Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Dreams Of Leaving

The title of my post on the Lieb House was derived (alright, stolen) from Simon Starling’s 2005 Turner Prize winning installation Shed Boat Shed (Mobile Architecture No. 2). Starling’s work often involves journeys and the meanings that objects accrue through making them. Shed Boat Shed was based on a found object, a wooden shack discovered beside the River Rhine, which Starling disassembled, formed into a boat and sailed downriver to Basle where it was remade back into a shed.

There are many interesting associations thrown up by Starling’s work, one of which is the relationship of buildings to rising sea levels*. But it also raises a more speculative question to do with the difference between works of art and works of architecture. Shed Boat Shed describes the transformation of an everyday object into an artwork. Unlike Duchamp's urinal it bears the marks of this transformation, making it no longer the same object that it started out as. It is an eloquent piece although something about it bothers me. Shed Boat Shed has made many journeys, including, presumably, the one that took it from Basle to Tate Britain, but only the journey that Starling took it on is assumed to matter. As these necessary but more quotidian journeys are not part of Starling's overarching narrative they are forgotten. Or more accurately not mentioned in case they muddy the clear conceptual waters.

Artworks, even so-called site specific ones, are frequently moved around. Complex installations come with artists instructions for how they are to be re-assembled for every show, by different technicians and in minutely different ways. We are asked to ignore this inconvenient truth. Within the context of the gallery the artwork is only assumed to have the history that the artist has ascribed it. Unprotected by this literal and conceptual shelter buildings are victims of circumstance, falling prey to conversion, neglect and demolition.

The moving of the Lieb House is an unforseen trauma, never part of its intended meaning. Ironically it is precisley the house's architectural qualities - namely its provacative contextualism - that means that it will now be preserved in an entirely different context. The house now occupies an ambiguous zone between building and artwork. Its preservation is a consequence of the art historical value it has acquired over time. Now it has been bought in the manner of an artwork and transcended its original ourpose - that of being a house - to become an object of pure contemplation.

And yet, there is something compelling in the fact of its moving. Movement is one of the dreams of architecture. The dream is that it can escape its stultifying heritage of solidity and permanence and become something else. That something else is anti-architecture, buildings that are light as a feather, or ones that can move, change and react. Most frequently this movement is expressed through gizmos and mechanics, Walking Cities, inflatables and the like. Such projects tend to communicate a desire to move rather than movement itself, an almost comically crude approximation.

One of the most eloquent examples of moving architecture though was Aldo Rossi's floating theatre, the Teatro Del Mundo. Commissioned for the 1979 Venice Bienalle, the Teatro Del Mondo recalled the flating theatres of Venice. The poignancy of this building/boat was the way it slid suggestively into the city skyline, its cupola briefly joining a collection of buildings whose own permanence is an ever present anxiety.

Rossi's Theatre Boat Theatre represents a darker side to architecture's dream of impermanence. It suggests that for architecture moving will always be traumatic.

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