‘Breaking the Plain’ – the migration of the grain elevator across the USA

Breaking the Plain (Christy Johnson, 2009)

“As a building type, both rural and urban, the grain elevator has provided a source of inspiration for architects and artists alike. From the European architects who first noticed them at the turn of the century to the generations of American artists who still document them, all have continued to renew the meaning of the elevator through their work. American artists emphasized the elevator’s context, whether rural farmland or urban industrial landscape, and its identity as an American object, thereby setting themselves apart from the Europeans who were interested primarily in the building’s form – a quality that transcends cultural boundaries.” Aldo Rossi

The short film, BREAKING THE PLAIN, takes as its centre an image of a model – a representation of the generalised form of the rural wood elevator that has been lost over time. Family albums accessible to Christy Johnson offered up numerous and varied photographs of elevators built by her grandfather. His movements across the Great Plains can be plotted via inscription and recall.

It would seem at first that Christy Johnson has provided the ideal arena for negotiating stories with her father, for making a family journey with him. Working from one of the images in the archive, she creates a flat-pack, collapsible, portable elevator that reduces the monumentalized structure of the elevator to a domestic scale – ideal for ‘performances’ and family narrative (re?) constructions. But in the end this short film (part of a larger installation) draws attention to the instability and fragility of trying to structure family memories.

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About (sub)urbanite

Professor of Urban Form and Society and Director of the Space Syntax Lab, Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. Online in a personal capacity.
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One Response to ‘Breaking the Plain’ – the migration of the grain elevator across the USA

  1. Pingback: Full list of films screened at the #UCL Urban Migration Film Festival and Symposium | Urban Migration Films

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