Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Shifting Ground

I was lucky enough to travel home to Galway at the weekend during which the excellent Galway Arts Festival was in full swing. One of the standout exhibitions is without a doubt Irish architects Heneghan Peng's Shifting Ground. Situated in the gargantuan (30,000 sqm) Absolut Festival Gallery on the Headford Road it sits in the context of work from other Irish architecture studios Grafton Architects and O'Donnell & Toumey Architects, making up an exciting trio of my favorite Irish practices. The work on show made up the Irish pavillion at last years Venice Biennale which was curated by David Chipperfield. It is testament to a small but vibrant Irish scene and is promising from a personal point of view. Especially given the negative soundings coming from the country on a regular basis. Maybe I can go home some day! The great thing about the exhibition is its obvious appeal to people who would not know what an architect actually does. The process itself is a hard thing to explain to people who have never studied architecture so to see a collection of art works and sketches that come out of good architecture studios is refreshing. I would urge anyone who has ever wondered why an architect spends so long at work to go and see what we are about. 

Grafton's 'Architecture as New Geography', which won the Silver Lion (most promising practice) at the Biennale, is a kind of homage to Paulo
 Rocha. It consists of a series of large papier mache models of da Rocha's buildings. They are accompanied by a series of images of Skellig Michael and Machu Picchu which together start to hint at architecture being viewed as geography and not just a building. I am unfamiliar with da Rocha's work but the idea reminded me a little of Michael Cadwell's description of architecture as a 'reconfiguration of the earth'.

O'Donnell Toumey's work is a series of development sketches and models that contributed (I think) to their 'Vessel' exhibition, again, from the Biennale. I was a little disappointed the work itself was not on show but I suppose its scale would make it difficult to move around. They do however, have an incredible array of development work on display in a 4 meter long glass topped cabinet. I was particularly taken aback by the sketching style. It was very similar to that of Peter Salter. The models are intricately made and hint at the kind of time and effort the practice put into exhibitions. Which leave the piece de resistance. Heneghan Peng's seesaw. Forget architecture. Forget art. This is simply a fun and engaging piece of work that turns us all into children again. There are endless articles on their work but to see all ages and creeds interacting in such a simple way is heart warming. Great exhibition.

Although not part of the architecture section, I must give a special mention to the work of John Gerrard's Cuban School. I am a big fan of unorthodox scale in art and this ticks the box with two gigantic projections of what look to be dilapidated socialist schools/ hospitals. The buildings take centre stage and appear motionless but on closer inspection the camera is in fact panning around the building, creating a mesmerising kind of lateral crash zoom/ pan effect. A brilliant utilising of this massive space. Maybe it is architectural after all.

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