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Paul-Catherall8

When I first came across this exhibition of Paul Catherall’s linocut prints, I was drawn to it by its theme. Brutalism is a staple for architects along with the colour grey, black clothes and weird glass frames. Following my regular style of not researching what I was going to see, I entered Eames Fine Art Gallery.  The first impression was good and weirdly familiar. It was only when I went back home and looked into the artist’s work that I realised I had seen posters of his prints in the tube.

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Catherall’s work is focused on London and it is beautiful but also legible. His choice of colour is often unpredictable and surreal but the landmarks are recognisable. Therefore it was not a surprise that TFL commissioned him for a series of posters that highlight these landmarks and their accessibility by London Transport.

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Some of the prints in the Brutalism exhibition are more abstract than others and even though I like his work in general, these abstract ones were more interesting to me. Shapes and surfaces of the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre and the Lloyd’s building have been de-constructed and recomposed with the use of vibrant colours in a very inspiring way.

After reading a couple of interviews of the artist, I understood better his ethos and how it is related to architecture. Architecture is a practical, literally down to earth, art. Architects create buildings that need to be inhabited and used by people. This is, or rather should be, their first priority. Sometimes when the architecture is really really good, it suggests new ways of moving through space or even living. It can be inspiring and uplifting, but it always has to follow some rules. It needs to provide a safe environment that accommodates people’s needs and quite often, this very restriction is the source of its beauty.

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Architects who have aspired to create high art by disregarding people’s needs enter a territory of thin ice. Their appropriation of the building as their own artistic creation is merely a proof of their conceitedness and self absorption. Architecture’s success should be measured by the user’s happiness not the architect’s need for self expression.

When Paul Catherall speaks about enjoying his commissions regardless of the restrictions that they pose, like their need to be legible and relatable, I see his fascination with architecture and also why architects enjoy his prints.

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Naturally not all art has to be like that. In fact we need controversial art that defies all rules and tests the boundaries, especially in a world that becomes increasingly conservative and close-minded. However the world needs less self-absorbed artists who care only about themselves and more like Paul Catherall who is devoted to his craft and enjoys communicating that with others.

Maybe I enjoyed this work a lot because it was a exhibition full of buildings in strange colours and I am after all an architect, I cannot help myself. Anyway, if you are south of the river during this weekend, go have a look. You only have a couple of days left.

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Eames Fine Art Gallery’s is on

58 Bermondsey Street
London
SE1 3UD

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Documenta1

Documenta is an art exhibition that has been organised and presented in Kassel, Germany, every 5 years since 1955. The reason behind the very first one was to disperse Germany’s cultural darkness due to Nazism after the war. Through the years though it has developed into one of the most important exhibitions of contemporary art worldwide, possibly because of its non-commercial nature. Usually the event is curated towards exploring a specific political, cultural or sociological theme, for example feminism or migration.

Documenta aims to showcase the work of artists from all around the world and regardless of the fact that its centre has always been in Kassel, the latest exhibition’s concept evolved around the idea of moving the whole event in Athens, Greece. Adam Szymczyk the artistic director of Documenta had been coming and staying in Greece for a number of years, as have many artists from all over the world who are drawn to it by the popular idea that Athens is the new artistic centre of Europe.

 

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To be precise Athens has been referred to as the new Berlin so often that the local street artists write graffiti that reads: “This is NOT the new Berlin” or “Athens is the new Athens”. However the name of the exhibition was decided to be “Learning from Athens”. A contradictory title that along with the absence of representation of a large number of Greek artists, infuriated a significant part of the Greek scene. The exhibition has only a couple of days left before the Athens part is finished (the Kassel part will be open until September 17) but I believe there is much to be said still about it, especially since its creative director has stated that the organisation hopes to “leave something behind it that the city can profit from”.

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Looking into the matter first from the aspect of Athens becoming the coveted place where artists, (especially those from other countries) want to go and live at, the possible results are rather daunting. Being Greek but having lived in London for a decade myself, I have witnessed artists relocating as a first sign of gentrification. The artists choose areas where rents are cheap and the environment feels genuine and inspiring. Then the real-estate agents follow, the area slowly gets a make-over and is sold to a high price to people who can afford it. Simplistic but telling description of gentrification in a couple of phrases. With the way things have developed in Greece for the last few years, one can only wonder if that could ever expand to the scale of a city, or even a whole country.

 

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When I think about the title of the exhibition, “Learning from Athens” again I cannot but wonder, what does it really mean. Athens is a city full of contradictions. It always carries the massively heavy burden of its past, the one that gave to the world the masterpiece of the Acropolis and the concept of Democracy. It also occupies awkwardly a crossroads position between the Eastern and the Western world, being part of Europe but parading with pride a misogynistic, macho, god-fearing religious culture. On top of all of that, on top of the blue sky, the long summers and an always vibrant nightlife, lands the CRISIS. In capital letters because it can be nothing but capital (pun intended) what has changed the lives of all Greeks. The Greeks who have been mocked and criticised by the entire world for not being able to deal with their debt, when the power play of banks and rich nations have been plotting against them. Nor being able to deal with the burden of the leftish revolution that the world expected with Syriza coming to power or the pseudo-Grexit referendum. And then the Syrian refugee influx and entrapment in a country of zero ability to deal with the problem has thickened the plot, increasing both the solidarity and self-organisation but on the other hand heightening the power and righteousness of far-right nationalist parties like Golden Dawn.

 

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In the middle of all that chaos lands Documenta 14 that wants to “Learn from Athens”. Wants to learn from a city which manages to look like it deals with all that and actually has fun as well. “How come the bars and restaurants and cafes are still open and people are having fun?”, “How is it possible that people get on with their lives wrapped in riots, tear gas, graffiti and vandalism?”, the universal scene seems to wonder. How can they be in so much trouble and still seem so cool? This is what they really want to learn. This cannot be learned though, much as they try. Coming to look at Athens from the outside, or even for a few months (maybe even years) from the ‘inside’, is as futile as trying to grasp what it is to be a lion, by observing it in its cage, in the zoo.

 

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I can attest to that, after living for 10 years in London I have a vague idea about Britishness but I cannot really explain what it is to be British. Of course I did not come here from a position of power, with any imported funds. I did not come to London to advertise any supposed superiority in life’s wisdom quoting Anthony Quinn impersonating Zorba the Greek. “Boss, life is trouble, only death is not”.

Going through the galleries of Documenta 14 in Athens I run into many artist friends of mine working as invigilators or gallery assistants. I was pleased to see them and they all told me how they felt excited to be around all that international art and also to have finally a steadily paid job, even if it was only for 4 months. Of course I knew that they would rather be on the other side, that of the celebrated artist sipping wine at the opening, but alas, they were the help.

 

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Adam Szymczyk said at the announcement of Athens as the Documenta location that he wants to leave something behind. Much as I enjoyed strolling through the galleries with my friends, “inhaling” this abundance of art that was mostly imported; supposedly to learn from us but really to subtly patronise us, I was reminded of the 2004 Olympic games. Where so much money was spent into building new sites that were afterwards only left there to rot and crumble.

That was not an exhibition about Athens, it just happened to be there.

 

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Documenta website

An interesting article I read about Documenta

Athenian Panopticon by Iason Athanasiadis

An article in Greek:

Αθηνόραμα : Τα επόμενα χρόνια όλος ο κόσμος της τέχνης θα μιλάει για την Αθήνα της Δέσποινας Ζευκιλή

BBC article:

Can Athens become Europe’s new arts capital

New-tate-1

The new addition to Tate Modern is a building that attracted the attention of the general public before it was even built. After all since its opening in 2000, Tate Modern has been one of the most visited tourist sites in London. The reason for its success is a combination of factors. Its location, its status in the world of art and without a doubt its architecture as well. Herzog and de Meuron did, back then an undeniably good job with it.

New-tate-2_At a time when industrial relics and retrofuturism was just getting to be fashionable they renovated an existing building, previously a power station and turned it to the hugely famous Tate Modern. The brick bulk, the landmark chimney and the cathedral-like Turbine hall compel the visitor immediately. A composition which demonstrates the importance in the simplicity of straightforward architectural gestures. What could the architects come up with that would be equally strong?

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The obvious answer would be at least externally an equally bulky and strict building. So the quasi-pyramidal shape that we watched rise for a few years, was a rather logical decision for a form. It makes me think a bit of children’s blocks and their basic shapes, the rectangle, the pyramid the sphere.

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As a first impression though, the outside of the new building is not as interesting as the interior spaces that it encloses. I am not sure why; Is it maybe because the sequel is never as good as the original? The one good thing that I had to give to this building is that somehow it manages to hide its scale; it seems smaller than it is. When I got myself all the way up to the viewing terrace I realised how high it was because one sees the old Tate modern’s roof from above. This is still a sort of an optical illusion because in my memory the original building seems taller, when actually it is not.

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Entering the new building from its own entrance on Sumner St. the visitor goes past the restaurant to the left and then has a choice, either take a staircase going down towards The Tanks, the basement part of the building that was first opened a few years back, or go up towards the new galleries. The staircases are beautiful, the detailing is impeccable throughout the interior spaces and has a clean slick feel to it. Beautifully finished concrete with no visible paint and simple black metallic rails.

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The route of the visitor is really thought-out well. There are surprises all the way up, little sitting corners, seemingly randomly shaped windows and views as you wind yourself up. Circular stairs, straight stairs design details, inviting corners to sit or balconies one can look over to a foyer at a floor beneath.

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Also the way the two buildings are connected, at three levels with the turbine hall on level 0 and then two bridges, one on level 1 and another one on level 4 also enrich the experience and broaden the choices of how to move inside the galleries.

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Walking through this building though, interesting as it was, had a negative side to it too. Gallery spaces, which by nature are more introvert in order for the visitor to focus on the art on display were too generic and also felt slightly claustrophobic. The spaces that link them, foyers, staircases and such are much more interesting to walk through.

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These connecting spaces had a very weird quality to them as well, the strong voyeuristic character of their windows.

The last 17 years that Tate Modern has existed in this location and as its importance and status increased, so did the value of the land around it.

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New housing developments popped up which are mainly luxury apartments. Most of these buildings with their often wall-to-wall curtain windows wide open to the Tate, pose an interesting contradiction. A large display of design furniture and art visibly showing off their status, while at the same time signs everywhere inside the Tate ask us the visitors, to please respect the neighbours privacy.

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I thought those signs to be very ironic. It is the contradiction of our way of lives really, obsessed with selfies in an ongoing struggle to show off and attract attention. Only to claim retrospectively false modesty along with the request towards the spectator to look elsewhere. Capitalist exhibitionism in denial is what it felt I was observing. And strangely this stayed with me more than the crisply detailed new building.

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Tate Modern web site here

Lea1

Going to Lea Anderson’s retrospective performance at the V&A Hand in Glove, I never thought I would be writing about it on my architectural blog. How could dance be ever associated with architecture? Architecture is made of solid elements that define space and create empty vessels for bodies to conduct their lives in. It protect us from the clutter of the world and the elements of nature so that we can cross out things in the list of must-dos-to-survive. What is taken for granted though is that the empty space is usually available for the people to occupy with their volume. What happens when space has to be fought for, and it is not defined by solid elements like walls or roofs?

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This often happens in market places, concert halls, music clubs, stations. Lea Anderson’s performance was for me a study on how one achieves space-creation via movement.  The space that the body occupies can be claimed from nothing else. And as it moves each body moulds a trace of itself. What if this space does not exist because other bodies have taken it?

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Nude Descending a Staircase, No.2 by Marcel Duchamp

In Hand in Glove the dancers’ bodies had to claim their space from the audience, who was there to see them. A complex combination of admiration and antagonism.

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Being in the V&A room where the performance took place one had to negotiate their position and it was not exactly clear what was each person’s agenda either. Possibly the negotiation, or at times even confrontation of the performance, had a very deliberate raison d’etre. Most of the dance pieces presented in the retrospective, obviously speak about gender making a political statement of sorts.  However this was done by means of space negotiation something that resonated with me as an occupational hazard.

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It made me think of personal orientation and the primordial action of standing up. Somehow the symbolic action of placing oneself in space with intention is also a symbolic gesture of self-realisation. Being a tai chi practitioner for many years I have realised the importance of assuming one’s space with awareness of one’s state, position in space, relation to other elements and people around. Every movement in space ultimately is such a negotiation. When in public inside our cities we co-exist with others want it or not and have to find a way to do so. It is not relationships which I am interested in here as I contemplate this balancing act, it is the importance of space in negotiating relationships.

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In public spaces like the ones mentioned above, concert halls, stations and airports, market places, the “other” body is almost unimportant. It is someone who is potentially in your way of getting where you want to go. In this play though the “other” who is next to you and whom you are “fighting” with to claim your position is also the one who you have come to actually see perform.

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I have been to similar shows where performers were free-moving within the crowd and of course it is no great novelty. Actually in theatre performances where the actors are supposed to interact with the audience this freedom of movement, I must confess, made me more stressed than happy. Hand in Glove was flowing though. There was confrontation, but there was also respect. There were lack of boundaries but some boundaries also existed. There was no stress, no violence, no uncomfortable feelings. It seemed there existed a flexible barrier able to include but also separate. A beautiful concept to meditate and build upon in the use of any space really.

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I know this is beyond old news. In fact the pavilion has only one day to go until it is taken down. My article was so extremely delayed partly because of personal reasons and partly because I was so underwhelmed by this structure. Still I thought it made sense to write something about it, even if it is only for the records.

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Same as every year I try to turn a blind eye to the waste of money that the Serpentine is (this year Goldman-Sach’s money to be exact) and focus more on its artistic value. It is built as an architectural experiment in order to remind to the public that architecture is an art and it may carry strong representational and symbolic values. As Brian Eno pointed out in his John Peel lecture on BBC radio 6 recently, art is basically not necessary. Eno said that art in most areas of culture is exactly what one does not need in order to survive but ultimately is exactly what brings to us the greatest pleasure.

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Things get complicated with architecture because undoubtedly it is an art but a structure cannot really claim the title of “architecture” if people cannot enter it or use it. According to most historians this is the very reason why the Parthenon in Athens is not really considered a building. More often it is seen as sculptural work of art because it was never entered by the cult’s believers. Naturally I would not even try to associate this shiny-plastic worm of a “building” with the Parthenon. The only thing that they have in common is the fact that they both were not used as a shelter of any sort. Obviously I am exaggerating because the entrance to this year’s pavilion was not forbidden. However on the beautiful summer day that I visited it I witnessed people rushing out of it more than they were willing to stay in it. The reason was that it had a micro-climate. It was extremely warm and humid the fans which were installed inside had to work full time in order to make any short stay there bearable.

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Selgascano, the Spanish architectural office that won the commission was not aiming for that effect I am sure. They did not do much to anticipate it or prevent it either. No aesthetic goal is important enough (according to my standards) to counterbalance the lack of viability of a building.

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And this particular one did not even manage to reach a very high standard of aesthetics either. It looks cheap, the plastic looks and feels and like plastic and the ribbons give a juvenile and crafty air to it. Not to mention the metal structure which supports it that according to the contractors had to be extremely precise for the structure to hold nonetheless, managed to look totally random.

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The one real success of this year’s Serpentine pavilion is that it is very photogenic, hence it scored high Instagram-points. Appearances are most important nowadays, people are more keen to photograph their food than eat it. Therefore this hot-air balloon is both literally and metaphorically exactly that: bright colourful and totally devoid of substance and meaning.

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The Serpentine pavilion website here

Selgascano website here

Brian Eno’s John Peel Lecture here

 

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It is quite often that architecture’s artistic potential is reduced to its decorative ability. Richard Serra is a sculptor but his work usually incorporates spatial archetypes which he orchestrates into sculptures of distinct architectural qualities. His alphabet of spatial paradigms is often stripped down to the absolute basic features. There are no articulations nor junctions. Most elements seem smooth and of one piece. At the same time the architectural references are never too obvious with the use of windows for example or any other similar scale-revealing elements. However most of these sculptures can be entered hence the visitor is surrounded by them making the association to buildings inevitable.

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Backdoor Pipeline

Apparently Serra distils the character and essence of spaces that have haunted him. Usually the materials he uses to form these spaces are heavy metals with a rusty finish which from certain angles look as if they have been carved in butter. They feel like light structures when in reality they weight tonnes. What interests me though is that the media used is not the metal but the space which is defined by it.

Backdoor Pipeline

Backdoor Pipeline

There are more contradictions which enrich this work and make it interesting along with its minimal aesthetic simplicity. In this specific exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in London Backdoor Pipeline is actually a piece which resembles both a cave and a leviathan, summing up contradictory spatial experiences of shelter and dangerous confinement. Hence the effect is extremely powerful.

Ramble

Ramble

Ramble which is basically a simplified maze is another age-old architectural paradigm. Even though there is no way to actually get lost in it because there are no dead ends, there is a similarity to the maze concept. One has to manoeuvre around parallel metallic walls of different height hence the moving pattern is similar and brings to mind the maze archetype. Being able to find one’s way through a dense combination of obstacles can be stressful but manoeuvring skilfully among them evokes feelings of accomplishment.

Ramble

Ramble

In London Cross both access and visual contact are restricted as a part of the room cannot be seen or entered. This feels quite oppressive however eventually one realises that the inaccessible space is actually easily reached through an other door which is not even visible from the initial entrance. This obviously changes everything and the space acquires an interesting ironic quality.

London Cross

London Cross

Finally the piece of two metal solid blocks on top of one another brings forth strong feelings that refer to mortality and impermanence. To me it somehow looked like a tombstone and something about it was quite harsh or even aggressive. Most Serra sculptures are more playful and they can be entered. This is the opposite: It is impenetrable.

I believe that what Serra does is to masterfully manipulate minimal architectural symbols in order to appeal to our primordial human nature. The use of such a spatial vocabulary stirs visceral feelings that most people can relate to. Actually this is what good architecture should do as well.

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Dead Load

The one negative thing that I have to say about Serra’s work has to do with how commercial it actually is. I find quite contradictory that this work deals with universal themes which people relate to beyond culture or education, however extremely few sculptures are ultimately exhibited in public spaces or galleries. Serra’s work is exclusive to the Gagosian and is displayed in order to be sold to private collectors for astronomical prices. It is eventually hidden away in some secluded property, large enough to accommodate it and is never seen again by the public eye.

The truth is that there are no real surprises there. We all know that the art world is a dog-eat-dog area and artists strive to remain successful in order to stay relevant. Naively though, I cannot but be a little hurt when art which can reach so many is reserved for the few “privileged.

The exhibition will remain open until Wednesday 4th of March 2015

Visit the Gallery’s website here

Futuro was originally designed by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen as a skiing cabin in the mid-60’s. It actually originated as a post-war product reflecting Europe’s economical growth and the increase of people’s leisure time. Its aesthetic is very characteristic of its time suggesting the need for  distance from the devastating effects of war and also the dream of a high-tech better future. It is very efficient for many reasons. It can be broken to 16 pieces in order to be transferred easier but it can also be carried via helicopter in one piece and be placed on its base which should be already on site. It is additionally highly insulated and its temperature can be changed within a half hour which makes it perfect for a chalet-cabin. Regardless of its odd elliptical shape it feels quite spacious. It has everything one would need from a basic dwelling and in fact for its small size it feels rather luxurious. With so many favourable traits I was extremely surprised to find out that it was received by the public with anger, truly disproportionate to its size or production number.

Left image from futurohouse.co.uk/photos.html / Right: by the writer

Left image from futurohouse.co.uk/photos.html / Right: by the writer

Apparently the first one to be constructed and placed near Lake Puulavesi in Finland faced public protest for being too unnatural. Others that were erected in the USA were vandalised and in some states even banned altogether. Retrospectively I find the extreme reactions that the little lodge received ironic and very curious indeed. Especially since today collectors from all over the world are willing to pay a lot of money in order to buy one and transfer it to their country (which at times costs even more than Futuro itself). It really got me thinking why would a little elliptical object like this one be seen as a threat to the public which could be the only explanation for the hostility it has encountered.

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Even architectural critics dislike Futuro because they consider it a caricature that seems to pop out of a James Bond film or a graphic novel. According to some of them it is a travesty compared to other similar sci-fi specimens designed by Archigram, Buckminster Fuller, Oscar Niemeyer or even more recently Future Systems. One of the reasons is that it lacks urban vision which is for example the basis of Japanese Metabolism Architecture. Modular pieces multiplied organically to create buildings and ultimately whole cities are the concept behind architectural milestones of the genre like the Kurokawa tower.

One of the reasons why it stopped being produced was the 1973 oil crisis which increased its production cost dramatically. Today Futuro is sought after and is often auctioned in very high prices because of its rarity but also due to its kitsch comic-book aesthetics which are tremendously fashionable. This is a vintage flying saucer that looks both old and new and sums up many retro-futuristic traits that have been quite desirable in design the last few years.

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The only Futuro currently on display in UK is found at Matt’s Gallery roof terrace, only for a few more days, specifically until the 14th of December. It is put there as a host of its owner’s Craig Barnes project Centre for Remote Possibilities which he contributes to the gallery’s Revolver exhibition. The project is basically the online streaming of all events, talks, lectures and performances that are scheduled to take place in Futuro during the exhibition. Unfortunately upon my visit I did not have the chance to see any of them. Entering it though and literally bumping into the people who were there for the performance which had just finished it was very difficult not to actually chat with them. I totally ‘blame’ the Futoro for that. Its central open space with peripheral seating makes it impossible not to interact with whoever is there. People are too close to each other and there are no corners to hide in. It seems like a convivial light-hearted space hence my surprise for the attack of hatred it has received throughout its history of existence. It really got me wondering what was it about it that evoked this negativity. The only reason I could think of is that dwellings in general embody roots and traditions and societies are often reluctant to change them. I truly do not find Futuro offensive at all. However I could never be too objective as I am a huge science fiction fan.

You can visit Futuro at Matt’s Gallery until the 14th of December and of course do check out the rest of the Revolver exhibition. There are performances and events happening inside Futuro every day. Find below the link to the live stream or even better see the program and go visit it. Alternatively make a bookmark of Futuro’s website by Craig Barnes to find out the next time that a visit might be possible.

Right image from the Futuro house website http://www.thefuturohouse.com/

Right image from the Futuro house website
http://www.thefuturohouse.com/

Matt’s Gallery website

Craig Barnes website

Find out the program of events and see the live stream of what is happening inside Futuro

Futuro UK website

Check the Futuro of the exhibition before its restoration here

Or if you are interested in locating and buying one check out this website!

Japanese metabolism architecture

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