‘Architecture in the Expanded Field’
Co-curated and designed by CCA’s Ila Berman and Douglas Burnham, ‘Architecture in the Expanded Field’ is an Herculean and painstakingly crafted 3-dimensional exhibit that indexes some 75 works of ‘installation architecture’—an experimental terrain of practice explored by Erin Hyman for this magazine. Meant to be both didactic and experiential, the room-sized display is constructed from dozens of translucent, interconnected panels that illustrate through drawings, photos, and renderings each of the 75 projects, which are organized in a gradient field according to their relationship to ‘Landscape,’ ‘Interior,’ ‘Architecture,’ and ‘Sculpture.’ The panels are joined by tabs that allow them to turn and snake, creating a mini-labyrinth of hallways and vestibules wide enough for one. The entirety of the sculptural exhibit is lightly hung from the ceiling at a slope, allowing visitors’ heads and feet to protrude as they meander through.
The scale of the illustrations laid out on the panels is small enough to draw the viewer in close—perhaps an intentional move by the designers—yet the acrylic’s materiality communicates a cool ‘look but don’t touch.’ This sets up an odd tension given the haptic and sensually powerful nature of many of the documented projects, such as Thom Faulder’s spongy, pink Mute Room or Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project. The tension encapsulates the real issue at stake in ‘Architecture in the Expanded Field’; despite the exhibit’s beauty or how it sits in the space, it’s ultimately more about data—how we diagram and organize it—than it is about experience, inhabitability, or even the details of the projects themselves.
As such, it’s very much a work of the zeitgeist. With information proliferation unendingly on the rise, our effort to make sense of it—through curation, publication, organization—naturally follows. ‘Architecture in the Expanded Field’ could have easily, if not more legibly, documented and described these installation projects in a two-dimensional format. By spatializing and building out a 3-D version of its organizing diagram, the co-curators have taken on the noble challenge of turning today’s most commonly available material—information—into something evocative. That the form, and its immersive potential, is defined by the relationships between the projects is the exhibit’s most powerful architectural idea.
And in certain conditions, the exhibit succeeds in offering a unique architectural experience; on opening night, I witnessed two people who had not seen each other in awhile discover a chance meeting in its narrow ‘corridors.’ Though subtle, such incidents have the power to address what Hyman calls “the limitations and potentials of architecture and its social ramifications” by reconfiguring how we encounter each other, and ourselves in our environment. Not surprising for an opening night, small children who were better able to run freely in and out of the exhibit’s maze-like form seemed to be engaging it more than many of the adults who hovered near its perimeter.
The real potential of ‘Architecture in the Expanded Field’ lies in what might happen after the analog exhibit is disassembled, and the digitally documented information continues to grow and evolve as a database, index, or archive, custom-navigable by its user and open to additions. The rigorous organizational framework set in place by the co-curators could become a valuable asset to the design community; it will be exciting to see how it evolves.
‘Architecture in the Expanded Field’ is on view through April 7th at CCA’s Wattis Institute, open Tues.- Fri. 12pm-8pm, and Sat. 10am-6pm.