Article by Kimberly Budd // Sep. 14, 2017
A bold visionary, a radical, a person who forever altered the way we perceive urban spaces; who pushed us to look closer and witness an idea, the beginning of social change; the man who intended to cut through the Berlin Wall years before it came down; the ‘anarchitect’: Gordon Matta-Clark.
Although formally trained as an architect, Matta-Clark is considered a highly influential conceptual artist, known mostly for his monumental cuts and excisions into the facades of decrepit buildings in New York during the 1970s. Matta-Clark confronted questions around architecture’s role in a capitalist society. His work transformed the way people saw what were considered dead spaces: through his practice of deconstruction or decomposition, his focus lay in architectural decay, the changes we witness within urban space, the gaps, the in-betweens.
Appropriately titled, the current exhibition ‘Between Spaces’ at ZKR probes the questions Matta-Clark’s work raised and asks how they translate today. Interweaving works from his oeuvre with those of 15 contemporary artists whose practices are socially-engaged and positioned at the intersection of architecture, sculpture and urban space, who work with unused spaces in an attempt to divulge questions, meaning and contradictions in our global environments. ‘Between Spaces’ was co-curated by Katja Aßmann (ZKR), Nina Mende (ZKR), Christian Hiller, José Delano and Angelika Weißbach (Kunstarchiv Beeskow), with the intention to initiate dialogue surrounding our urban environment, the political and economic factors that shape it and the notion of urban space as the social, artistic and political hub of a society.
‘Between Spaces’ is an example of adept curation. The site and artists are chosen appropriately to engage the themes of the exhibition, the works on site take advantage of the existing architectural traits of the grand historical building. The journey outside the city centre to reach ZKR, and the exploration of the sizeable building and grounds, sets the tone for a deeper contemplation with the vast array of work and discourse being presented. The way fellow architects and contemporary artists’ works are arranged among the historical fragments of Matta-Clark’s practice precipitates one’s dissection of the questions presented within the exhibition. The show is research-heavy, with an keen attention to aesthetic and conceptual detail, offering snippets of documentaries, interviews with friends, large printed paste-ups of his cuts mounted high throughout the space, footage of his deconstructive and transformative processes in urban grounds.
A Super 8 film projection of his work ‘Days End’, where Matta-Clark spliced a large, eye-shaped opening in the back wall of a warehouse in Manhattan, is screened over a large window so when the action of the cuts are made on film the light peers precisely through them from outside, the closest we have to experiencing them now. This documentation is presented alongside models for sustainable and emancipatory building practices, including works by fellow architects and socially-engaged art practitioners Marjetica Potrč and Tomás Saraceno, whose stunning and intricate installation also acts as architectural prototype for how society could live in the clouds. Potrč’s installation,’East Wahdat’, presents a compact, affordable design for housing the urban poor, presented to the Jordanian government. From Matta-Clark’s 1970s New York to our present moment, we witness the artists questioning notions of power structures in architecture and art and attempting to overcome these boundaries in the in-betweens of urban sprawl.
The exhibition is conceptually dense in its content and the varying issues it raises, this provokes further research into the artists represented and in the theoretical underpinning of the intersection of contemporary art and architectural history— Malcom Mile‘s ‘Urban Avant-Gardes: Art, Architecture and Change’ proved an interesting source in some post exhibition pondering. There is an absorbing interconnectivity between notions of architecture, the avant garde, power, corruption, contemporary art, sustainability, histories of public art, aesthetics and the role each play in society and urban development. The exhibition highlights the applicability of this ‘anarchitectual’ spirit founded in Matta-Clark’s practice in this contemporary moment, in the questioning of power structures and the role both contemporary art and architecture hold, institutions both critiqued for their corruption, in asking how they can serve our society and provide for those who need a voice and there resources most.