Artists and Architects in Collaboration
by Jes Fernie, Editor
Black Dog Publishing, London, UK, 2006
176 pp., illus. 200 col. Trade, $39.95
Reviewed by Michael R. (Mike) Mosher
Saginaw Valley State University
Collaboration is difficult. Architects
often have a vision for a site that provides
answers for every location and surface,
down to the smallest detail. Many contemporary
artists like to experiment, test and try
things, make mistakes and then re-incorporate
them into provisional new directions,
tendencies very different from the architects'
necessary (and economically driven) precision.
In an attractive, browsable book (that
deserves an index for further reference),
Two Minds presents a series of
collaborative projects in the United Kingdom
in the past 15 years that included the
participation of artists to varying degrees.
An introductory essay lays out issues
and difficulties of collaboration, with
a historical overview from Michelangelo
and Bernini, through the Whitechapel Gallery's
1956 exhibition "This is Tomorrow" that
brought together Pop artist Edward Paolozzi
with architects Allison and Peter Smithson.
Philip Ursprung then examines the Wagnerian
concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk, or total
work of art, as applicable to the architects
Herzon + de Meuron's projects with Thomas
Furff, Karen Sander, and Lutzow 7the
latter involved in the design of a flat
A section on groundscapes features photomontages
of one possible reworking of London's
Southwark Street Camden Arts Centre, plus
a proposal to lift Gillet Square residents
in a giant crane for a new view, and artist
Mark Dions work with landscape architects
on a "Carboniferous Garden" at the Earth
Centre, Doncaster, South Yorkshire. Lise
Autogenis makes use of the acoustic mirrors
in the UK and France that were set up
in the early decades of the twentieth
century for listening across the Channel,
sites germane again at a time of increased
governmental eavesdropping and surveillance.
Other projects may have grander claims
than are evident in their completion.
Richard Wentworth suggests a critical
garden at Manchester Museum whose very
existence would interrogate current cultural
practices of ethnography and history.
Though trade show architecture certainly
deserves attention, the support structure
designed by Gavin Wade at Economist Plaza
is invisible to the point of insignificance,
no matter however many "New Situationist"
rationalizations in which the artist cloaks
it. Joep vanLierhout's Kingsdale School
Auditorium, Dulwich, London is simply
not as transgressive as the authors make
it out to be.
Perhaps the authors had to stretch for
examples of fruitful collaborations, for
sometimes the reader wonders if the artists
are perhaps too grateful for scraps rather
than deeper involvement in the architectural
and environmental design. Michael Craig
Martin's participation was to suggest
a color scheme to the transparent cladding
and interior color scheme of the Urban
Cenre, Deptford, London, designed by architects
Herzog + de Meuron. Simon Moretti chose
a subtle pink evoking childhood for Bethnal
Green Museum, London. One essay departs
Britain to examine creatives "agitated"
by Los Angeles, with a nod to the influence
of architect Frank Gehry. There Taalman,
Koch Architecture designed a custom house,
conceptualist Chris Burden constructed
a 36' tall, four-story "quasi-legal" small
skyscraper, and Robert Irwin argued with
Richard Meier over the design of the grounds
of the Getty Museum.
It is interesting to see artists take
unexpected roles, and their breadth of
concerns and abilities. Chris Offli is
best known in the US for a controversial
painting of the Virgin Mary that included
elephant dung and genitals, denounced
by the Italian-American Mayor of New York
city Rudy Giuliani. Yet for the Folkestone
Library, Kent, Offli proves to be a man
of taste who chose natural decoration
in wood, and subtle tree motif panels
for the Victorian staircase balustrade.
Only one artist seems to address planar
surfaces as the site of figurative imagery,
in Diego Ferri's proposed photographic
murals at Faith House, Dorset.
The "Mobile Porch" by Kathrin Böham
and Stefan Saffen seats four uncomfortably
in a 10' drum that also folds out to form
a stage for performance, perhaps street-corner
political harangues. One of the most accomplished
works found in Two Minds is the "Minotaur"
maze by Shona Kitchen, a life-sized maze
in Keilden Castle's Forest of gambion
walls filled with crushed basalt and blue
collet glass. The architect Nick Coombe
claims to be influenced by the Situationist
theory of a space's "psychogeography";
in any case he has supported a provocative
work in his landscape design at Keilden.
On the other hand, "Bull Ring" on grounds
of Compton Vierney, Warwickshire is gratuitous
metal structure by Keith Wilson. Shown
photographed surrounded by oblivious cattle,
it boasts of alluding to a cattle pen
or auction ring. So? Such an intervention
might be thought-provoking in an urban
setting, causing passers-by to scratch
their heads and momentarily rethink their
environs and its hegemonic unspoken expectations.
Yet if a bovine audience finds pleasure
scratching against Wilson's ring, I suppose
that's all right.