American Photo magazine ran a feature in 2013 titled “Before There Was Google Street View, There Was Ed Ruscha”. The subject of his art and his photography stemmed in the everyday, the everymen and the small observations of ordinary life that most would easily skim over.
Everything Architecture, a new exhibition of architectural models and drawings at the Architectural Association in London, sees OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen—a Brussels-based architectural practice with strong theoretical influences—call on these qualities of Ed Ruscha in their curation of the exhibition. The American artist has provided great inspiration throughout Geers and Van Severen’s careers, especially in the way they document their buildings and projects, drawing attention to the overlooked, questioning the boundaries of architecture and opening eyes to the artistry of the seemingly trivial.
OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen’s models that are featured in the exhibition quirkily follow that inspiration: we see models made from Lego, an enclosed palm tree oasis straddling the US–Mexican border, model pianos and piano players placed absurdly on top of roofs, and—while not included in the London staging of the exhibition—when the original exhibition launched in the BOZAR Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels, it included loans of artworks by other contemporary artists such as a Richard Venlet stool that moonlighted as a floor lamp. In this sense, an art exhibition is an appropriate platform for their architecture as it best reveals the curatorial and the conceptual aspects of their practice.
For Geers and Van Severen the documenting of their work is secondary to the mediation of it. At the Rotterdam Architecture Biennale in 2007, the architects first presented their project on Ceuta, a Spanish enclave at the northern-most tip of Morocco. With the help of their long-term collaborator, photogographer Bas Princen, they showed images that instead of focusing on the plan drawings revealed barren areas of land in between housing developments. It’s through the inclusion of unexpected objects and imagery and the collaboration with the mostly autonomous Princen—whose photographs are unfortunately underrepresented at the exhibition—the practice show this Ruscha-like deep-rooted interest in questioning what may be considered natural or rational to their discipline.
Examples like Geers and Van Severen’s choice to surrender their work to Princen’s unusual brand of architectural photography, and a desire for their models to be—as they write in the exhibition’s introduction—“end products” in themselves, suggests that they believe it takes multiple readings in multiple formats to understand the significance of their architecture. This pluralistic vision of architecture that combines art, politics and everyday interactions inevitably leaves a visitor of an exhibition with only a partial view of the weight of their work when the media used to describe it isn’t mixed enough. In an interview for the website of the Italian research collective, GIZMO, Geers and Van Severen said that “You can explain your interests but the work should somehow speak for itself”, which can be tough when the signature of the work is its subjectivity.
‘Everything Architecture’ is at the Architectural Association until 27 May 2017.
—All photos courtesy of the Architectural Association.