Art in Conversation is a monthly series that features pieces from CUAG’s collection and exhibitions in dialogue with cultural trends, current events, and local and global arts communities. Art isn’t just for looking at – here, we explore art as an interactive social phenomenon.
Fantasy architecture –the imagined-yet-never-built forms drawn from the most uninhibited recesses of the architect’s mind – is perhaps more intriguing than its physical counterpart, built structures. Fantasies allow us to explore the improbable, logic-bending ideas for a world that does not exist. Fantasies are born in the mind and emerge as creative gestures. Indeed, everything human-made around us is based on some sort of fantasy – a suggestion of the imagination – that is translated into a practical language of gravity, economy, resources, etc. Take for example, your cell phone, your bicycle, or something as seemingly mundane as a light bulb. From embryonic flickerings of the minds of Martin Cooper, Karl von Drais, and Nikola Tesla, these ideas were pursued with uncertain determination through sketches, elaborate drawings, scale models, and prototypes.
Architecture – as an art form, as an orderer of space and of social interactions, and as that which can assign to us the security of habitat – is no different. The buildings we are surrounded by can be traced back to hastily scrawled sketches within notebooks, to the mind of an individual with a fantasy. Yet, not all architecture is built. Some remain as conceptual design – as pure possibility.
Over two-hundred years ago, French architect and artist Étienne-Louis Boullée dazzled his contemporaries with impossible architectural schemes and still continues to amaze us today. Working in the neoclassical style of the eighteenth century, Boullée looked past the aesthetic vogue of ordered columns, temple façades, and rounded arches. Instead, he sought to explore the very essence of the classical tradition – rationality, order, clarity, geometry, symmetry – demanding from it what no one had before.
Of his most famous designs there is the Cenotaph for Sir Isaac Newton (1784), a sprawling, immense spherical structure that was to commemorate the late British scientist. One hundred and fifty metres tall, it was meant to simulate night and day with small holes at the top of the sphere to let sunlight through that would create an effect of seeing the cosmos in the darkened chamber during day time. During night time, sunlight would be imitated with a massive suspended orb of light.
In another design, Deuxième projet pour la Bibliothèque du Roi (1785), Boullée pushes the limits of architectural reality with a structurally impossible vaulted ceiling: the very place from which a skylight is carved is where the ceiling must be structurally the strongest. It is fantasy that pervades these works, the desire to put something that is entirely surreal into the context of reality.
Looking at CUAG’s current exhibition, Y & G #12 (curtain walls), this same fantasy is present. The Canadian duo’s three sculptural forms, Chagrin (2013), Eunoia (2013), and Coaptation (2012) do not fail to remind us of something we have already seen, but not quite as we have seen it. Just as Boullée manipulated the boundaries of neoclassical form, so do Daniel Young and Christian Giroux with Modern architecture. Rather than simply playing upon the aesthetic of the revolutionary curtain wall (a wall which is not structurally necessary for the building), Young & Giroux pose questions about the nature of the modern form – of its ubiquitous monotony, of its unapologetic angularity, and of its resistance to adornment. In this way, these works act as sorts or prototypes for artistic imagination, not unlike those of inventors. In fact, during a talk with curator Diana Nemiroff at the Carleton University Art Gallery in September, Christian Giroux stated that he and Young “invoke the idea of the prototyper”, because although their work includes “a lot of hand-processing and crafting,” there are many links to the industrial world as well. As Nemiroff observes, they are “positioned in between” these spaces.
These sculptures do not mimic any particular modern building, nor would it be probable to construct them as buildings themselves. They are elaborate models of architectural imagination intended as reflections upon our built environment and as materialisations of fantasy.
(Young & Giroux, Chagrin, 2013. Steel, extruded aluminum, acrylic, components. Image courtesy of the artists.)
(Young & Giroux, Eunoia, 2013. Steel, extruded aluminum, acrylic, components. Image courtesy of the artists.)
(Young & Giroux, Coaptation, 2012. Steel, extruded aluminum, acrylic, components. Image courtesy of the artists.)
Y & G #12 (curtain walls) will be exhibited until December 15.
Leona Nikolic is a fourth-year Art History student. She is usually covered in glitter. You can read more from her at the Carleton Art History Department website and at the Art and Science Journal.