Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Sensing Spaces at the Royal Academy

Last week I was invited, through Katherine Tyrrell from Making a Mark blog, at the Bloggers preview of a new Exhibition now open at the Royal Academy in London ( isn't it great that this institution acknowledges the -mostly unpaid- work that bloggers do to divulge cultural events and the influence they came to have?).

The show is called Sensing Spaces- Architecture Reimagined and features installations by six architectural practices from all over the world with the general brief of working on the perception of space. The architects have each taken over a gallery of the academy and have worked independently to create different works.


The Chileans Pezo von Ellrichshausen built a mastodontic terrace resting on four large columns each containing a spiral staircase. Kengo Kuma, from Japan, has assembled a light structure of scented twigs that he placed in two dark galleries. Diébédo Francis Kéré ( Burkina Faso) used plastic honeycomb sheets to create a tunnel like passage to which people can add plastic straw elements. 
Eduardo Souto de Moura and Álvaro Siza are two practices based in Portugal: the first one has worked inside making a replica of the RA marble portals with brutalist concrete, while the second one worked in the courtyard using the column as the basis for his reflection on space. The two final installations of the show are a wooden maze-like structure by the Chinese architect Li Xiaodong and finally two galleries have been taken on by the Irish duo from Grafton Architects who in my opinion have made the most radical and best manipulation of the space ( the work clearly references the Pantheon in Rome, so I am partial). Check out the videos that will tell you more on the architects here, the same 
videos are shown at the end of the exhibition.


 My main question as I visited the show was: is this architecture or sculpture ? In a time when "archistars" buildings look like a sleek piece by Brancusi, is there a way to discern the two ?
The answer for me is to be found in the fact that the RA installations feature elements that belong to architecture: the door (Souto de Moura), the column ( Siza and Pezo von Ellrichshausen), the corridor (Kere and Xiaodong), the structural grid ( Kuma), the wall ( Grafton), hence I think that the artists all position themselves strongly in the realm of architecture. Each of them moulded the space with their installation: squeezed it through, made it look smaller, divided it, hid it in darkness, gave a rhythm to the light. 


The show is "open ended", inconclusive: the architects put forward some spacial situation, it is then up to the visitor to explore and assess their perception. (BTW the RA is encouraging public to take original photos and post them with the hashtag #SensingSpaces, I think many people will engage into competitive photosharing and forget about the whole spacial awareness purpose of the show !) 


Architecture here is not exactly being "reimagined" as per the subtitle of the exhibition, but still takes center stage not in its Aquatic Center/Shard form but in a more individual and life-related dimension. 
After the amazing blockbuster Bronze in 2012, it's good to see another non-painting show in the  RA Main Galleries and I think Sensing Spaces will be a success with the public and it is a good place for visual artists to go and reflect on this fundamental component of their work that is space.

Souto de Moura

[The show led me back to a thought I started reflecting upon this summer: how do painters manipulate the space? 
While I was in Civita for an art residency with JSS the painter Israel Hershberg made us notice how in Corot's paintings the same vast landscape in which we were staying looked intimate and small. 
In the same way that people in portraits by the same hand look a little like each other so the space we paint is similar from work to work. I think mine is, or rather I would like it to be: rationally organised in volumes mostly perpendicular to the eyes, relatively shallow and a lit by a warm pulviscular light. This past summer, as I tried landscape for the first time, the most difficult thing for me was to try and make sense of open space !]

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