Spirit of displacement: Fugitive Structures 2015
Sack and Reicher + Muller with Eyal Zur: Sway
Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation Exhibition, 21 August - 12 December 2015
ArchitectureAU Review by Genevieve Lilley, published 31 August 2015
Two installations at the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation provoke questions about the increasingly transient nature of dwelling for much of the world’s population.
For the past three years, Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation (SCAF) has commissioned a spring courtyard structure, a Serpentine summer pavilion of sorts, in their Zen Garden behind SCAF’s Paddington gallery. The series, straddling the architecture/art divide, is called Fugitive Structures. The idea for the series first formed in 2011, and in this year’s exhibition catalogue the Foundation’s executive director Gene Sherman credits ongoing discussions with BVN’s James Grose, Phillip Rossington and Bill Dowzer with the unfurling of the concept and the management of the brief and competition.
2013’s Fugitive Structure was the now well-known Crescent House by Andrew Burns. This blackened pavilion now sits in the grounds of the Heide Museum of Art, in metropolitan Melbourne. Last year’s Fugitive Structure was a more challenging, “extra-terrestrial” form called Trifolium, by AR-MA, made of 152 unique twisting Corian shapes, and black mirror-polished interior panels.
This year’s project is the first commission given to parties from outside of Australia, and strikes deep into the core of contemporary issues around homelessness, the refugee life, housing affordability and population transience. The first is called Sway, and is a much more “active” piece of art – you are forced to look beyond it as an installation of objects, and to divine from it various layers of meaning, of which there are many.
The work is designed and produced by Sack and Reicher + Muller with Eyal Zur, a recently formed three-partner-plus-designer architectural collective based in the Israeli/Arab suburb of Florentine in south Tel Aviv. Sherman Galleries have long supported artists from the area historically known as Asia Minor – from Israel, Iran, Turkey and other countries. This area has an incredibly rich history as the seat of the three great monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), and it remains a region of immense transience, tenacity and (often) terror.
In literal terms, the work is a series of small tent-like pavilions, open to one side, made of the white shade cloth used by Israelis to protect their market vegetables from their harsh climate. The super-light, 7kg “building” is made of curved collapsible tent-pole structures, and the synthetic weather-resistant cloth is lashed and stitched to it. Two or three sides of each structure are weighted down with nearly 400kg of cloth sandbags. The structures resonate with the construction “rules” of the Jewish sukkah, a temporary structure made in late September or October each year for the Festival of Sukkot. Families eat in them for a week and, sometimes, senior men sleep in them, bringing them closer to those ancestors for whom displacement remained a constant reality.
Hugo Moline and Heidi Axelsen’s Owner Occupy, in the main gallery, adds exponentially to the debate about the tenuous nature of home. Their simple, carefully assembled structures, of timber poles and canvas walls, form a series of moveable enclosures. Visitors can manipulate the “dwelling machines” by raising or lowering canvas window flaps, playing with desks and other components. Children of course love these “cubbies” and are hugely inventive with them. The artists, partners in work and life, tow their baby Tove around as they travel to install their works (most recently in Japan, just before the SCAF installation).
The end wall of the exhibition space features a large hand-drawn map of Sydney Harbour, with “real-estate speak” descriptions of the various parts of the city. It refers to the language of modern occupation, the endless preoccupation with property speculation, the questioning of ownership as a device for making money. It suggests that perhaps the architectural profession, with its encouragement of the large, glamorous, well-finished single house, is no longer serving humanity at a profound level or scale.
Both installations are made of cheap things, they celebrate temporary structures as part of a philosophical debate about ownership. They challenge the notion of architecture being a bespoke, fixed product enjoyed by few. The location of this exhibition in this part of Sydney is an irony not lost at SCAF. The questions posed by such temporal shareable spaces are particularly important with the ready access to endless touring/travel that the modern world provides.
These objects are precarious, the occupation of them transient, their spaces are gestural, they invite sharing, they reinforce commonality. They have a duality about them in that they pose questions about value, and temporary housing and refugee status, and the determination of the displaced, but they are made in a bespoke way, with sophisticated materials, to be displayed in a rarefied (but egalitarian) gallery space.
The installations represent a powerful ramping up of SCAF’s intentions with their annual art/architecture installation series. Particularly in a year when the Serpentine Pavilion in London has been weak, the 2015 Fugitive Structures program stands out for its provocative understanding of what an architectural installation can be.
Owner Occupy by Hugo Moline and Heidi Axelsen is on exhibition at the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation until 3 October 2015. Sway is on exhibition in the Zen Garden until 12 December 2015.
For further information about this exhibition, click here.
To view this original article in ArchitectureAU, click here.