WITH ESZTER STEIERHOFFER: UNFRAMING#1_ARCHITECTURE
BY INÊS MOREIRA
INÊS MOREIRA: Eszter, we have started a conversation some time ago about the ways in which “curating architecture” is conceptualized and practiced so diversely. We have focused on traditionally existing disciplinary disagreements about curating, which can be easily understood and exposed, if we confront art history and architectural backgrounds, as yours and mine. Our dialogues have revolved around joint interests in spatial, urban and experimental art and architectural practices, and it is deeply informed by our curatorial practices and our on-going processes of PhD research. So, to publish our thoughts in a shared article is a way to pull out some conclusions in the form of an informal discussion. However, before we stabilize our knowledges, I immediately propose a twist… instead of exploring the expected divergences and discrepancies of disciplinary practices… I propose thinking of “curating architecture” from a more abstract notion of “unframing”. Notions as framing, capturing, and freezing in a surface, or the bi-dimensionality of a captured image, are central to photography and other bi-dimensional representations of architecture, and, therefore, become central gestures of most architectural exhibitions and to a substantial part of practices “curating architecture”. I am interested in curating as a practice disturbing the ways we see, understand and, above all, the modes in which we know architecture. This position is both informed by interdisciplinary theoretical research and by certain contemporary [art] curatorial practices which underline critical positions and produce active spaces. I believe the notion of Unframing can bring enmeshment and complexity back to the act of depiction in architecture. If depicting, as a curatorial gesture, is a procedure clarifying, framing and delimitating an object, unframing would produce disturbance, focusing simultaneously on the backgrounds, the externalities and the offstage, or to consider the pluri-dimensionality of that which is outside the central focus of a picture. So, what I am proposing is to jointly think if “unframing” can constitute a mode of curating architecture, beyond representation?
ESZTER STEIERHOFFER: ‘Cura‘, the origin of the word curating means taking care or healing, putting back together. One would think about curating conventionally as linking/putting together, orchestrating, engineering or even as building or facilitating and contextualizing – framing in a way. In contrast, your concept of curating as unframing addresses the fundamental problems of focus and definition; your method of producing disturbances reminds me of experimental tools of the avant-garde. The situationist practices for example used chance and chaos to re-introduce complexity in the perception of urban space and reading of architecture. ‘Unframing’ however in relation to curating architecture is also concerned with the problems of the media and display of architecture, which go far beyond simple formal or practical questions of the exhibition making. As most of the times it is impossible to present a building (in its physical reality) within the museum, it is even more difficult to reproduce or translate its surrounding urban context, meaning and signifiers; and the question remains: if in our everyday life we are all (inevitably) subjects of and to architecture, what is its object, or where and how architecture presents itself? If framing and capturing can be described as representation in contrast of pure presentation, I’d like to think about unframing as a search for architecture – an impossible mission in a way... In relation to the drastic boom of international temporary exhibitions there is a significant change in the media (and representation) of architecture - described also as an interdisciplinary space in-between contemporary art practices and architecture. This shift can be noticed even in the case of mainstream architecture exhibitions like the Venice Biennale: the last two editions were focused on the cities and experimental architecture, this year Kazuyo Sejima put emphasis on inviting contemporary artists to participate. Whereas in the museum or gallery an architectural structure (the edifice) provides the infrastructure for showing art, the situation here is reversed: artworks provide the structure to open up and exhibit or reinvent architecture, in a way art becomes the ‘stage’ for architecture.
IM: You are reversing the roles of container and content, suggesting art and spatial installations as a curatorial approach to architectural space… instead of architectural space as a support for art works…
ES: In my research I am interested how certain contemporary art practices like installation art, performance and time based media can be compared or differentiated with architecture as object, medium, experience and environment. I am researching interpretative possibilities for exhibiting architecture by reversing conventional perspectives of site-specific curating, public art commissions and ‘scattered-site exhibitions’. I am also interested in site specific curating, where art is decoding and revealing or activating architecture ‘on site’. This is what I described as staging and you as unframing - I think. Could you maybe give an example?
IM: I will have to be more precise: to understand what I am calling Unframing it is essential to consider the non-representational dimensions of architecture and space. Unframing would proceed by referring the non-representational, whether experiential, phantasmatic, or even aural resonances of space and the architectural. This is what we have explored collectively in a project I curated at the burnt aisle of the Rectorate of the University of Oporto, an (architectural) building curated after an accidental fire. The exhibition-project is an essay with/through/about the space and materiality of a building, about contingency, emptiness and reverberation. In other words, it approaches presences and absences in architectural space. This project is a practical example; the architectural remnants were curated through artist’s installation works: art explored the spatial and material resonances of space, and, together with the building (as a set), the project has curated architecture. Curating is understood as the enactment of space, sometimes through artists work.
ES: So, in a way you describe artistic practices that deal with the notion of space as curatorial gestures?
IM: Not exactly… although some creative spatial practices can be understood as curatorial gestures, I am referring to artistic practices set in collaboration with a curator / architect. Curating as a collaborative spatial practice in which artist are invited to participate. This is a very particular position, not all art practices dealing with space are “curatorial” and it’s not my intention to generalize… My background education as an architect and a practice designing exhibition spaces – installation, set or scenography – is fundamental to understand this particular approach to curating. “Aftermath and Resonance!” project exhibited and interpreted architectural spaces: room, contents, mediation were part of the same concept. Other experiments have been exploring this unframing gesture, the exhibition project “Burn it or not?” at Ataturk Cultural Center (AKM) in Istanbul Biennial 2007 dealt with an existing architecture building from a similar perspective: artists´ work (installation, photography, sound, and video) was invited and installed in the building to think of architecture: the exhibition considered the particularities of the AKM building where it was installed, questioning the modernist politics of its foundation, and its future to come as a structure, whether to be demolished, remodeled or maintained. The response didn´t come from architectural design, as most architecture exhibitions do. The modernist and exuberant building was appropriated, undoing all exhibition conventions of white cube and black box, and notions of technical representation and the endowment of the architect. The sound installation Memories On Silent Walls, by Erdem Helvacioglu, interfered with AKM architecture bringing in the exterior square of Taxim and playing the memories of political moment of Turkish contemporaneity. Both Oporto and Istanbul projects, different in scale and visibility, were experimenting with architecture as an exhibition space, architecture as an autonomous building, the collective memory built through architecture, the resonances of architectural void, a mode of curating architecture by unframing it…. I believe there is something in common with your new project, can you tell us about the project you are developing in a building in Budapest? How can site-specific art produce modes of curating architecture?
ES: It is interesting that you mentioned the “Burn it or not?” exhibition at Ataturk Cultural Center which both of us have seen separately and regard as an important point of reference, one example of our shared inspirations, while there is also a clear difference in our methodology and its interpretation. This might stem from our different backgrounds as you already pointed this out in your introduction. ... but in your question you referred to an exhibition which is still a work in progress, curated collaboratively with Judit Angel, art historian and curator of Kunsthalle Budapest. The exhibition will take place in Ernst Museum and will consider the building of that museum itself. The Art Nouveau style building of the Ernst Museum was originally built in 1912 to host a private collection, a small cinema and a few private flats and artists’ studios. The building went through several physical, formal and functional changes and today functions as a public gallery of temporary exhibitions dedicated to contemporary art. It is not only an interesting historical artifact, but also an important landmark in the Budapest art scene and cultural life. The exhibition focuses on the relation between space, history, vision and architecture, on the phenomenology and analytics of perception as well as on issues related to space / architecture and its representation. Participants come from the field of visual arts, architecture, design and film-making, works include site specific commissions as well as others are linked more implicitly to Ernst Museum and focus on broader problems related to the architectural object and its interpretation. The exhibition is conceived on three levels: site-specific interventions, film projections and a theoretical section. We are working with the title ‚Related Spaces‘ which is a reference to interdisciplinary relation between architecture and other art practices, the interrelated discursive fields surrounding architectural issues. With this exhibition we wish to enable new perspectives on the Ernst Museum as well as different understanding of the relationship between visual art and architecture.
see the intire interview in scopiomagazine aboveground: architecture