Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Vito Acconci and the case of Storefront

Not long ago I shared a small idea with Vito Acconci. Our chat hadn't
interrupted him whilst he was in mid-masturbatory simulation but went
on after a talk held at London's Tate Modern on the collaboration of
Art & Architecture.

The topic of the talk was Storefront for Art and Architecture and Acconci’s design process. In the description he located a problem with his design, that when it's raining you cannot open the rotating walls, thus, rendering this main feature useless for half of the year. During the Q&A afterwards, an audience member offered this question: "What would be your ideal exhibition within the gallery?" Flummoxed somewhat, the question was general but might have caught Acconci off guard having previously been asked a series of even more boring enquiries regarding his choice of materials. He couldn't say. It was
funny in fact, he literally couldn’t come up with anything.

Perhaps because it’s actually a bit crap as a gallery, or at least the curators miss its potential. Either way, baring these two things in mind, following the talk I posed to him this: Imagine Storefront became bankrupt. Instead of selling the premises you could donate the gallery to the city. The gallery would move out and the walls would be
left open allowing the people of New York to occupy the empty space as and when they pleased. The function of the space would suddenly become boundless; providing shelter during bad weather, providing a meeting point for fellow New Yorkers, or simply acting as a detour to the straight lines of the city streets. Thus, the effect of this would overcome his current qualm with the design and answer the question asked of him originally.

He liked this idea and we shared a joke about how we could sabotage the gallery to implement the plan!

However, in the likelihood that our shared scheme would remain a dream, the event got me thinking about imagined spaces, or even imagined art pieces. Similar to the construction in Georges Perec's Life A User's Manual, the possibilities to document fictitious art and its implications are endless. Cheap too.

Since the beginning of the recession an increasing number of spaces have opened up in London. I don’t mean gallery spaces but literally holes where buildings used to be. In some cases entire blocks were knocked down with the idea that new buildings would replace them. However, when the crash happened developers couldn’t commit the cash and as a result the sites remained empty.

I always imagine these spaces as blank canvases for architects, an exciting exercise for them to imagine structures where the perimeters are set, budget is no boundary and all you have to do is fill it. However, an many houses have also become vacant over the past year or so, boarded up with wood or sytex, thus available for let to the imagination of whoever might want to enact a life in there. An infamous example is the Heygate estate in Elephant and Castle.

Then I found this, nestled in a gap along a Georgian terrace in central London. A shanty-esque shop front with village hall hallmarks it has the piecemeal architecture of something far more imaginative. The blank notice board and careful colour scheme allude to a purpose that’s been lost and present possibilities for newcomers to imagine their own use of the space. It’s a doll’s house, so unique that lives and loves from beyond reality can unfold from the minds of whoever will paint their dreams onto it.

Above, wedged between brick walls either side the wooden upstairs seems to have been stuck on, taking Gordon Matta-Clark’s collages as inspiration maybe. Arguably Clark’s work was also only imaginary. He structurally transformed his buildings but mutated their appearance further in the representation of each action. His images are beautiful and placing aside the problems of documenting conceptualism they act as interesting admissions that ideas can be investigated further in imaginary format than reality allows.

And perhaps this is why a conceptual stalwart like Acconci struggled to put his finger on some-‘thing’ to fill Storefront with. He was reiterating the fact that there’s a perennial problem with production. That the product will always be bound by various laws of physics, not to mention immediately commoditized.

So the question is, how to exit this creative cell? Can someone be an artist without producing anything? Or due to this will visual art always remain be a lesser form of creativity than music, which thanks to technology can go beyond the sonic capabilities of reality?

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