I have been a curator and producer of contemporary visual art and design exhibitions for almost fifteen years, more recently with a particular interest in architectural practice and process. During this time there has been a shift in creative practice. A strong and constructive convergence has been happening between several creative disciplines, notably, between art, design and architecture. Admittedly there is nothing new about an overlap between these art forms, there is a cross-disciplinary legacy born from combined art and design colleges. The Royal College of Art for example began life as a government design school in 1837 and, of course, the Bauhaus in Germany in 1919 was founded with the aim of creating a new type of practitioner who could transcend disciplines and combine the arts in an ideal unity. However, more recently, as illustrated by the recent shortlisting of architectural collective Assembly for the 2015 Turner Prize – the breadth of investigation and inspiration that artists, designers and architects share is the widest to date: ‘ we are dealing here with a mutation based on the fluidity of practice the mutual cross-pollination of styles, and the appearance of a new type of crossbreed practitioners.’ 1
Within art, design and architecture this cross pollination of practice has created an approach with less focus on building objects ‘for sale’ in favour of developing systems or actions intended to provoke thought, discussion and debate – an approach which attempts to communicate a critical discourse on social, technological, economical, moral and/or political issues, for example The Biospheric Project in Salford is described as a ‘brilliantly ambitious project that aims at nothing less than a total change in the way we think about food, farming and the environment.’2
Presenting this new breed of architectural/design practice in a public forum poses several curatorial challenges. Most notably, conveying the relationship between theory/design development and the physical manifestation of ideas, but also the challenge of managing audience perception. Is this art? Is this architecture? Is this design? And does it really matter? Pitching one against the other is pointless but recognising the skills and knowledge each bring to any given project is crucial. (British) Architects are very highly trained professionals with a similar length of training, and in practice experience, under their belt as British doctors. Artists and Architects (and other disciplines eg performance, dance- Axel Schweder for example) may borrow from each other in terms of methods and approaches but they are different, they have different roles which at times may overlap, but that can be mutually beneficial. I agree that Architecture, as an industry, is not so good at telling the public about its talents in a very accessible way but that is changing. The RIBA opened a new public gallery at its HQ 66 Portland Place in 2014 (and interestingly is working with Assemble on a Brutalist exhibition for later in the year) they are also working towards a similar space in the North. I guess for a while the Architectural profession hasn’t felt like its needed to engage the public in the same way art does. The public presentation of, and discussion of its theoretical underpinning, is fundamentally part of the art process. For Architects, and in some ways designers much of this happens behind the scenes. For example a piece of graphic design may contain complex theoretical/contextual reasoning but the discussion about this takes place in the studio, and maybe with the client, but is rarely, other than the final artwork, interpreted to the audience. Maybe this newly opened (but not entirely unexplored) discussion will help the Architectural profession reach new audiences and find a way of being more accessible and inclusive? But lets not do it just for the sake of it in some odd attempt to simply add validity to the profession. Lets present architectural practice and process in a discipline appropriate way which celebrates the complexity of the industry and the level of knowledge, experience and understanding which has built British Architecture into the global success story it is today. Lets celebrate the professions ability to seamlessly cross disciplines, and add value, to breath new life into other industries in unexpected ways... talking about a turf war and who is treading on whose patch is unhelpful for everyone concerned. In terms of supporting architecture and other creative disciplines we need to be celebrating the fact that they are all working together to mutually beneficial ends.
1. Foreword of exhibition catalogue 'Wouldn't it be nice ... ... wishful thinking in art and design'. Katya Garcia-Anton, Director Centre d'Art Contemporian, Geneva. (2007)
2. The Biospheric Project website www.mif.co.uk/event/the-biospheric-project