Architecture tends to lack representation outside of itself. Take, for example, television. Doctors, lawyers, and people stranded on mysterious islands constantly fill the screens, but bar the annoying Ted Mosby there are no architects. So when an exhibition like Demented Architecture offers a dedicated avenue of representation outside of the field itself, it is natural for architects and students to be curious, even wary, of how they are actually being seen.
In the case of Demented Architecture, Olafur Eliasson provides the image that architecture is creative, fun, hands-on. Contrasting but complementary to this, Henry Coombes provides the image of the frenetic nature of architecture, and perhaps quite simply a sympathetic nod to the lack of sleep architects and architectural students seem to get.
I made the mistake of visiting City Gallery’s new exhibit on a Sunday. Eliasson’s contribution, a long table of white Lego (very important that the thousands of blocks are all white—this makes it Art) had attracted what seemed like thousands of children and their parents into the gallery. Terrified, I did not set foot inside this part of the exhibit. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on much though—Eliasson’s work often has a “seen one, seen them all” one-note wit. In fact, the Lego had already made an appearance a year ago in the Dunedin Public Art Gallery where, in the absence of children, I had enjoyed the participatory art project. However, I suppose any art that can attract members of the public (even the small, frightening ones) is a good thing, so thank you Mr Eliasson for allowing people to fritter away their attention upon your monochromatic Lego.
In retrospect, perhaps I felt especially bitter towards the children and the Lego because the image is so far from my own studio where tired students spend hours staring and clicking in front of a screen. The mere presence of the word “architecture” behind the squealing children and their Lego towers appeared as a taunt rather than compliment.
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Scared and bored, I retreated from the children and tried to find the rest of Demented Architecture, but was actually quite confused as to what it consisted of. I was only able to find a video piece in another gallery (perhaps the other pieces were in the same gallery as that of the children and therefore inaccessible). The piece, titled I Am the Architect, This Is Not Happening, This Is Unacceptable by Henry Coombes, plays on loop on a large projected screen and here I found solace away from the nuclear family crowd. Not only did I find peace and quiet, I found a truly great short film. The film follows an older gentleman (the architect), who is eating bread and working on a model. Electronic music starts playing as he wears part of his model as a hat and starts dancing around, only to fall into his iPad where he finds himself inside his model itself, where a strange woman and a rat get very angry that he only has one shoe and proceed to take his teeth out.
As an architecture student, the piece resonated strongly—eating carbohydrates and frenzied dancing is a common staple of the ubiquitous Te Aro all-nighter, and in those UHU-fumed early hours it often does feel like a strange woman is after your teeth to give to a rat. I was alone in the gallery, but I still had to urge throughout the piece to repetitively point at the screen saying “that’s me”.
Other than content, I also thoroughly enjoyed the style of the film—if David Lynch and Ingmar Bergman somehow fathered a child together and sent them off to architecture school, it would look something like this. The weirdness never became weird to the point of unsettling; it was a believable weirdness that captured and expressed convincingly the underlying “??!!??” of the architectural process. There was something admirable in this and I felt a weird smug pride that I was part of this strange world, wanting to drag in everyone I knew to the video and tell them “Look! This insanity is what I am part of!”
Demented Architecture runs at the City Gallery until 8 November 2015.