Tuesday, 30 November 2010

please touch the art

a review : Move: Choreographing You @ Hayward : a diverse + hands-on exhibition of epic proportions has landed on the southbank - celebrating 50 years of experiments in visual arts + dance - if you're feeling daring enough, you could play an as important part of the show as the art.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

hope for a shrinking city

following its leading role [for 2 days] on blueprint's website, the dundee article experienced further celebrity, featuring on architectr [here] + in the ArchNewsNow newsletter [here] so thought it was about time that unpredictable first conversation took a peek :

As Kengo Kuma & Associates bask in the glory of a competition win to design V&A’s outpost museum in Dundee, so too can the rest of us celebrate a ray of light cutting through rabid cuts on culture. As the slogan professes, this project is happening, with doors opening in 2014; the V&A keen to prevent another doomed project on its conscience. The announcement marks the end of an international competition, which has shied away from the usual whispering discussions and secret agendas behind closed doors. Rather, we find a decision from a jury, which exposed itself to public scrutiny and vowed for the feedback to impact on the judgement. The recent news follows a public debate on the 6 shortlisted designs, in the shape of an exhibition and online forum discussions. The period has also witnessed accompanying public lectures from innovative thinkers on the subject, including Dr Kylie Message, author of the book New Museums and the Making of Culture. In a bid to raise the profile and maintain interest in the project, Message thoughtfully discussed the potential of a contemporary museum to not only shape public culture, but also influence local economics and politics.

The V&A forms part of a 30 year masterplan to reinvent the waterfront of Scotland’s 4th largest city and stitch Dundee back together, handing the controversial site back to the city. Already 10 years in, local authorities have been staunchly ploughing through ill considered planning decisions of years gone by in a thorough infrastructure rejig. The first notable building in the masterplan, and destined to be its jewel, is the V&A, which seeks to ‘promote a wider understanding and application of design.’ Right from the start, the competition sought a landmark building to be designed by an internationally renowned architect. Through a process of ‘design in action’, the galleries will focus on showcasing design, illustrating how objects are created, from initial spark to final product. In this essence, the design process of the museum itself will be open to consideration throughout.

I have personally found myself glued to the web discussions. Curiously, the one on Kuma captivated me more than the rest with its musings on the potential of the design to attract the city’s bird population to nest. This led to the post ‘strange worries’, begging us to ‘comment about the design and the way it interacts with the city instead of being just worried about pigeons’. Hear Hear. After all, this is the stage for design aspirations, and no place for worries of cost and weathering of undecided materials. The preoccupation with the glazed cuts in Kuma’s design prompted another comment: ‘to choose a building without ledges, without wind and without markings of water and tide is to choose a building unrelated to the chosen site.’ Indeed, Kuma’s aspiration has always been to create a coastal crag, hollowed by the elements. It is an exploration into the soft and dynamic relationships between river and city, a relationship which has been nothing but fraught since the disintegration of the industrial docks and rude arrival of the Tay road bridge which crashed into the middle of the city in 1966, vomiting dual carriageways in all possible directions, and thus sealing the deal on Dundee’s segregation with its waterfront. Of course, local residents may wonder why the architect had to deal with this contentious relationship in the first place; Kuma’s V&A will sit on a manmade peninsula while the city centre continues to be cruelly fragmented by vast empty sites of exclusive territory. Though not the fault of the architect, there is an argument for a more integrated V&A, where the new cultural institution disperses throughout the city.

An inherent problem with the term ‘landmark’, is that it has come to infer a generic object in a specific city; this paradox becomes particularly potent when combined with that other thrown-about term, the starchitect. There was much comment in the online forum on some of the designs resembling previous projects of the respective architect in different cities. While the immediate context of the museum remains abstract, yet-to-be-built parts of the waterfront, there is a lot to learn from this historic city; for example, how the brutal North Sea winds have defined the urban grid. Or how the redundant jute mills still stand as vast achievements in structure and solidarity but manage to use the topography to hide in the hill, shrinking to street level for a kiss. This questions how are we are to get intimate with the new V&A when it sits on the most remote part of the city: must we stretch out for a polite handshake?

If anywhere is in need of feeling the waft of a warm Basque breeze, it is the peripheral city of Dundee. A habitual sufferer of low confidence, it is a shrinking city, where high density has become the worst nightmare. The city’s present population matches that of 1870 [1971 saw an all time high of 182,000] yet its area is now double as suburbia sprawls into fields leaving huge swathes of central brownfield sites vacant. Dundee is an intimate city, which can be traversed by foot, from water to countryside in less than 2 hours, and arguably sits within the most stunning of British landscape, enjoying the prestige of being Scotland’s sunniest city. It rises up the northern edge of the firth of Tay, exposing the entire city to a unique expanse of water, which fills with the colour of a melting sun everyday, as quiet hills roll into the far distance. Back in the day, Dundee threw all its hopes of industrial prosperity into the 3 Js [jute, jam, journalism] and when they depleted, the city was left crushed and helpless.

Kengo Kuma’s win and the continuing energy of the project come as exciting and heart-warming news for Dundee, but equally for the rest of the nation. Here we have a project defiantly holding two fingers up at the coalition government, whose cuts suggest that an age of austerity must equal cultural drought. The collaboration between V&A and Dundee’s institutions chooses the new museum to drive economic growth and accepts that culture has an important social function. This is architecture that has captured the imagination of 13,000 people who have visited the competition, not forgetting ten times that number who have been on the website; this is more than the average gate at Tannadice Park, home of Dundee United. Dr Message pointed out that museums are far more than their architecture. Indeed, when the renovated McManus Galleries opened to crowds last year, dundonians realised they had a lot to be proud of and excited about on a local level; the V&A at Dundee will expand this to an international scale.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

and the winner is......

...... british culture


a comment piece on the recent announcement of kengo kuma's win to design the v&a at dundee,and what message this sends to the coalition
[shame about the renderings, which receive a big thumbs down...]

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

roll up, roll up

the december issue of Blueprint has hit the shelves and features my review of the Hawyard's current exhibition,
Move: Choreographing You [page 79]

Pick up a copy now to avoid disappointment!