Trespassing: Houses x Artists
Edited by the Bellevue Art Museum with the MAK Center for Art and Architecture.
Hatje Cantz, 2003. 154pp. £24.95. Distributor Art Books International
This book will be of particular interest to academics and research students in departments of architecture as they struggle with the problem of what is to count as 'research output'; and of general interest to practices as they await the 'product' the universities have prepared for the 'market'.
Trespassing is a creative collaboration initially conceived by architects Alan Koch and Linda Taalman, to engage a range of artists in a dialogue concerning the nature of the house. Through this enterprise Koch and Taalman founded the New York-based practice OpenOffice and developed the resultant exhibition and book-cum-catalogue.
The nine artists represented are Kevin Appel, Barbara Bloom, Chris Burden, Jim Iserman, T Kelly Mason, Julian Opie, Renée Petropoulos, David Reed and Jessica Stockholder. The catalogue is the permanent record of the installations that each of these artists designed for Steven Holl's Bellevue Art Museum in Washington, the MAK Center in LA and (later this year) Vienna. Three contextual essays accompany the illustrated material and, among other things, show how a practical project can be conceived as research.
On the premise that conventional modes of living are being challenged by new social structures we encounter in the developed Western world, the artists were invited to think of the house in the broadest possible way - taking 'site', for instance, to include such concepts as place, history, family, street, retreat and work.
The result is a compendium of projects of the kind university departments of architecture encourage as 'conceptual models'. (These are early-stage drawings, models, computergenerated imagery, collages and assemblages that students make in order to explore the nature of fairly abstract briefs. ) In this collaboration, the artists use their considerable visual skills to work out their personal response to the question of contemporary inhabitation at its most fundamental level:
ergo, the house.
The result of this conceptual isolation is genuinely interesting. When I first looked at Kevin Appel's contribution (pictured), it appeared to me as a piece of unthinking Modernism. Had I not seen this a thousand times in crits, regurgitated by some lacklustre student suffering from delusions of adequacy?
But the more I looked at the piece and considered the concise account of its development, the more I could see Appel's subtle attention to questions of light, transparency, layering, occlusion, privacy and publicity. To be sure, there are elements that one understands in terms of Mies' Barcelona Pavilion (itself a conceptual model), but there is a contemporary sensitivity in Appel's contribution that takes account of the nature of the human gaze, and the nature of our embodiment as a ground for experience, that was of marginal (if any) interest to Modernists.
This book marks out a place where much work in the universities could find anchorage.
It combines drawings, computer imagery, photography, sketches and models in ways that suggest the artists were ready and able to 'mix it'. It is an optimistic production of work by a young generation who are genuinely exploring important new territories. It should be welcomed as a timely contribution to the emerging discussion of what architectural education might achieve.
Edward Winters teaches at the University of Westminster. For OpenOffice's work at Dia:
Beacon, New York, see pages 32-40