Saturday, 8 February 2014

'Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined' - Learning to see through walls.

Last Sunday, I visited the Royal Academy of Arts and saw the 'Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined' exhibition.  My entry time was 10.30 am and I was amazed upon showing my ticket to be told that I was 'free to take photographs'.  Now I don't know if that statement has the same potency with you as it did with me.  But essentially, most exhibitions vehemently enforce a strict 'no photography' policy, owing to issues such as copyright protection.  Fortunately, I had my camera with me, so I wondered how viewing the exhibition from two perspectives would alter my experience.  The photographer inside of me will takes photos of just about anything whereas the more demure exhibition attendee has a more fleeting eye.  I can focus on things that interest me for hours but I can walk around an exhibition in a relatively quick time.  My appreciation is largely based on individual works and on the essence of an exhibition.  If one or two works don't appeal to me, I will accept that they exist and then move on.  Essentially, I wonder whether all of life is like this, we acknowledge then accept, incorporate or reject.  Our ideas grow from our engagement with the organic and inorganic world.

The exhibition focuses on seven architects and their installations.  These installations are playful explorations of architecture and how it engages with the user or explorer.  Light, dark and a myriad type of materials are used to engage and I guess, occasionally enrage.  There is no fixed path around these installations and with one or two exceptions, you can handle the installations.  Indeed, where this exhibition comes into its own is through the tensile nature of a number of these installations.  Being able to feel wood beneath the tips of your fingers is like being a child again experiencing a smoothness occasionally marred by a rough patch that reminds you of the source of this bi product.  As I seem to have stumbled back to Pezo Von Ellrichshausen's installation in my mind.  Let's see what it looks like...

Amazingly, this bizarre temple like structure could be climbed and you could stand on the roof gazing at the Royal Academy of Arts and the wonderful angels that guard its skylights.  Indeed, the work becomes a celebration of the weather.  I can imagine how emotionally affective this work would be in all weather conditions.  To stand on the roof, staring at the sky as rain drops splatter against glass would be something to behold.

Continuing my journey around the exhibition retrospectively, I stumble upon the archway of Eduardo Souto De Moura.

This installation engages jarringly with the existing archway that is used as an entrance and exit into one of the other galleries in the Royal Academy of Arts.  It mirrors it, in a distorted manner.  It is less perfect but offers a greater degree of tactile stimulation.  Rubbing body parts against this rough hewn archway would be more satisfying than the original archway, it dances with esoterically.

If this use of space is highly enticing, the installation by Kengo Kuma is definitely hands off.  It is a bizarre mix of bamboo (I believe?) and lighting sources that create a serene yet disconcerting experience. 

Strangely organic, the bamboo weaves in its distorted fashion to the ceiling then back to the floor.  The visitor disorientated by a constant need to rediscover his/her footing.  Multiple lights like stars punctuating an arterial system.
In contrast, Li Xiaodong's maze like installation also brings to mind, memories of libraries and archives.  Silent places of reflection and the accumulation of knowledge.

In the second photo, you clearly see someone's feet.  For some reason, one visitor chose to be photographed laying down as though dead or in a state of perpetual slumber and to be photographed.  Something about the atmosphere of this space must have overcome him.  It also included mirrors and as I have an aversion to my own reflection, I chose to capture it again for prosperity.
The Grafton Architects' installation was somewhat more subdued.  Yet no less impressive.  The light more striking in its piercing attack upon the darkness.

Light has an almost erotic thrill in the midst of darkness.  It represents escape and a space beyond.  A change of perspective.
Possibly, the most engaging installation for most visitors to the exhibition would be the one provided by Diébédo Francis Kéré.  It is essentially a tunnel that you are invited to penetrate, pierce or adorn with long plastic straws.  A truly immersive experience and which will become increasingly more amazing as the exhibition continues.

Something about this work is inspirational to families and may hold the key to the housing problem.  If you can encourage people to stick straws into a bizarre tunnel like construct, why not provide the materials for families to build their own properties?  Self build housing is the way forward.  As a sentimentalist, I enjoyed watching everyone poking and proding away with their plastic straws (well, that's what they looked like!)  The children and adults working imaginatively to create their own miniature works of art within the greater whole.  For example, please see the intricate hive structure someone created above.
As I left the exhibition, I was left with a positive feeling and once again, I found myself more aware of the architecture surrounding me.  I also saw the final installation, which exists just outside the Royal Academy of Arts by Alvaro Siza.  Not much to say about this one.  It's more of a visual tease for the delights inside, a column evoking future pleasures in the courtyard where I also became overwhelmed by a bizarre work of art in the making in a flower pot of all places.

I wholeheartedly recommend this exhibition if you want to re-experience the sense of childish wonderment you had and somehow had overlooked in the jagged world of adulthood.  It's an exhibition, which relies on all of your senses.  Each experience will be unique based on personal interests and values.  One thing is certain, through shared photographs of this exhibition, it could ironically become one of the most viewed London exhibitions in time.  I am glad to help with the promotion of this exhibition, which runs until the 6th April 2014.

Barry Watt - 8th February 2014.


'Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined' is at the Royal Academy of Arts in London and runs until the 6th April 2014.  Please bring a camera and create your own mini works of art.






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