The culture blog
43 Inverness Street is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it type of gallery. Set within a beautiful town house off the carnage of Camden’s main thoroughfare, the only indicator to what lies inside is a humble postcard tied to the railings outside. What lurks within this discreet space is urban vernacular artist Ben Nathan’s latest collection.
Once inside, what I expected to see was a collection of neatly ordered, immaculately framed small-scale images. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s because of the proliferation of architectural-style prints that have been popping up in crafty style markets across the capital — small-scale, polished and bold-coloured minutes of famous landmarks or much-maligned modernist outposts.
Or maybe it’s because Nathan’s work does lend itself well to the digital side of things, with bold bright colours and the borders of each clearly marked out as if it had been spewed out of a printer — endlessly reproducible. But, in the flesh, Nathan’s pieces are quite different.
Standing up close and personal to the large-scale canvas of Seascape, it appears almost sculptural. Where you’d expect to see flat printed colour, I found I could look deep into the turbulent churning of the sea, an effect created by layers of glossy unmodulated paint.
In contrast, the man-made elements of the piece are represented by rectilinear forms of bold red, black and white, which jar against the organic swirl of the sea. The stark stripes that suggest the wall (even though the wall itself is not present) plunge down to the bottom of the canvas, giving the impression that the whole piece is being dragged down to the floor. These elements neatly suggest the upheaval and transitory nature of the sea and the gravitational pull of the tides — and perhaps a note of the futile nature of man’s interference with such forces.
Where Nathan does employ a flat finish, it is to distort, flatten and twist familiar shapes and alters one’s perception of space. This is used to great effect in Gateway, which appears on a gristly, gnarled industrial form almost grafted onto the canvas — both familiar and unsettling at the same time.
What appears as giant-scaled barbed wire/part science-fiction relic is in fact just part of a bridge in New York City. Divorced from its original context and skewed by perspective, this humble mode of transport becomes an imposing hulk of twisted metal, both menacing and familiar at the same time.
Château d’Eau, is interesting piece, set on the second floor of the gallery. It was a highlight for me not only because of the subject matter- a lonely water tower nestled in a rocky French landscape — I’m a fan of these odd monolytic structures which crop up like concrete toadstools on the landscape, the Church Langley one always brightens up any trip up the M11 (it turns out that I’m not alone).
But also, unusually, the canvas is of a bespoke construction and is structurally integral to the piece. Rather than just the backdrop, the canvas supports the tower — turning it into a simple architectural construction.
Source: Ben Nathan
Nathan’s sketchbooks, which lurk on the basement level of the gallery, are a treasure trove of architectural imagery and well worth perusing.
It is an intimate show in an intimate setting but definitely worth making the trip — if you can find the gallery that is.
By Kat Hayes
Ben Nathan: Structure
June 14 – July 13
43 Inverness Street
Ben Nathan is a graduate of the Slade School of Fine Art, Bezalel Academy of Arts & Design, Jerusalem and the Prince’s Drawing School. He lives and works in London. In 2012, he was awarded the International Jewish Artist of the Year award by the Ben Uri Gallery.
At the launch of the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale Director Rem Koolhaas described the usual effect of the national pavilions as a ‘thematic cacophony’.
The assembled cultural attaches and commissioners may have found this a bit hard to take, but they surely couldn’t disagree. Koolhaas went on to explain his ambition to achieve a ‘critical mass’ of research adding up to a new history: Absorbing Modernity 1914-2014.
Source: Miguel Santa Clara
‘Our proposition is that we try to find a way that each nation tells the same story - the story of the last 100 years of modernisation - and does that in a way with their own emphasis and originality, but that basically we start looking in 1914 and end in the present and see how it is that we are in our current situation’, said Koolhaas.
That, in a nutshell, is the spirit in which we’ve launched the open call for ideas for the British Pavilion. We are asking for research and exhibition proposals that will consider the way that modernity has been understood, interpreted and built in the UK.
We don’t want to present a ‘book on the wall’, so proposals will need to consider how to present research in the form of a visually compelling installation.
We think this might mean considering a specific architect, typology or period in British architecture of the period, but we are open to other possibilities. We hope that the exhibition might have something surprising or even challenging about it, altering views of a subject many people think we already know well.
By Vicky Richardson
Vicky Richardson is Commissioner of the British Pavilion and Director of Architecture, Design, Fashion at the British Council
The deadline for submissions to the open call is Friday 21 June and the full brief is available at http://backoftheenvelope.britishcouncil.org/
Rachel Whiteread was one of the Young British Artists (YBAs) who dominated British art during the 1990s. She was also the first woman to win the Turner Prize in 1993. They are no longer, technically, “young” but they are now household names.
I have followed her work closely since my own art college days, where we students pored and picked over the images from Saatchi’s Sensations as carefully as we did the bargain aisle in the supermarket.
The art world was abuzz with this new wave of artists but Whiteread’s work struck a chord with me, as much of a fan for her art as her technical prowess — speaking both as a surface anorak and finding as much to admire in the White Cube’s poured concrete floor as Chuck Close’s retrospective on show (sorry Chuck).
And for a self-confessed cast-bodger — ratios are lost on me — a chance to see Whiteread’s new pieces was a rare treat.
Famed for her casts from everyday objects, she focuses her attention not on the object itself but the space beneath or around it. Working in rubber, plaster and resin, the material faithfully records the tiny intricacies of the original.
Despite not a sniff of the obligatory paint-stripping Chardonnay on offer at preview night — perhaps a wise move given St Martins’ relocation to the close proximity of the gallery: art students can sniff out a drop of free booze like a shark detects blood — there was much to enjoy.
As you enter the first room are what at first seem concrete pillboxes or bunkers are in fact all casts of the humble garden shed (Untitled 2012)). Rendered into grey concrete, these familiar shapes take on a cold, uninviting quality — steely monoliths or guardians of a closed off world.
Source: Mike Bruce/ Gagosian Gallery
Aptly, these everyday objects are entirely divorced from their context or orginal use (hence the show’s title “Detached”) but all three hark back to early works such as Ghost, 1990 (a cast of an entire room) and House, 1993 (a concrete cast of the inside of an entire Victorian terraced house now demolished).
Once past the initial foreboding of these strange monoliths, I found I could engage and interact with all three. Perhaps it’s because they are familiar or maybe it’s the nature of the material — sturdy and robust, not fragile and precious.
Sidling around each piece, it’s easy to inspect the perfect wood impressions, the jagged shape of the slats, the locks and even the hardboard roof of one of the sheds, all faithfully recorded — plenty for an anorak to enjoy.
Source: Mike Bruce/ Gagosian Gallery
After such gargantuan commissions like the Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial (1996) and 14,000 polyethylene boxes installed at the Tate Modern (Embankment 2005-6), the sheds seem understated, both in scale and nature. but are perhaps all the better for it. It seems an intimate affair.
Yet it was the new series in the back room that was to provide the real ripples. Like an assembled audience, ghostly impressions of doors and windows in shades of rose, eau-de-nil and steely resin glow create an eerie spectacle from their positions around the room.
The casts glow and shine with both absorbed and reflected light. Perhaps more disconcertingly, like an invasion of the body snatchers, these impressions of fictional objects mimic their original functions — doors propped against the walls and windows set at eye level.
Although in essence this new series is a development on the theme of negative space and not a radical departure, what proved a revelation for me was being able to see inside the casts. You are confronted with the ghostly hulk of the original object staring back at you. The impression is quite unnerving, with the detail in such crystal clarity.
I am unlucky enough to never have seen Whiteread’s earlier large-scale resin works such as Untitled (Floor)(1994) and One Hundred Spaces (1995) in the flesh which are similarly less opaque — so for me, the transparency of the casts and the original cocooned inside felt radically different to both past work — and even the work in the next room. The new pieces are much more fluid in some ways, less obstinate and obstructive, less dense and solid — tantalisingly giving you a glimpse of what you cannot access.
Part of me wondered whether not allowing the viewer to see past the surface is something has worked against Whiteread’s pieces in the past. Say in the case of House (1993), would it have been spared its untimely fate if it were cast in translucent resin? Maybe.
Source: Creative Commons
It is also interesting if you relate these translucent forms to that of architecture. Does one need to be able to physically inhabit architecture for it to be architecture — or can it exist in only what the eye can see? I would urge architects to go and ponder.
What was also interesting was to see a little of Whiteread’s thought processes. Positioned almost as an aside in the entrance lobby were prints and renderings of found objects — and crushed tin cans, small casts and maquettes in glass cabinets and 2D cardboard constructions mounted on the wall.
So, in essence the show was for me a revelation but for some, it will be just another step along in the preoccupation with the void.
Tip: I won’t spoil the surprise, but look out for a suspicious cardboard box — can you trust your eyes?
By Kat Hayes
Rachel Whiteread ‘Detached’
Until May 25
6-24 Britannia Street
London WC1X 9JD
Hi. My name is Laira Piccinato and I’m the director of the Birmingham Architecture Festival. Yep, you heard right, Birmingham’s got Architecture. And a lot of it is pretty damn cool.
BAF2013, as I like to call it for short, is a grassroots festival organised out of sheer love for the city, and we (the team) are not afraid to say it out loud. It will be happening from May 24 to 27, with events such as guided tours, workshops, courses, film screenings, exhibitions and more.
The idea was to try to develop a programme of events that would engage a wide variety of people with the city and its architecture. The festival is about getting to know Birmingham, not just the obvious bits, but, more interestingly, the non-obvious bits – the bits that are hidden gems or lovely oddities. It’s about getting people involved with architecture in fun and innovative ways. And fundamentally, it’s about rubbing the sleep out of our eyes and taking a second look at what we have.
Snippets of the programme include the “Wild Walls Tour”, which will look at the hidden ecosystems that live on the architecture of our city, such as the huge variety of mosses and creepy crawlies you might find on a stone wall.
Source: Laira Piccinato
In the “Pinhole Camera Workshop” we’ll tell you all about the architecture of the Colmore Business District and then teach you how to make your very own pinhole camera, with an exhibition of everyone’s photographs at the end of the festival.
Source: Jenny Duffin
There’s the “Derelict Buildings Tour” where I’ll be taking participants around some of the most interesting derelict areas of the Jewellery Quarter.
Source: Laira Piccinato
And of course the “20th Century Architecture Revisited Tour” will urge us to take a more discriminating view of the buildings of this era.
Source: Jenny Duffin
It’s going to be pretty cool – an opportunity to show people just how interesting Birmingham is.
Hope to see you there.
Last summer I embarked on a life-changing journey to East Africa. Having just graduated, I decided to take the plunge and do something that I have always wanted to participate in – community service.
My passion to use the skills that I had learned from the BA (Hons) Architecture course took me to Kibaha – a small village in Tanzania. It is here where I volunteered at an NGO: the World Islamic Propagation and Humanitarian Service (WIPAHS). My initial motives were to experience building techniques and methods in third-world countries and how the NGO manages to remain self-sufficient and sustainable.
WIPAHS has been active in Tanzania since 1988, performing a wide range of projects from building water wells, education and economic development.
All of the projects aim to fulfil its vision of transforming individuals into an egalitarian and literate society, through supporting and promoting community education at grass-roots level, and to educate people irrespective of their ethnic, linguistic, provincial or religious background.
I first visited WIPAHS 10 years ago when the land was forest-like and arid, with just two buildings — a main school building and an administration block. Returning to the village felt like an entirely different place — it had transformed into a mini paradise-like campus ground, carefully signposted, with approximately 69ha of space.
Today the existence of this NGO has changed the entire village forest area into a centre comprising of five institutions, accommodating approximately 1,300 students from nursery to college level, in addition to an orphanage and health clinic.
The campus design aims to promote self-sustainability by growing most of its own food on site and is home to many children, teachers, workers and volunteers.
My time was predominantly spent with the structural engineers on site of a new nursery building now being built. Due to funding issues, the work is quite slow and depends mostly on manual labour rather than machinery.
Though traditional building techniques have been used as most of the materials are either locally sourced or made on WIPAHS’ grounds, the dedicated workers have managed to personalise their village into a special haven.
This was definitely a fulfilling and rewarding experience as it made a change from the type of commercial and residential architecture that I was used to seeing.
I realised that the knowledge I had gained from the undergraduate course was useful in making a difference to communities who require solutions to site-specific issues – whether big or small.
Architecture is more than just designing and drawing – it requires a lot of problem-solving. After completing my journey, I believe studying architecture was worthwhile as I witnessed how the skills and information learned could be beneficial for humanity and organisations in need worldwide.
By Fatema Z Bandali
The Tate Modern has teamed up with The Art Institute of Chicago to put together the first major Roy Lichtenstein retrospective in over 20 years.
It’s certainly the most comprehensive Lichtenstein exhibition I’ve ever seen: much of this has been pulled out of private collections, so for anyone with even a passing interest in Lichtenstein this exhibition is a treat.
The connection between architecture and Lichtenstein may not be immediately obvious. But, as this exhibition proves, Lichtenstein’s work isn’t just about dots – it’s about scale, shape, order and space – and it has more depth than you might imagine.
Source: Anna Winston
Source: Anna Winston
As you’d expect from a blockbuster exhibition at Tate Modern, the show is anchored by the artist’s most famous work – the comic-book style romance and war panels that appear in poster form on the walls of teenagers and students all over the world. These are hung together in one room.
Source: Anna Winston
Source: Anna Winston
But there is a lot more to see here: there are 13 rooms in all and, while the dots and bold shapes are carried through most of the work, the subject matter changes quite significantly. At his most experimental , the effect is a bit hit-and-miss, but it’s all done with a knowing eye and a sense of humour.
There are two rooms of landscapes – one set recognisably western and the other with a Far Eastern inspiration; both equally surprising in their own way.
Source: Anna Winston
Source: Anna Winston
Lichtenstein’s earlier black and white work is given its own room as well and there are some rare, and wonderful, sculptural pieces too.
Source: Anna Winston
Source: Anna Winston
But the most illuminating room is the one that houses drawings and sketches – some on public view for the first time – and a whole series of large pastiche paintings that show Lichtenstein’s response to other art movements.
Source: Anna Winston
Lichtenstein appears to be trying to put his own work into context, responding to – among others – surrealism, futurism and cubism. Unfortunately his efforts are not spectacularly successful. But it tells us more about Lichtenstein the artist and sheds some light on the thinking behind his famous comic book moments.
Source: Anna Winston
When Henry Moore’s Draped Seated Woman, better known as Old Flo, was proposed for sale by Tower Hamlets last October it provoked public outrage amidst fears about the future of public art in the collections of local councils.
This was the catalyst for a Tate Britain talk on Tuesday night called ‘Who owns public art?’.
Although that Old Flo story has gone quiet, the case raises wider questions on contemporary art and public ownership that demand consideration.
The fate of Old Flo shows how quickly things can be forgotten; within 50 years people had forgotten how the sculpture came to be where it was and why.
The talk kicked off with Robert Burstow, who explained the history of public art in the post-war period.
It began when the London County Council (LCC) held a sculpture exhibition in Battersea Park in 1948 on the grounds that the post-war age needed a new kind of sculpture to express a national identity.
Art was made more accessible, taking it out of the art galleries and into the public realm.
Following this, the South Bank exhibition- part of the Festival of Britain in 1951- laid out a new kind of public urban space, which was later taken up in the New Towns.
The idea of town councils acquiring art works caught on. Stevenage acquired a Henry Moore sculpture, and Hertfordshire became the first council to set aside public money for art.
The LCC followed suit and Old Flo was installed in 1962. Robert Burstow claimed she went against all the historic traditions of war memorials and statues of proud, iconic men. She was a “strong, monumental female figure”, that was taken off a pedestal normally reserved for the most prestigious works of art.
Interestingly, the other side of the argument came from localist think tank director Simon Parker, who claims that culture isn’t a huge priority for councils.
He said: “Councils are quite rationally trying to prioritise things they think people won’t notice, at least in the short term”.
He argues that government has come to ”a real consensus of where the axe should fall”, with public art being the first thing go when money gets tight.
Indeed, it recently emerged that Nick Forbes, council leader of Newcastle, plans to cut the entire culture budget of the area, arguing that “he will always value people over objects”.
Finally we heard from Bob and Roberta Smith, both active in the recent Save Old Flo campaign, who argue that “what is in the public realm should remain in the public realm”.
According to them, the art belongs to the public and the council are simply temporary guardians.
For them, Old Flo is an East End Survivor, a defiant image of peace and democracy, and the proposed sale was “like smashing up a war memorial”.
Bob Smith said: “There is a minor catastrophe happening because we haven’t framed the language to defend ourselves properly. The whole story of Old Flo is tied up with this. It’s fundamental we hang on to this stuff so we can tell future generations about democracy”.
Perhaps Old Flo is a unique situation because she had been forgotten- the housing estate she was originally on has been demolished and the current residents had no idea they owned a sculpture of such value. Indeed they probably didn’t even know it was in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
Poor Old Flo had lost her context, and thus her identity. As Bob Smith said: “when art works are without their story they are left very vulnerable”.
Bob and Roberta Smith’s video they recorded while protesting to save Old Flo.
The winners of the Pub Design Awards 2012, a competition dedicated to championing British pubs were announced last week, despite Britain’s pub closure rate increasing to 18 per week.
Camra, the Campaign for Real Ale, collaborated with English Heritage and The Victorian Society in its annual National Pub Design Awards to prove that British pubs can survive beyond the recession and pocket-pinching. The judges singled out four overall winners in various categories, including the conversion of an existing building into a pub, the refurbishment of an existing pub and an English Heritage Conservation Award.
Of the four winners, the Drop Forge in the Jewellery Quarter of Birmingham took the national title for the Best Conversion to Pub Use. The judges observed how the designers re-used the existing industrial building, retaining the sense of character from the former jewellery workshops, but injecting natural light by skylights.
Two joint winners were announced for the English Heritage-sponsored Conservation Award as examples of pubs that have been actively conserved for future generations: Magpie in Carlisle by Innex Design and the Prince Rupert in Newark by Jonathan Hartley. Judges said the Prince Rupert, set in a Wealden-style, oak-framed building dating back to 1450, was:
“sympathetically restored using appropriate methods and materials, and is altogether a splendid example to other pub-owners contemplating the revival of a much-abused historic building”.
However, no winners were announced this year for the New Build category or the Joe Goodwin Award for Best Street Corner Local, which judges noted was “a worrying reflection of the narrow, short-termism so often adopted at a time of recession”.
Steven Parissien, an architectural historian and one of the competition judges, said of the winning entries: “
“For over 20 years the Pub Design Awards have been celebrating the best of British. Amidst the gloom and doom, this past year has, reassuringly, seen a number of first-rate pub schemes, all of which illustrate how pubs can, and should, be treated. Interestingly, the majority of our award winners involve new work done to historic, listed buildings – which, for many both at home and abroad, define what a pub should be.”
What’s your favourite local? Nominate your own favourite pub designs in the comment section below.
The latest venture by Tokyo-based designer and creative director of MUJI Kenya Hara creates architectural constructions for dogs.
Architecture for Dogs is an earnest architectural project that aims to get world-renowned architects and designers involved in creating architectural structures solely for the use of dogs.
This month, an interactive website for the project will launch to allow dog-owners to download free templates for each of the 13 designs and construct their own versions. Images of their canine creations can then be uploaded onto the Architecture for Dogs website.
The architects and designers involved include big names such as Shigeru Ban (papillon), Sou Fujimoto (Boston terrier), Atelier Bow-Wow (smooth-haired dachshund), MVRDV (beagle), Kazuyo Sejima of Sanaa (bichon frisé) and Kengo Kuma (pug).
The project started when Hara began to think about how much time dogs spend looking up at their owners. Each of the designs aims to alter the way people interact with their pet, while also being breed-specific to take into account each dog’s quirks and traits.
Sanaa’s Kazuyo Sejima has devised a cloud-like pillow for a fluffy bichon frisé, while Kengo Kuma has come up with a wooden jigsaw puzzle that can be assembled to create a cave-like structure for a pug.
Some of the designs mimic real-life buildings, for example Sou Fujimoto has created a mini version of his House NA project in Tokyo for a Boston terrier.
Shigeru Ban has also designed a bendy maze for a papillon using his signature cardboard tubes. Atelier Bow-Wow has devised a wooden structure with ramps to bring the owner to the dog’s eye level and MVRDV has created a rocking structure more akin to a traditional dog kennel.
Initially launching during Design Miami 2012, the project will culminate in a final exhibition in Tokyo’s Toto Gallery in October 2013.
By Cate St. Hill
Cate St. Hill is an MA Architectural History graduate
“When the blood is collected it is essential that an anticoagulant is added immediately. Without this the blood will turn to a jelly like substance in 5 minutes.”
Now that the most squeamish part is out the way….
Jack Munro, a recent Westminster graduate, has come up with a proposal to up-cycle wasted bovine blood from slaughterhouses into a sustainable building resource- bricks.
Munro carried out a series of experiments to reach the make-up of his final ‘blood brick’. After collecting the blood of four cows, adding an anticoagulant and a preservative, he then mixed the blood with a quantity of sand. This mixture was then placed in a mould and baked at 70c; in the oven the blood proteins coagulate and hold the sand in a stable solid structure. Although compression testing proved that the bricks weren’t strong, they were waterproof.
In North African countries animal blood is an abundant waste product due to halal slaughtering, a single cow produces about 40 litres of blood. Munro believes that these bricks could replace mud bricks in regions such as Siwa in Egypt, that has suffered significant rain damage. The material could be used as a binding agent in construction, to solidify sand dunes and re-establish a sustainable local vernacular.
Another advantage is that because the temperature needed to create a blood brick is much lower than that of the traditional mud brick, they can be baked in the desert sun.
So, will it catch on? It’s hard to say. Despite the multitude of animal by-products used in the everyday, the idea that people might actually want to live in a house made of blood is hard to envisage. Coupled with some cultural and religious considerations whereby blood is forbidden and believed to be a harmful substance for humans, it may be a hard sell.
By Ishbel Mull