Alex Schweder: Performance Architecture
Parallel Program of the 5th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, Solyanka State Gallery, Moscow, 18 September - 18 October, 2013
The works in Performance Architecture propose just some of the many ways in which one can engage with architecture. In as much as they ‘perform’, they also seduce and excite – so that the visitor is drawn into the site of performance. Rather than being co-opted, one cannot help but play a part in defining the space, and the resulting social encounters. Beyond removing the ‘fourth-wall’ of theatre – in order to blur the boundary between author and spectator – Schweder’s work asserts the malleability and socialization of all architecture. Though his exaggerated examples, architecture’s role in giving form to the human is foregrounded.
The artist thinks that the idea of buildings’ immobility is an illusion. In fact, they are constantly changing under the pressure of our desires, but too slowly for us to notice.
In Stability (2009, Alex Schweder, Ward Shelley) he presents a balancing architectural structure – a kind of apartment, containing beds, desks, a functioning kitchen and even a toilet – occupied by two persons for an extended period of time. The structure rocks and tips to one side and another, depending on how each inhabitant moves in the space. In order to find a balance, both persons must coordinate their movements – and hence weight distribution. Let us now multiply in our minds this ‘room for two’ into the number of residents of an apartment building and imagine how many desires and movements there are that change such a building, how many decisions about it are made by consensus, and how many by individuals in defiance of the rest. Stability is a kind of microcosm of our built environment.
Schweder casts doubt on the figure of the architect as the one who creates a building’s original design: the architect is, in fact, the one who lives in this building. For him, the memories, emotions and experiences of the building's residents are what truly give shape to its form. This idea is reflected in Bedograph (2013) – it is architecture that documents its own occupation – a recording device, whose changeable structure opens and closes like an aperture of a camera. The work’s interior space is light sensitive, and when visitors leave their silhouettes remain. As well as highlighting the influence of inhabitants upon the buildings they occupy, this work probes the distinction between documentation and performance in the realm of self-portraiture. When one is aware of being recorded, one’s behavior alters.
Sometimes Seating (2012) is a piece of furniture designed to be productive of relationships between people. It comprises a large inflatable sectional sofa, whose armrests and seat backs separate various occupants from one-another. Sometimes, however, these elements deflate, so that users may find themselves very close, possibly too close, to each other. In its changeable state, Sometime Seating produces social encounters, playfully testing the normative boundaries of personal space. From this unstable couch, exhibition visitors can watch the video Jealous Poché (2004), an architectural fly-through of the space between walls, called the poché – which imagines this architectural feature as a volatile, changeable, condition. Like the variable thickness of the cushions in Sometimes Seating, this video work — which was filmed in a vat of red gelatin — also constitutes a meditation on the sensual possibilities of space.