Intersections: The Art of Architects, Rose Niland’s Review

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Incinerator Art Space (Rear View) photo by Rose Niland

In Intersections: The Art of Architects, three trained architects investigate that at times barely perceptible divide between art and architecture. Their artworks revealed a creativity that was imbued by architectural underpinnings and also celebrated the exploration and expression of artistic practice.

On walking into The Incinerator Art Space at Willoughby, a leafy north shore suburb of Sydney, my eyes were fascinated by Sarah Fitzgerald’s installation Redrawn.

She based her wall design on the blueprints of the Incinerator. Her large scale drawing was the catalyst for establishing the connection between the artworks exhibited and the architectural context of the Art Space.

Her spare and perceptive interpretation of the site design drawings engaged the viewer and the minimal lines created a contemporary analysis of the architectural properties of the Incinerator.

Sarah Fitzgerald mapped out her design on the walls and columns of the Incinerator Art Space using pencil markings and laying down tape of varying widths.

She painted blocks of colour over the design with a shade of grey she had carefully selected from a palette of varying hues. I discovered she is influenced by the names given to colours, she loves word play.

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Sarah Fitzgerald, Redrawn, acrylic paint on wall, 2015, photo by Rose Niland

It was a very exciting process when the tapes were peeled off and the integrity of the artwork revealed. The installation wrapped around walls, turned corners, touched ceilings, connected the exhibition and integrated it with the architectural features of the Space.

On one wall the configuration of the chimney was recorded and the design encapsulated the innovation and relevance of the architectural characteristics of the chimney.

I felt to understand and appreciate this exhibition I needed to trace the building’s past. This knowledge would inform my response to the artworks and give me an understanding of the foundations of the artists’ visions and art practice.

The Incinerator Art Space began its history as the Griffin Willoughby Incinerator and was completed in 1934.

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Natalie Rosin, Contour, porcelain, stoneware, raku, rope, 2015 photo by Rose Niland

This iconic heritage listed building was sited at the edge of Willoughby Centennial parklands. It was designed by Walter Burley Griffin and Eric Nicholls.

Walter Burley Griffin articulated “I am what may be termed a naturalist in architecture. I do not believe in any school of architecture. I believe in architecture that is the logical outgrowth of the environment in which the building in mind is to be located.”

I felt Walter Burley Griffin’s simpatico with the environment was beautifully expressed in Contour an organic sculptural creation shaped by Natalie Rosin.

It was constructed from over seven hundred pieces of porcelain, stone ware and raku [a Japanese styled pottery that is fired at a low temperature and then rapidly cooled]. These varying sized tiles were hinged, secured and tired with rope.

The whole piece could then be manipulated so that it moved with life and a cyclic rhythm. It resonated with a harmony that came from its intimate links to natural phenomenon. Images of waves tenderly caressing shores, a gently undulating landscape, a pristine shallow creek flowing over pebbles or a bleached skeletal remnant were triggered in my imagination. I loved the power of this artwork to evoke images and settle a peaceful ambiance on the space and the viewer.

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Incinerator Art Space (Street View), photo Rose Niland

I needed to return to the history of the Incinerator, a remarkable example of our Australian industrial heritage. The building ceased operating as an incinerator in 1967. Sadly it lay dormant until it was adapted and converted into a restaurant and then office building in the 1980’s.

However, vandals, fire, a lightning strike that resulted in the ornate chimney top being removed and a series of unsympathetic additions all adversely affected the original intention and essence of the building.

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Simon Grimes, Metropolis, salvaged timber, plywood, mixed media, 2015 photo Rose Niland

The significance of historical relics was the essence of a vast collection of artworks that documented both Simon Grimes’s architectural and artistic experiences. The huge variety of materials, concepts and creations reflected structure, form and innovation in a myriad of different artworks.

For me looking at his artworks was like unlocking an ancient treasure chest, where exquisite pieces kept tumbling out and surprising the viewer. Simon Grimes’ skill was robust, his passion sustained and his artworks were examples of both structural and aesthetic longevity.

Continuing the historical account of the Incinerator, I discovered that in 2006 the Willoughby Council appointed Godden Mackay Logan to document possible purposes for reusing the building.

The 3D model created as a result, communicated to the stakeholders the potential of the building.

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Natalie Rosin, Incinerator, stoneware, 2015, photo Rose Niland

The miniature models crafted by Natalie Rosin in porcelain and stone ware reflected the endless possibilities of architectural innovation. They inspired a movement away from the stereotyping so prevalent in present day constructions.

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Natalie Rosin, Medium Density, ceramic (porcelain, raku, stoneware), 2014 photo Rose Niland

She explored spatial ideas and form, playfully experimented with clay and its properties and manipulated space to create shadow and depth in her maquettes.

The Incinerator building rectification works were long, arduous and expensive. Significant concrete cancer led to the replacement of much of the original fabric.

The reinstatement of the original chimney gave the building back a sense of scale. Equity of access was addressed by the addition of a lift that was enhanced by Artist Richard Goodwin, who shaped a sculpture to camouflage the lift structure.

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Simon Grimes, Trilogy (detail), salvaged pine, plywood, acrylic, LED light, 2013 photo by Rose Niland

The restoration was strongly aimed at restoring and supporting the original vision of the designers. In addition the adaption of the space within the building has allowed for a high level of social and economic sustainability. Finally in 2011, the enduring building both structurally and aesthetically was opened to the public as the Incinerator Art Space.

I believe Trilogy, Simon Grimes’s artwork constructed from salvaged pine, plywood and acrylic is a symbol of the pulse of current innovation that is agile, simple, elegant and flexible.

The three works sat on different levelled black plinths. The triangular prism pieces were patterned in a grid like formation and reclined on an acrylic and wooden base.

The acrylic base allowed illumination from an ergonomic bulb to form shafts of light in the spaces between the three dimensional wooden blocks. The effect was bewitching as you stood back from the artworks the perceptive lighting produced dark edges. It was like an optical illusion because of the sculptural and carefully calculated placement of the blocks.

The angles of the construction in this geometric sculpture dazzled the surface and highlighted the wood grain. This was a conceptually challenging work that sensitively connected the past and present history of the Incinerator.

It also astutely established that architects need to look both within and beyond the walls of their buildings as artists need to look within their hearts and beyond their practice.

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Sarah Fitzgerald, Redrawn (chimney detail) acrylic paint on wall, 2015, photo by Rose Niland

Intersections the exhibition was emotionally rewarding, the senses were stirred by the context and its influence on the artworks. The exploration of the links between art and architecture were imaginatively expressed in structure, material, form and space. I loved that these links were tenuous and that context and art was aligned.

Rose Niland, Special Features NSW, 2015

Intersections: The Art of Architects
4 March – 29 March 2015
Incinerator Art Space

Free Artist and Curator Talk
1.15pm – 2pm, Friday 20 March

Model Cities for Kids
11am -1pm, Sunday 22 March

Describing Space: Exploring Architecture for Kids
11.00 – 1pm, Sunday 29th March

Numbers are limited for all workshops and bookings are essential.
RSVP: Phone 0401 638 501 or email [email protected]

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