Grid

Episodes

TitleFirst
Broadcast
Comments
Grid20170618

Exploring the grid as the great hidden idea behind modernism, art, music and urban design.

In essence nothing more than the repeated intersection of horizontal and vertical lines, this feature explores the grid as the great hidden idea behind art, architecture and urban design, of the musical score - an emblem of modernism and a perceptual model for the digital age.

Drawing on a wide range of disciplines, this feature explores the grid on multiple levels: as concept, as lived reality and art, from navigating the city 'gridiron' (Barcelona, above all Manhattan) to the pattern hidden inside much Renaissance painting; its use in notation in music, between stave and note (explicitly in so-called 'graphic' scores) to its returning presence in political thought, from the Greek polis to the geometry of the modern metropolis: a checkpoint of modernism in the 20th century, a contemporary perceptual tool for understanding the flow of information in the present.

This programme flows between these hidden forms and explicit uses of the grid in a way that reflects the subject, allowing the whole to develop a bit like the drawing of a map (there may be surprise right angles, lines forming new connections, not just a succession of straight lines!). Some of these connections may well be surprising: the grid as an idea that lies behind the everyday, that informs the way we move, read, see, interpret information and navigate the world - at once physical, representational and virtual. But sometimes it's celebrated outright: once a year crowds gather in New York along the city's principle avenues to cheer 'Manhattanhenge' - the moment when the trajectory of the setting sun aligns perfectly, and spectacularly, with the city grid.

There are political dimensions to this story too. The grid is the hidden order behind spontaneity and chaos - simple, repetitive, rigorous and austere - but also perhaps consoling, especially during times of political disorder: mapped grids and city grid plans flourish in the West during period of the French and American revolutions; in painting, during the period leading up to and immediately after the First World War. In city planning in particular the grid represented a set of utopian choices - in the United States it was tied to cartography on a mass scale, the Jeffersonian gridding of North America, and a positive rejection of the European city model of tangled streets and random circles. The grid was the imposition of civic order, rational and democratic - it belonged to Everyman.

The programme explores the idea that the grid can be invisible or visible, not only a hidden idea but, for artists like Piet Mondrian, spiritually satisfying in its own right: its simple geometry, in theory endless, is beguiling - and completely artificial. Talking about the psychological power of grids in modern painting, art historian Rosalind Krauss pointed out that their aesthetic appeal is based on a rejection of the chaos, organic forms and the unpredictability we find in nature: 'The grid turns its back on nature. Flattened, geometric, ordered, it is anti-natural... It is an aesthetic decree.' Today the proliferating networks of the web and production of virtual knowledge have prompted some to argue we're in the middle of a new emergent grid, shaping the world in its image.

Moving across disciplines, fields and practices, from real to virtual space, from antiquity to the present, this adventurous and original feature shows the power of a very simple idea -
so simple and powerful, in fact, it is often (almost) invisible. Contributors are drawn from multiple spheres: art history and art practice, geometry, architecture and urban design, information modelling, philosophy, music and modern political thought.

Producer: Simon Hollis.