Explore Lab

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Abstract

In short this project involves me designing a shed for my grandmothers garden with the theme defined as performance. As such the following project works to understand performance, allowing it to influence the production of an architectural intervention.

Read the following text to follow my understanding or flick through the reference and produced imagery, laid out in chronological order.

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In the beginning

This project is operating under the title of Performance and Architecture. It was a theme which I first developed earlier this year whilst writing a paper entitled 2EmmaToc/Writtle Calling and Performance Art 1950-1979 (2EmmaToc/Writtle Calling being a temporary radio station instigated, designed and carried out by architecture practice Post-Works). This paper not only gave me greater insight into a project by architects which was performative but also introduced me to an exciting period of performance art. In addition to the findings of this research paper I also wanted to include the appetite I have for theatre. Subsequently, this project sees the coming together of three components as a starting point: Architecture, Performance Art and Theatre.

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fig. 1 An image taken of Stockholm’s Stadion Station, Alexander de Caires 2016.

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The image of Stockholm’s Stadion Station (see fig. 1) is an example of architecture and performance in composition. The coming together of spatial elements, which include light, sound and gusts of wind, culminate to create an atmosphere. The rhythm of the trains passing through the station add to the performance of this space. And finally its use as a functional space suggests the architectural element.

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fig. 2 Performance, concept sketch, Alexander de Caires 2018.

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fig. 3 Performance, concept sketch, Alexander de Caires 2018.

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fig. 4 Photograph of Jackson Pollock at work, Hans Namuth, 1950

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So through this project I knew that Performance would be a constituant part but I also had practical concerns. I wanted a real build-able project that would liberate me from the limitations I see in traditional architectural practice; becoming a demonstration of something I could continue. In response to this instead of searching for such a brief, I knew that my grandmothers shed needs replacing. Its a project at a scale which is build-able and affordable. And it was something I could rely upon and therefore actively forget while focusing on my chosen topic, Performance.

Having defined this brief, I went about experimenting with performance, trying to create something performative, influenced by those I had been studying: John Berger, Trisha Brown, William Forsythe, Yves Klein, Peggy Phelan, Jackson Pollock, Yvonne Rainer, and Jean Tinguelly.

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fig. 5 P1 Performance Video, Alexander de Caires 2018.

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This short film (see fig. 5) was an example of my first performative piece to be produced and displayed. The first part of this video was well received, with its simple abstract expressions and apparent spontaneity. This human section understood something about performance that the second animated period had not.

At this point a took a slight moment in which to reappraise my approach in an effort to better understand performance. A form of evaluation carried out by answering the questions which were regularly being asked of me

What does performance mean to you?
Will it be performed by you/others/collaboratively?
What about the audience?
Where would it be performed?

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Research Question

After this reappraisal I had formed a new research question: What are the primary aspects of performance and how can they influence architecture? In the answering of this I found my research of performance to involve four main themes: Body, Object, Audience, and Permanence

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Body

I start with the Body and it’s connection to performance. In particular I wanted to highlight its awareness and potentiality in the nowness of performance. My awareness of this first being triggered upon reading a piece by Erin Manning, who identified the choreography of two bodies in a tight kitchen preparing food. A great amount of motion with out collision. Sarah Wigglesworth plotted a similar dynamic situation in her drawing of diners (see Table Manners, pp30-33). It is a triptych which starts prior to being seated, it then tracks the chairs and bodies during the meal, and finally shows the mess left in their wake.

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fig. 6 Table Manners (see pp31-33), Sarah Wigglesworth and Jeremy Till, 1998

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I recognise in this movement between beings a potential contained within our bodies. And I believe we look for this potential in the bodies of others. Jan Gehl discusses our desire to watch people, in one case he situates this watching specifically within construction. He starts by explaining that the building site of an expanding shopping centre received more attention from the public than all of the shops decorated window fronts. Following which he writes: ‘In this case, too, it was the workers and their work, not the building site itself, that was the object of interest. This was demonstrated further during lunch breaks and after quitting time– when no workers were on the site, practically nobody stopped to look.’ (Gehl, Jan. Life Between Buildings. 2011. p. 29).

So when it comes to the Body we have both potential and a desire to watch and appreciate this potential.

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fig. 7 Life Between Building (see p. 20), Jan Gehl, 2011

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Object

Moving toward the object, I start by identifying the connections which appear between body and object. My first observation of which came when Jan van de Voort described to me a situation in which he picked up two pieces of scaffolding and their weight and his distribution of their weight was used to produce sound by hitting their ends on the ground. And through this performance his potential extended beyond the arms to the end of the scaffold poles consuming their weight and form. And in this sense we can share and extend our potential with objects.

Performance artist have also shown how our own potential can be contained within objects. As Yves Klein and other action painters show. We can embody our actions on canvas. Harold Rosenburg points to this in his description of the time. ‘At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act – rather than as one in which to reproduce, re-design, analyse or ‘‘express’’ an object, actual or imagined. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event.’ (Rosenburg, Harold. “The American Action Painter” Art News. 1952. p. 22) Klein also fought to maintain a constant distance between himself and the canvas. He did this by instructing models to apply paint to canvas.

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fig. 8 Yves Klein, practice canvas later cut into several pieces ( Schimmel, Paul. Out of Actions. 1998. p. 34)

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fig. 9 William Forsythes Choreographic object entitled Black Flags on display in Dresden, photograph by Thomas Lnnes, 2014

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While William Forsythe does not follow Klein in outlining the distance between himself and the object, he too works to embody potential in what he calls choreographic objects.

So our relationship to these objects shows we can share our potential with them, embody our actions with in them and consider the distance at which we work with them.

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Audience

These Objects can also have a distinct effect on the audiences which observe their use, as we begin to see in Jean Tinguelys Ballet of the Poor. In which objects are dangled and jerked chaotically, a demeaning act renouncing value by making them appear foolish.

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fig. 10 Jean Tinguelly’s ‘Ballet of the Poor’ sculpture at the ‘Movement in art’ exhibition in Stockholm, photograph by Lennart Olsson, 1961

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So if these objects are familiar to us we have an existing association with them. And it is this
association which can also be exploited. It can be exploited by changing the viewers understanding of the object they thought they knew, transcending time and obscuring memory; but it can also become a device for another cause. An example of which is used by Philippe Priasso, who incorporates the use of an excavator in his dance performances.

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fig. 11 Priasso in Transport Exceptionnels, by Compagnie Beau Geste, 2010. Choreography and photograph by Dominique Boivin.

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What can be identified is that the excavator is not only a dance partner but an engagement device. When Priasso is due to perform an excavator must be sourced. As such the organiser must reach out to the construction industry to acquire it. This act engages with a demographic normally not associated to dance/theatre and alerts them to this occurrence. As such Priasso’s performances have been known to draw audiences made up of construction workers and their families. This act of engagement is most successful because the invitation to the audience is not a requirement or call to act. It is a proposition which makes it easy for those inexperienced in such an activity to respond. And as such I believe explicit audience participation is something I see as breaking the purity of this engagement. With disenfranchised audiences it can often exclude by fear of ignorance or unknown expectations.

So, we can attract new audiences by the use of familiar objects, their use can transcend time by altering our viewing of them and propositions can be most effective when attracting new demographics.

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Permanence

And finally, leading on from the objects transcending time by existing in the memories of the audience. This has also become a driving force in my understanding of performance in that it is something that is contained within the moment. I find Gabriele Brandsetter states this most eloquently when she talks of choreography. Writing: ‘Choreography is a form of writing along the boundary between presence and no longer being there: an inscription of the memory of that moving body whose presence cannot otherwise be maintained.’ (Brandsetter, Gabriele. Choreography as Cenotaph. 2000. p. 104) For me this is performance. It is the act of the moment and the not quite attainable; unique to each of those who witness it, different because of their own interpretation of it and effected by their being there and witnessing it.

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The site

In the midst of this research I returned to my site, where the shed is to be built. Below a collection of photographs are displayed, photographs that document the site as it was, when I found it on Friday 21st December 2018.

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fig. 12 Observations on site, Alexander de Caires, 2018

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I began focusing on what caught my eye, this turned out to be the fitting and fixtures which I’ve installed over the years. And the sharp edges I’ve left behind, varying textures, paint, erosion, corrosion, and the markings I made when I painted these textures.

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fig. 13 Observations on site, Alexander de Caires, 2018

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fig. 14 Observations on site, Alexander de Caires, 2018

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fig. 15 Observations on site, Alexander de Caires, 2018

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fig. 16 Observations on site, Alexander de Caires, 2018

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fig. 17 Observations on site, Alexander de Caires, 2018

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fig. 18 Observations on site, Alexander de Caires, 2018

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fig. 19 Observations on site, Alexander de Caires, 2018

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fig. 20 Observations on site, Alexander de Caires, 2018

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fig. 21 Observations on site, Alexander de Caires, 2018

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fig. 22 Observations on site, Alexander de Caires, 2018

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What I realised was that this space was a record of my being there and the absence of my grandmother, who cant reach the space because of the steepness of the stair. Her understanding of the space is from this windows, through the reports she gets from her neighbours, and on the rare occasion that she ventures down to see it when I am there.

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fig. 23 Observations on site, Alexander de Caires, 2018

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Therefore everything about this space was manipulated not only by my being there but also by my not being there. As changes took place to ensure it could wait tidily for my return. So I created a short documentary film about how I find this place and how I act when there.

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fig. 24 Observations on site, Alexander de Caires, 2018

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29 Percent Shed in 12 Minutes

After returning from site I set a date and time at which I had to create a performance of some kind. As I had done with the earlier P1 Performance, at first I found some challenge in starting. However, as I learned, a process had to be taken, a process which could span this entire project with sub-processes which begin a the point a date and time is set. While my review of this construct continues one of the performance rehearsals can be viewed below.

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fig. 25 P2 Performance, Alexander de Caires, 2019

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Resolving Fragments

Having completed my first performance build at scale, I began resolving some of the fragments which would make up the shed. Learning from my past experiments and interviews with other self-builders, I aimed to create three fragments: roof, floor and wall. In the following images are my first assertion in the creation and resolution of these fragments. They were built during impromtu construction sessions, with only limited ideas of what would be created prior to their installation.

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fig. 26 Experimenting with roof fragment creation, Alexander de Caires, 2019

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fig. 27 Experimenting with roof fragment creation, Alexander de Caires, 2019

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fig. 28 Experimenting with roof fragment creation, Alexander de Caires, 2019

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fig. 29 Working with current roof fragment design, Alexander de Caires, 2019

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fig. 30 Current roof fragment design, Alexander de Caires, 2019

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fig. 31 Current roof fragment design, Alexander de Caires, 2019

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Introducing Others

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Having found some resolution in regard to the roof fragment design, I began exploring how other may be involved in this process. Would others be able to construct the objects that I had been building. How would others perform architectures, dependant on their embodied knowledges and physical attributes.

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fig. 32 I became an audience, having demonstrated the building of my fragment i watched it being reproduced.

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fig. 33 With the new people working with me, new tools were brought to these experimental building sessions.

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fig. 34 I also began experimenting with building in approaches. In this case we took turns to approach the. Still using encounter design and build but now responsive and with a competitive element.

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fig. 35 The structures I created with others took new forma dn explored alternate building methodologies.

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Building on Site

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Having worked with others, the time had come to take my newly embodied knowledge and approach to the build on site. With this a series of acts follows. The result…a shed.

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fig. 36 First all of the existing shed items must be removed and stored. It was vital on this tight site that they be made as compact as possible.

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fig. 37 The shed items are then protected from the weather, it is unknown how long they will be unsheltered so this was done with great care.

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fig. 38 As the existing shed is demolished it revels it age and is played with.

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fig. 39 Material arrives on site and is stacked. The stack is then used to provide another purpose as a cutting table. Enabling the breakdown of its own constituents.

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fig. 40 Itereations of the roof fragments are then enacted on site. The techniques which had been developed allow for construction and deconstruction, offering the ability to try designs.

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fig.41 The iterative encounter approach to the build is illustrated.

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fig.42 The floor joists are laid out to to simulate design ideas.

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fig. 43 New tool are accuired and compared. In the case of the screwdriver I was greatly impressed by the speed of this device.

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fig. 44 Through out the build, breaks were enjoyed.

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fig. 45 Final fittings are applied to the ‘completed’ article.

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fig. 46 A shed is built’ it enjoys the sun, with elements of the performative building process visible.

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fig. 47 it is well recieved by my grandmother and her neighbors.

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fig. 48 Even the objects that now fill the shed, seem happy to enjoy their new home.

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Bibliography

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