A collaboration between architect Simon Pendal, built environment researcher Robyn Creagh and artist Shannon Lyons, Moments of Place ran from 7 to 22 October in at the Paper Mountain gallery in Perth. In his foreword to the exhibition’s catalogue, Leon van Schaik presents an imaginary conversation between the show’s three authors as they “drink” the theoretical tipples of a French psychoanalyst, an architecture academic and a Marxist theorist. The trio discuss assembling a show that interrogates the nature of place and how their imagined audience will perceive the meeting of detailed art, architectural space, and the wider urban plane.
An installation artist, an architect and an urban situationist walk into a bar. One orders a pint of Michel de Certeau, one a shot of Leon van Schaik and the other a glass of Guy Debord. Each takes a sip. They are planning an exhibition in a small gallery. Working in their own traditions they want to interrogate the nature of place.
The installation artist says to the others, “We are the strategists in this venture. My work will be difficult to find. My audience will use many tactics in their attempts to discover what I have done.”
The architect says, “My audience will enter the space that I will provide and they will know at once whether they are in it or looking at it. Depending on their individual histories in space I think that some will read the space as an ellipse – thinking of the evolution of geometry and of classicism. Others will focus on my three leaf clover columns – recalling the columns of Alvar Aalto and the social democracy they served. I’m not sure that I am the strategist here. Maybe I’ve assembled a set of tactical prompts.”
Picking up the bottle of Debord and decanting some more of the contents into a glass, the urban situationist says, “My strategy is to cover the black floor with a grid of white cards. That symbolizes the abstract subdivisions that are the base of every colonial settlement since ancient Greece. Those grids have been so subverted by individual pursuits of desire that, for example, the once straight north-south street of the Roman camp that is the origin of Alnwick in Northumberland today inscribes an S-curve that obscures the view along its length. My tactic is to record how visitors walking across these cards disturb them. I will look for emergent patterns caused by the casual disruptions of the cards. I hope that visitors are not too self-conscious about the art-value of the cards. I hope they walk across them intent on finding the wall installations or entering the sixteen columns. If they are too careful they will be strategists trying to make art!”
“Maybe,” mused the installation artist, taking another sip of de Certeau, “My audience will be on the look out for the dualities of ‘embodied and distributed’ forms. I will be happy if when they find one of my small plates on the walls, that they decide that every small plate in the gallery was inserted by me. In this way I hope to inveigle people into a Duchampian realization about the wonder of every part of our world.”
“Oh!” interjected the architect, choking slightly on the van Schaik, “I think they will notice that we have carved this up between the three nested scales of detail, architectural space and urban process!”
“But,” said the situationist, feeling a warm glow from the Debord, “surely they will get it that we are dealing with types and original twists to type!”
They fell silent, looking at each other across their glasses. After a long silence they said in unison, startling themselves as they did, “You know, there is a tension between our presumed personas and what each of us has done. All the works are installations, all are architectural and all can be read as commenting on the urban situation.” Another long silence fell over the group. “Each of us in the act of making our exhibit has implied an audience for that exhibit,” said one of them.
“And,” said another, “the white gallery space both creates and limits our audience.” They all sighed. That old chestnut, they thought internally. But we have painted everything white. Except the floor, which will start off looking white.
“I wonder whether the audience will notice that we have created a tri-polar investigation into Einstein’s ‘spacetime’. How each of us has found a way to reveal a ‘standing-wave’ in that continuum.”
The barkeep offered them all a coffee. “I couldn’t help but overhear your discussion,” she said. “I have observed that drinking de Certeau gives rise to dualities, while drinking van Schaik causes triple vision, and Debord braids people up altogether!”
The installation artist, the architect and the urban situationist protested together: “We are joined together through the tensions between these positions! Our audience will discover their own trails of precedents. Some will be from far off horizons, some will be from our shared Perth educations. Some will be entirely circumstantial to the present locus. They don’t have to know our histories!”
“Of course,” said the barkeep, tactfully. “As Proust said, ‘spelling out your theoretical position is like keeping the price tags on the furniture you buy for your home.’ Have another drink for the road!”
And they did. This left them wondering where they were in the never ending spiralling of Earth through this universe. But that is another tale, and involves another bar.