Curated by Caroline Soyez-Petithomme
13 June—27 July 2008
‘By drawing a diagram, a ground plan of a house, a street plan to the location of a site, or a topographic map, one draws a “logical two dimensional picture.” A “logical picture” differs from a natural or realistic picture in that it rarely looks like the thing it stands for. It is a two dimensional analogy or metaphor - A is Z’. (Robert Smithson, A Provisional Theory of Non-Sites)
A conversation between Simon Boudvin and Caroline Soyez-Petithomme
SB: Why did you choose me for this project?
CSP: When I was thinking of a show to propose to the team of FormContent for their not for profit gallery, your work immediately came to mind. I guess the singularity of the architectural space led me to think about your work. This location strikes me as a sort of “negative” space: an arch under a bridge, which consists of a volume created by a single vaulting. Those non-places also become architectural interstices whose vacuity generate opportunities for artistic practices. In my opinion, the features of such a space (volume, but also material) create an echo to some recurrent issues raised by your work: urban or architectural absurdities that you point out. Recently you have been interested in non-sites: Industrial abandoned buildings or wild lands, surroundings of natural extraction sites, new material fabrication sites, quarries, any material heaps disseminated in urban landscape as well as in the suburbs or in the countryside. You consider the heap – any cairn generated by human activity – as an architectural degree zero.
SB: Following my interest in architectural ready-mades and the photomontage series it generated, I wanted to go back to the genesis of the most basic construction. It led me to the quarries or extraction sites. In order to build, we need first to extract the material, and then to reorganize this material onto another site. We then create two spaces: one is drawn and its becoming is controlled and planned, while the other site, the original, remains only as a consequence. It no longer exists for itself, but because of the material we removed from it. It is like a hidden twin brother.
I visited several quarries, when you go under the earth, you find out that some hills have been so hollowed out on different levels, that you can walk inside as in some sorts of monolithic buildings. Because of the construction process, many of those hills are filled in with rubble. Thus, the construction/destruction cycle is looped: after having been removed, passed by the realm of drawing and building, the material goes back from where it has been taken out.
CSP: The main material in FormContent is brick. This architectural, but also cultural, element gets regularly integrated into your practice. This is because of your fascination with standardization of construction, but also because of the paradox it raises: as an industrial process the brick still belongs to human scale. As you explained me once, the form and size of a brick has been determined to enable a mason to hold the brick in one of his hand, and to spread, with his other hand, the cement with a metal spatula. “Octahedrite” embezzles architectural forms which are industrially produced, but designed for a handcrafted work.
SB: “Octahedrite”came from a desire to disturb or to extract a non-terrestrial element from the construction cycle (extraction, construction/destruction). That’s why I brought a meteorite to a founder, and then he melted it down again into the exact dimensions of a standard brick-shape. I exhibit “Octahedrite” on a plinth, as an autonomous sculpture or a singular and mysterious discovery. This display refers to an imaginary context or role I am playing with, as if I were a contemporary archeologist of the construction.
By default, the heap is the accumulation of a solid material, its incline, balance and foothold depend on both the material and the nature of the ground it is laid onto. It is a highly developed activity to keep the shape of heaps on construction sites; this science is based on the association of elements according to their physical features.
Rubble is not natural and its form remains irregular, haphazard, the result of tensions between resistance and fracture of the material. That’s why, for the exhibition at FormContent, I decided to realize a grid projection on rubble heaps.
CSP: Your approach on architecture offers another point of view on ornamental or geometrical patterns, thus creating volumes combining nature and culture. About the grid and the rubble for this new piece, does it follow your approach of sites through a technique or a device, created as a response to the physical specificity of the architectural or non-architectural context?
SB: Yes, but this is also because we are not talking in terms of a project, but rather in terms of reading. At FormContent, I am developing a reading practice, I read lines onto the volumes, and then I draw them.
“The Architect” is the title of my new video. I am almost wearing a cube, and hidden inside this mirroring structure I try to move by rolling onto the ruins of a demolished building. It is as if I was, literally and metaphorically, dragging along some traces of the encounter between a pure geometrical form and an inert residual material.
CSP: Your work combines the poetry of the material and of the construction cycle but at the same time you raise very logical or even economical issues inherent to our contemporary world. For instance, the rubble you brought into the exhibition space is architectural waste you integrated. Considering the influence of the spatial and visual environment on our personal behaviour, we can conclude that the consequences of this economy of construction govern our lives.
SB: Yes, and the best example are probably waste, which are one of the major invention of the last century. Since the progressive accumulation of rare rot-proof turned into ruins or new landscapes, the production of the object and the waste happened simultaneously. Western civilization creates objects and their waste at the same time, and the very limited life of any object also becomes part of the production process itself. So now, we produce objects with waste, and this even determines the type of production.
CSP: I see, so it ends up with unpredictable combination of materials, forms and functions, which would never have existed in terms of need. It is an on-going and open-ended process, more and more led by the production of rather than by the new object.
SB: In “Low-Flying Aircraft”, J.G. Ballard foretold this construction process. All the logic depends on this idea: “Form follows function”, but rationality, i.e. the optimization of the mono-functionality of any element, here is the turning point. A revolved function remains as form and material: ruins, wild lands, etc.
There is also waste generated as one goes along the production, but which is then converted into products again: that’s recycling.
I am thinking about asphalt in particular. Originally it was just dirty due to the oil refining. It means that the more we are producing gas, the more we are getting asphalt so, the relation between production and waste is such as it seems to be a vicious circle. It is as if cars, because of the consumed petrol, were, almost, simultaneously producing the asphalt on which they move…