s and throughout the turbulent years of the 1970s. As we will see, P2’s role in the history of vampire architecture would not be understood until years later, during the trials of the secret police involved in coordinating terrorist attacks on civilians that were blamed on the Red Brigades, the so-called strategia della tensione (strategy of tension).
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