Inbetweenness: A Conversation with Shane Reiner-Roth
Shane Reiner-Roth is the curator of the Instagram account @everyverything, featuring images that express humor and an ‘economy of expression’. He is a PhD student at UCLA and a contributing writer at The Architect’s Newspaper and the New York Review of Architecture. The -ish editorial team had the pleasure of interviewing Shane over Zoom to discuss his thoughts, processes and intentions behind the images he curates and their relationship with our current cultural moment.
-ish Issue Editors (-ish):
Since our issue looks into these -ish conditions, we were interested in these weird, accidental or even purposely made moments. Having come across @everyverything before, we thought about your page while working on this issue, and wanted to learn more about how this project started and how it developed.
Shane Reiner-Roth (SRR):
I was flattered to be a part of this because @everyverything is the project I’ve been working on for the longest time, yet I have never had the opportunity to speak about it at length. To begin, I was thinking about this concept of -ish and inbetweenness, which is related to why I started @everyverything in 2013 at the end of my undergraduate program at SCI-Arc. ‘Everyverything’ was the name of my undergraduate thesis, and while not necessarily tied to the Instagram project, it was also about inbetweenness. At the time, I made a flip machine that animated a house turning into a cat because I was interested in all these things that happen between those two strong forms—the weak forms, the -ish, and the inbetween. This ended up being really important for the Instagram page.
Can you tell us a little more about your process of selecting images and where you find them?
For the first couple of years, I was just finding images that made me laugh or exposed this idea I call the ‘economy of expression.’ To me, this term describes any time designers, developers, or others intend to produce something very expressive, grand, or palatial, while at the same time trying to do so very economically. There is often a tension between these motives, and when architects or designers take advantage of that tension, it yields humorous results. Through these ways of ‘cheating’ with design, architects or designers try to find shortcuts, yet these shortcuts often end up revealing themselves.
I was trying to find photos that were ‘worth a thousand words,’ allowing me to put as little text as possible underneath them. I don’t want to tell the people who follow me whether these designs are good or bad, smart or stupid, because they have the opportunity to be all of those; I just want the image to provoke tension. Initially, I was finding those myself and around four years ago people started sending me images in direct messages. I’ve never met them and it’s really interesting when they try to guess what the next thing I’m trying to express is—a lot of the time they get it right.
To answer how I find the images exactly, I find them either by scrolling through social media or typing in specific things I’m thinking about, like a list of ‘construction fails’, for instance. These appear when someone in construction misinterprets blueprints and they produce the wrong results. Therefore, sometimes they just appear and sometimes it is a deliberate search.
It’s interesting that people who follow your account start to send you images, because that creates a dialogue. It’s no longer solely about how you want your followers to reinterpret your images, instead, they also become a part of this process. This brings us to the next question, why did you choose Instagram as your medium of curation?
I wouldn’t have thought that Instagram would be my ideal profile because I’m a writer day-to-day. However, Instagram allows me to do something that I don’t get to do in my profession, where I get to do image curation freely without needing to explain myself. I try to group things thematically, and even if it doesn’t happen that way, they often manage to communicate together anyway. If I had chosen Twitter as a platform, for instance, I would have had to continue explaining myself through text which I already do as a career, so I think of Instagram as a very serious hobby. I try to just post once a day, and sometimes I do it very casually when I’m just waiting to cross the street, and other times I think about it for hours before posting. Yet there’s always a sense of freedom in it because it’s not my career.
Going back to the aesthetic condition of your images, can you elaborate on where your interest in this tension between expressive and economical modes of design came from?
I started @everyverything at the end of my undergraduate career, when I was supposed to enter the workforce. I was supposed to graduate and become an architect, but at that time, I was getting disillusioned with the practice as a whole. My thesis was becoming increasingly theoretical and less about a building in the ground—it became my reaction against the field of architecture. Instead of joining it, I wanted to find all of the evidence of its ridiculousness.
My attempt to find a sense of humor in architecture was a reaction against the self-seriousness of the field along with its desire for perfection and detail-orientedness. I couldn’t see myself participating in that culture. Instead @everyverything is about highlighting these fucked up details and stupid attempts to save money in design. I am not making fun of them in the posts; rather, I’m admiring them for not participating in this culture of perfection.
I have no interest in insulting the people who produce ‘cheap designs’ or make mistakes—I think these should be a part of everyday life. We should embrace them rather than thinking of them simply as mistakes. These images reveal how our culture of perfection masks who we really are—like a slip of the tongue.
It’s interesting to see how these images become a momentary escape, a collection of these little moments that break the rules, but are still acceptable because they aren’t entirely wrong.
I like that it’s an escape, it’s a relief. They kind of break the rules but they work precisely for that reason. When you’re going through architecture school (and I’m in my third degree right now) there’s this top down assumption that there are certain rules to follow, certain people you have to be interested in, and those who you shouldn’t be. I found it very liberating to decide that for myself. For that reason, I noticed that most of the people who follow @everyverything are architecture students.
I’m glad we’re talking about it under these terms of escapism, because most of the designs I find are perfectly possible and exist in most cases. It’s just a matter of letting go of standards, perfections, and regulations under this bureaucratic culture that we think we have to be a part of. I’m still fighting that myself even as I go through being a writer. I’m still trying to find moments of liberation—of ways to not do things in the ‘correct’ or ‘standard’ way. Going back to this idea of -ish, that’s the place where you can really see the personality of a creative project; it is in the murky inbetween space that isn’t concerned with regulations, pragmatism, etc.
With this curation and celebration of momentary “inbetweenness”, that brings us to our next question of what you’re trying to achieve from this project. Are you trying to critique, subvert or overcome certain modes of design?
With the writing I publish, I have to have a reason for writing it, along with an argument, evidence, and a conclusion. @everyverything is less of a place to prove anything, rather, it’s a space for open conversations and interpretations. Where my writing has to be about closing cases, the Instagram page is about opening them up. Do you think this is smart? Do you think this is stupid? Are those useful terms? Do those terms even matter? Therefore, it’s a place that deliberately collects images to be openly interpreted rather than to draw conclusions.
Separate from that, I often include the work of artists and photographers I admire like Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Virgil Abloh, and Edward Burtynsky. I try to elevate the work of artists, architects, and photographers that are knowingly working on the concept of liberation from regulation. While some of the works on my page expose the accidents that reveal our culture, I also included designers who are putting this ironic sense of humor into their work since the beginning. The work of James Wines, from SITE, is a good example of this and I could fill half my Instagram page with just his buildings. He inspired me in a big way and I had the opportunity to talk to him recently. We had a good time talking about the difficult task of injecting humor into design and how that has always been his intention. He told me that in his work, he always wants to get the audience to do a double-take and question how this building got designed, approved by the city, and built. He wants the people walking by his buildings to question what they’re looking at—inviting them to interpret them for themselves outside of text.
With your collection including images of purposefully designed works and accidental mistakes or adaptations created from regular use, what do you think these phenomena say about our current culture and built environment?
I think that there’s a large part of architecture culture as a profession that tries to imagine or make the built environment as this perfect place. Yet, these perfect buildings are designed for really flawed people. We’re all flawed and imperfect, we cut corners and we lie to get out of situations. At best, architecture creates a perfect environment for imperfect people. Therefore, I think that those ‘mistakes’ revealed in the built environment are an expression of our human imperfections. These ruptures reflect that we are imperfect and we produce imperfect facades and imperfect details. I think this is a much more authentic relationship with the world around us, because who are we kidding, pretending to be perfect for these perfect spaces.
Generally, from the top down, there is this expectation that buildings improve our behavior. Plenty of architects, modern architects in particular, talk about architecture’s capacity to improve human nature. Instead, we should embrace the imperfect environment and even the sloppy details. There’s a beauty in sloppy details in which we get to see the behind the scenes, where we are invited into the process of its making.
On this note of behind the scenes and a process of making, that brings us back to our own experience in architecture school. A lot of the moments where we find inspiration comes from critics seeing something done unintentionally or misunderstanding original intentions. Those moments make the project stand out differently—there’s a level of creativity and ambiguity in our interpretations and misreadings.
Exactly—I think there is so much pressure to ignore or to blow past mistakes you make. There’s a beauty in not only embracing them, but working through them and turning them into something.