ISSUE #18 SPINNING TOPS WITH MIES VAN DER ROHE

I had a real good time writing this week’s issue. There’s a long story, but it’s easy and fast to read. Not to mention it’s especially personal.

Enjoy your week.

With care,
Sean Billy Kizy Patent Pending


Who We’re Watching

There are incredible artists working on expanding our ideas around immigration, both what it means and how it’s portrayed. My mother’s side came from Iraq to America through way of Mexico. And the work being done by artists on the US Mexican border has been powerful, including by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, who I worked with on Speaking Willow. There’s an easy to watch survey of a few artists including Rafael documented beautifully in this free film called Borderlands. 

For it’s pure sensual, photographic beauty and soft materials, take a look at Quintessenz’s suspended installation in Beijing called Follow Long. It was executed with the artist by my colleagues at UAP Company on the other side of the globe.


What We’re Making

What at first looks like an incredible professional opportunity has had legs for a while now. I’m talking about acting as project manager for the installation of Brian Donnelly’s (aka. KAWS) WHAT PARTY #9194 sculpture at Seagram’s Tower. You can find photos of the sculpture and installation on KAWS’ Instagram here. It’s a sculpture and site my friends keep flaunting as ‘sexy and elite’. The sculpture is all of that while also being playful, ominous, intergalactic and foretelling.

Over four years ago, maybe even five, I was sitting at my desk at SHoP Architects daydreaming. I spent a lot of my time while practicing architecture daydreaming to be honest. It’s never been my one passion and thriving in the architecture profession is difficult to say the least regardless of what ‘hot’ firms you find yourself. But I digress.

Sitting at my desk that late that evening, I searched for an image of Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram’s Tower plaza and created an image of what I intended to install there myself one day. Honestly. This was years ahead of even looking into a job in art fabrication. I was making a fast and quick dream image before having to draft more floor plans and door schedules. I only knew I wanted it to be playful and colorful. The content I didn’t really think twice about so jogged my head for a minute about what to place as an artwork for the plaza.

My great grandfather came into my memory in that moment for reasons I can’t explain. In a rare childhood moment, my mom left me with just him at his and my great grandmother’s apartment. I had a wooden spinning top that I was trying to figure out how to use cause this one had a round head without a point. I kept on thinking. ‘Man, I wish my great grandparents didn’t have plastic on top of the dining table. This would be so much easier to spin if they just had the wood table exposed like everyone else!” But of course they didn’t. Like many immigrant families, the house was covered in plastic to make sure whatever we had lasted as long as possible.

My grandfather came over to me, and mind you we couldn’t have a full conversation, at least with words. He spoke Spanish and Arabic with almost no English. I spoke only English. He sat next to me at the dining room table and watched me struggle with the spinning top. He reached over and I gave him the top. He tried a few times and it still didn’t work. I remember feeling bad for him. This very old man, trying to play this spinning top.

Then he turned the top upside down with the stick-end on the bottom, held it between two fingers, snapped them and sent the top spinning into the air. It landed on the plastic covered table and kept spinning! I was amazed and so excited. He handed it back to me after he did it several times each time better than the last. It took me a few times to get it myself, but I eventually did. And we smiled at one another in this Kodak kind of moment. That is the most memorable experience I actually hold with my great grandfather. Why it came to me that one late worknight, I have no idea. The mind is totally mysterious sometimes.

So I searched for spinning tops online to collage into the Seagram’s plaza image. I couldn’t find that exact top online that my great grandfather and I had played with, but thought these other ones were beautiful. (see cover image) I photoshopped them into the plaza because I loved the stark contrast of Mies’ vehemently rational black and white rendered building against the colorful curved rainbow colored tops. This image has been taped to my wall for years now.

I love Mies van der Rohe’s architecture. I’ve studied him since undergrad, visited his IIT campus in Chicago, Lafayette Park in Detroit and read many essays on him along with studying a compendium of his life’s work by Detlef Mertins. Cause I’m a nerd. Not to mention that one of the artist I’m currently working, Josiah McElheny, has positioned Mies as a counterpart to his own work.

When the Seagram’s Tower installation by KAWS came to UAP, I immediately spoke up to lead its project management. I was already managing several KAWS projects and it made sense. But as life has it, I was on many projects form KAWS and other artists at the time that the company needed me to focus. I was disappointed but understood. As it goes, nothing is that straight forward though.

The project went on pause when our UAP workshop was closed during NY’s COVID-19 quarantine. After coming off furlough in late May and with the workshop up and running again, my odds swung to the other end and I was unexpectedly asked to manage the rest of its fabrication, namely its installation at Seagram’s Tower plaza. Wild, right?

This project has been incredibly difficult in so many ways due to fabrication and installation complications I can’t even begin to share, nor is it in my best interest! But all to say, I’ve worked tremendously hard alongside many colleagues to achieve this feat. I’m very proud to be able to come on board and do my part. It’s not the design I had rendered that one late night. But instead it’s another step closer to that aspiration I set years ago with no knowledge of how it would happen.

More importantly though, my ambition has shifted even if it’s not my own construction that I’m able to one day mount in the plaza. One day sooner than we expect, Neon Fab will realize the installation of a queer POC’s artwork in this ‘sexy and elite’ space. Best believe it.


“Make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. An individual human existence should be like a river — small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being.”

– Bertrand Russell

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