Modjeh Baratloo passed away this week.
How do you explain the methods by which someone keeps you alive? With a laugh full of affection while shaking her head at your foolishness. With a fierce intensity for any activity she committed herself to. With a demand that you and everyone else think harder and stop being slightly lazy. With her joy in making any meal special with one or many friends. With her trust in you when she called to say: who do you know that can really help?
Strangely, I never knew what she was actually doing for any artistic or architectural venture. She always worked with others, especially her former husband, Clif Balch, and her students or former students at Columbia University and elsewhere. I never asked because I did not care. I knew in my soul that without her in the mix, the project would have never happened or never happened like it did.
Sometime in the last ten years, she formed the company URGe with Justin Garrret Moore, Philip Tidwell and Ward Verbakel. I can’t imagine a better name for her – to urge. She gave the company a subtitle: “Envisioning Environment Everyday” and a mission: “URGe brings positive, new and lasting influence to cities and communities” Really, can anyone in the city planning or artistic intervention in the built environments make a clearer statement of the profession’s goal.
My first experience with Moji was as a founding boardmember of the
Storefront for Art and Architecture in 1984. I don’t know if the
Storefront would have survived the early days without her support and critical thinking. I also wonder if Kyong Park and Shirin Neshat would have had the same careers without her consistent friendship in those days of youth.
One of my last experiences with Moji was walking along the lower
Manhattan waterfront with her. She was explaining the changes to the city and waterfront combining aesthetic evaluation with political stories. At one point we encountered an embedded participatory artwork in the concrete. Together we danced following the light pattern. Typical of her to be mentally engaged at the largest scale, but attracted immediately to the intimate invention.
Here she is again. I was having a very difficult time truly engaging in my writing for Aesthetic Grounds. Now with her death, she reminds me — that only the work that touches your heart and motivates your head while making the work has real self value. And the possibility to be valuable to others.
Below are some other thoughts and stories about her. Personally, I was engaged with her as a curator for “Adam’s House in Paradise” at the Storefront in 1984, “Critical Regionalism: New York” at Gallery 400, Chicago and “Fabrications and Understatements” at PS 1 in 1988. More recently, I was able to hire URGe to plan the downtown pathways for the City of Coral Springs, Florida in 2007.
Michelle Young, Untapped Cities
Angst Cartography on Amazon