Monday, 28 June 2010

Teasing Tastes: Vertical Studio at Cardiff University

This summer term Amita Kulkarni (director of Studio Amita Vikrant) and I (invited by Sergio Pineda and Sam Clark) taught a Vertical Studio during which students were asked to fill a box with a series of scale models. The architectural scenes had to start from found objects, building up imagined scenarios revolving around the articles of daily life, hopefully opening up small ruptures in the students' ways of seeing everyday environments. The boxes themselves, using lighting, and a copious profusion of surface treatments, had to create explicit atmospheres, and eloquently imply intriguing narratives, which could be further clarified -opening up a world of stories and events- upon inspection of the respective student's book, which is used to catalogue the imagined breadth of the world frozen in the architectural representation of the box (one of which can be seen here in pdf form). After a couple of test runs, all the boxes rapidly evolved into theatrical story-telling sets.
Hopefully, in a small way, allowing students to use their imagination to explore alternative narratives of the present, of everyday life and its strangeness, of how to question what is and isn't real, and how architecture can stretch accepted narratives to physically contain some of the freedoms and alternate realities so freely available in theatre and literature, we introduced a little of what Salman Rushdie described in his reading of Terry Gilliam's film Brazil, later maybe also to creep into their later work: "This idea -the opposition of art to politics- is of great importance, because it reminds us that we are not helpless; that to dream is to have power. And I suggest that the true location of Brazil is the other great tradition in art, the one in which techniques of comedy, metaphor, heightened imagery, fantasy and so on are used to break down our conventional, habit-dulled certainties about what the world is and has to be. Unreality is the only weapon with which reality can be smashed, so that is may subsequently be reconstructed."

Venturing furthest into the realm of an entirely constructed fictional universe, the photo above and the four photos below are of Phin Harper's project in which he slays a God on behalf of a fictional race of miniature people -here in the form of a dying pigeon he found and pinned to a cross in his box- and together with a cute stuffed toy he found, and soft shapes he made which variously defy their hidden serrated edges and dangerous sinister hearts with the outward signs of friendliness, he created a buried world of crossed signals, a hidden series of vaults where the old God of the race of little white people had carefully arranged -and kept away from the unsuspecting people- all spaces in the cosmos that contradicted themselves, that were not what they seemed to be, that beckoned people in with warm colours and soft forms whilst hacking them to death upon entry. He had tidied up the universe, but just as Phin sacrificed the pigeon, so they killed their God and aeons later they have rediscovered the catalogue of rooms, and are digging them out, studying them, puzzling over them, re-finding their plethora of contradictions, taming them.

See here for a fragment of Phin's text. Everything white and at the scale of the little white men are interventions by them, passageways, bridges, study rooms, visitor centres and archives that chart their movement of discovery through the subterranean world of the old God's monstrous catalogue.

Below is the box by Jihui Cao, a 3dimensional board game of twisting perspectival grids, in which the Joker has taken control of a pack of cards, and is busily engaged in the process of rewriting the rules of play through his own particularly acidic sense of humour.    

The photo above and the six below are of Zoe Spittle's box, which is both a journey through her morning, as felt by her in her half awake state, and also a fascinating layered space, chock full of allusive imagery and overlapping spatialised stories rendered in planes of delicately marked paper; and it switches between these two states via the addition or removal of a screen she built for the front of the scene (seen above lit up from outside, and below from inside) which has numbered 'viewing canons' that frame very precisely each moment from waking to eating to showering, taking you through them sequentially and separating them in space as well as time. When the screen is taken off the discrete scenes all bleed into one another, existing simultaneously in the same space, both creating a compound and rich atmosphere, whilst also allowing one to meander through the various elements, stringing stories and links between them at will.

Zoe was the student who kept most closely to very specific real, quotidian experiences, using a clear and simple technique of simile overlaid onto everyday routines, giving them the magical quality that things acquire when they are associated with unrelated phenomena and integrated visually, as with the best children's book illustrations which essentially make the fantastical immediately intimate.

For an early version of her text, which actually came somewhere in the middle of her development of the scenes and their arrangement, see here.

The two photos below are of Lingyan Kong's box, a digital-analogue Manga inspired space in which an Android boy has created a whole range of flora and fauna that vary in degree between the mechanical, the biological, digital and analogue, and flat and 3dimensional. This is the boy's petri dish where he dreams his Pinocchio dream of being a real boy, whilst actively experimenting to make it happen. See more here.

And last, but definitely not least is the miniature epic by Matt Smith that all began when an apple got shot by a toy soldier (or rather the apple had a bite taken out of it, and got positioned next to the toy soldier so that it looked very much as if that is what had happened), and the General from an old comic-book which Matt found in a car-boot sale took up where the toy soldier had left off, mobilising many others just like him to take part in a fight to the death with all Apples, all happening in the space between the floorboards of an innocuous bedroom (the territory of the apples), and the world beneath them (the home-ground of the toy soldiers). The box is rendered after-the-event, with clear traces of all the major moments in the history of the war carefully laid out, and through which the jury was expertly taken through during the presentation by Matt (accompanied by 'Ride of the Valkyries' that punctuated the presentation), and which is beautifully preserved in his Book, which can be seen here in PDF format. I would put more photographs up of his box, and others, but unfortunately the Flash card of my camera which had all my photos on it was accidentally wiped.

A big thank you to all the students who chose Teasing Tastes for their 2010 Vertical Studio:
Andra Antone
Sidha Mogha
Phineas Harper
Katherine Hart
Christina Ntetsika
Matthew Smith
Jihui Cao
Zoe Spittle
Lingyan Kong