Designing for the Elements Architecture
Frances Richard: I’m writing to begin our conversation, Katrín, about art-making specifically your own practice in sculpture and installation — and to think together about how that practice explores ideas embedded in or coded by architecture and design.
In fact we began this conversation long ago, when you took part in the exhibition “Odd Lots: Revisiting Gordon Matta-Clark’s Fake Estates” that I co-organized (with Sina Najafi and Jeffrey Kastner) for Cabinet magazine. We’ve since extended the discussion many times when I’ve visited your studio and written about your work and just recently when we met at your anonymously titled exhibition on view at the MSU Broad Museum at Michigan State University in East Lansing.
I hesitate to open with unanswerable question. But I can’t help it because as a writer I’m always brushing up against a fundamental sense that language is baffling as if I can’t make lasting peace with the proposition that words refer to things that semiotic signs float around mediating our experiences of embodiment and matter and phenomena like weather yet are not embodiment or matter. All the while my sensations pass through language almost as they pass through my body life without language is not only unthinkable but for me barely palpable. I’m constantly forgetting or losing track of what is language and what isn’t. It’s not surprising that you and I have talked about architecture as a language an idiom that you adapt to “speak” sculpture. As we were preparing for this exchange, you wrote to me.
Isn’t it Hegel who says that the Tower of Babel was the fundamental architecture because it gathered people into a society. Until, of course, they sinned through architectural hubris, and shattered the earthling language community into mutually unintelligible camps. So, I want to ask when you say “architecture begins in language,” what do you mean, Is it too easy to say that architecture is useful (concerned with “safety and classified function”)Except, of course, insofar as soliciting or containing aesthetic and conceptual attention.
Katrín Sigurðardóttir: It is fitting that the comparison we are discussing here between language and architecture emerges in response to Matta-Clark, whose work exemplifies the intricate connections between language and architecture.
The cyclical relationships between language, embodiment, and matter are things these language about space embodiment in space, and matter as space. In order to draw a space to draw a function in the literal sense of drawing on paper but also in the larger sense of projecting or planning a space or a function in order to make such plans that can be shared with or executed by others one relies on concepts forms logic that have passed through language. In this way everything in architecture is named. Architecture relies on semantic systems although I guess one could argue that language the use of words is only one part of that system.
I like to think of architecture and design as “prospective” practices. You draw something that will then become an actual form in actual matter. It begins as a drawing. It is in the language of the drawing that you visualise and conceive the design. Then there is the retrospective drawing where matter and tangible forms are brought back into language by being described or entered into a taxonomy. When I talk about retrospective drawing. I am usually referring to a practices. And this then begets more drawing, more language, and so on.
What you’re calling “prospective” is another way of saying that architecture and design even in conceptual states or stages are premised on use on practical function, There’s a symmetry here with the fact that one way of defining art — after the ready made anyway — is that it’s function less. Or its functions are irrational gratuitous. (In what I’m pretty sure is a riff on Duchamp’s Fountain Matta-Clark says, “one of my favourite definitions of the difference between architecture and sculpture is whether there is plumbing.”).