Contemporary dilemmas of Architecture
by Shreyank Khemalapure
In the contemporary gallery at JKK: Four works are displayed in a manner that one speaks to the other; of course that’s how most interesting exhibitions are curated. Photo series of Prabhakar Bhagwat’s famous quarry regeneration project, Architecture Brio’s drawings and a three part white model, Seher Shah’s drawings, woodcuts and collages and Mancini’s crematorium.
Of particular interest is the dialogue that emerges between the works of Seher Shah and Architecture Brio. On the one hand the central thesis of Brio is that architecture is not the other of the landscape but as an continuum of landscape itself. In other words like the flora, fauna and terra; architecture is part of the larger ecology of the site. On the opposite end we see the collages and black cut-outs of Seher Shah (a collaboration between Seher shah and photographer Randhir Singh). These cut-outs although reminding of the playfulness of Sol Lewitt’s cut outs, they also remind one of Archizoom and Superstudio’s collages.
However, more importantly what they bring out is not so much the playfulness but the brutality of the actions performed to transform a landscape into urban fields. The black cut-outs make the destructive character of urbanization explicit in the field to monumental proportions. It also brings out the deep relationship between sublimity and violence. On the other hand Brio’s works stand as a archipelago of ideas that argue that profess to look at architecture also as part of the larger landscape. It is not the other of nature but one among many other things in nature.
While Seher’s works make the brutality of infrastructure and the deep marks of urbanization explicit Brio’s work is asking us to rethink the given dialectics between the built environment and the natural environment. Seher’s sharp and brutal marks on the aerial photos immediately also brings forward the increasing speeds of urbanization; Brio’s intricate models kept on the 750 kg abstract base model speak about slowness and the long duration process of building which is never truly complete. While one is black and white and black and black the other is white and beige and white and white. While one disrupts; the other augments.
One can argue that perhaps without violence, without destruction, without abrupt ends we would never have settled, let aone urbanized. Yet, at the same time like other species we too have defined our habitat which, whether we like it or not, is also part of this planet, the extended landscape of earth or what we refer to as nature.
The ‘Hewn’ drawings of Seher Shah are according to the description of the artist are a study in negative spaces. The question that it is trying address then is ‘what is a negative space?’. If there is a negative space then there should be its opposite, the positive space. What is a positive space? Can a space really be negative or positive? Often in architectural design the unusable, inaccessible, dark and unwanted spaces are referred to as negative spaces. Often spaces with sharp angles and corners are considered to have a lot of negative spaces.
If we consider for a moment that the line is the basic enabler of space and architecture then what we are essentially saying is that it is the purpose of the line and architecture to make a mark, and that mark in some sense defines a space, sometimes around it and sometimes in between. It is by an act of exclusion that the space is defined every time we draw a line. By this definition can all spaces be declared as negative? Seher’s Hewn series leave these questions lingering in one’s mind.
Similarly the drawings of Architecture Brio, arguably, are a study in negative space. Very often we forget the terra that the building inhabits, the negative space of that strata of earth where the building anchors itself, where it becomes one with the earth and yet at the same time separates itself from it. Similarly, the utilitarian areas that aid us in our everyday rhythm of cleaning our body, inside-out, namely the bathrooms and toilets are often left out of imagination of the everyday experience of living. Architecture Brio’s drawings emphasis on these otherwise negative spaces by literally drawing them as the negative of the other spaces i.e. spaces are hatched black and the lines are white. The otherwise inhabited parts of the house is literally shown as the space between the black space – between the earth and the slab and between the walls and toilets.
Once again, if the white space is because of the black space i.e. the building is because of the landscape, the room because of the roof and the toilet, the toilet because of the kitchen and the room and ultimately, as Architecture Brio suggests, if everything is landscape then, what is a negative space? are all spaces negative? When does the space become negative? When is space?