New York

Will Insley

Will Insley’s world is the product of a remarkably constant, devoted, rigorous imagination. His grand designs are fanciful but severe. His vision is a trip through the looking glass into Alphaville.

Since 1972 Insley has been developing the concept of “Onecity” and the “Opaque Civilization.” Onecity is a vast conceptual labyrinth, a squared spiral centered in Kansas, an underground complex buried in the same area as those missiles that rose from the plains in The Day After. It would occupy a 675-by-675-mile square; its population would be 400 million. The Opaque Civilization is the hypothetical society that Onecity’s architecture reflects.

Insley’s Onecity is the modern version of William Blake’s Egypt—a spiritual state of totalitarianism, worshipping numbers and abstraction. This is a hive state, the ant-colony brain of Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach (1979). But this is no, Insley’s ideal. This is his model of what is and what will be, not of what should be. In the catalogue to the museum show he states, “ONECITY is a non-Utopia and therefore lies outside the agreeable projects of the practical architectural world when this world deals in ‘visionary’ projects, dedicated as they are to GOOD. ONECITY exists in my mind as an extreme statement projected from my experiences in the real world (living in cities), but it is not dedicated to GOOD. Nor, for that matter, is it dedicated to BAD. It makes no moral judgement whatsoever. Rather, it accepts both GOOD and BAD as equal parts of the human psyche and gives each its separate but equally considered place.”

Onecity is a science fiction project. Despite its fine-art credentials it is not essentially dissimilar from the blueprints one can buy for the starship Enterprise./Building/No. 17, Passage Space Spiral—Model, 1970, looks a great deal like the structure through which Michael York and Jenny Agutter escape from an underground labyrinthine civilization in Logan’s Run (1976). In that film citizens are liquidated when they reach the age of 30. In Onecity the populace is divided into day people and night people. Criminals are sequestered in their own community.

Some of the grid plans and models exhibited at the museum are interesting in themselves—particularly the models in which tiny men and cars offer a scalar reference, models of structures of angled planes and labyrinths which would offer an interesting series of views and games involving perspective and horizon and direction. But the Opaque Civilization is moving and powerful only in the light of its central fiction. “If there are wall fragments, there must be buildings; if buildings—a city; if a city—a civilization; if a civilization—a religion,” Insley writes. Onecity is a hidden, unfolding religion made visible. It is a myth. Insley is not a believer. He is its ambivalent prophet. He claims to be objective about his visions. They are metaphors, not miracles. They are post-Masonic architectural symbols. They describe our social fabric, our myths, revealing architecture, space, and perspective as control systems. It’s not often that one finds oneself thinking, “These drawings would make a great movie.”

Glenn O’Brien