In his essay Killing Simplicity: Object-Oriented Philosophy in Architecture, architect Mark Foster Gage bemoans architectural movements as reductionist waves, distilling architecture into an oversimplified essence, how the building shows off its function, i.e. how ‘Modern’ or how ‘sustainable’.1 While explicating the myriad of ways in which the form of a building becomes secondary to its marketing, Gage invokes perhaps one of ontology’s favorite anecdotes: the Heideggerian example of the broken tool. If one is using a tool, it is rare to notice it as a thing, so long as it continues to function as intended for human use, however, once the tool breaks, the user notices the object which still exists and is real, but has revealed itself as an object irreducible something exclusively geared towards human purpose.2
not to scale, a two-person show of work by Matt Brett and Shir Ende at Heaven Gallery curated by Elizabeth Lalley, touches upon such an ontology and lays the groundwork for understanding new modes of cohabitation with and within constructed spaces. Brett’s sculptures and Ende’s diagrammatic drawings and videos examine the bits of the metaphorical hammer strewn across the floor, revealing the grid as the broken architectural tool, laid bare for viewers to grapple with its being. not to scale probes the relationships between surface appearance, architectural knowledge, and what withdraws beyond the two. Between Brett’s and Ende’s work questions of access, distribution, and navigability are posed with thoughtful and quiet insight into the nature of current spatial dilemmas. Through inventive and speculative forms that suggest new ways to navigate space, and structures that shape the immediate environment, these works plumb at the ways space is negotiated and traversed by all bodies, how human beings relate their bodies to space and the way in which our understanding of space as an actor is limited to anthropocentric perspectives of speculation, valuation, and form.
Ende’s video works and drawings each utilize stiff planar forms and lines that interlock, delineate and dissipate into a mish-mosh of portals, walls, and floors, whose perspective is unfixed, eschewing the rational axiom of Modernism that single point perspective endows buildings with the possibility of radiating their universal tendencies. It may seem that the viewpoint is frontal at one moment, noticing another set of planes quickly shifts the focus or seemingly flips one’s visual orientation to what would be the reverse side of the drawing.
Studies for Movement, Ende’s suite of drawings renders these structures like CAD models, turning on their axis, revealing themselves from every angle, while always tucking away the side the viewer thought they were looking at. Each form embodies a kind of smoke-and-mirrors Minimalism that challenges conventional notions of placement and movement through a “universal” plan. The forms that Ende has developed in service of this investigation withdraw from a sturdy conceptual grasp, obfuscating and confusing current spatial paradigms, while still hinting at utility. Things, in object-oriented ontology always have a “dark side”, a side that cannot be perceived or accessed. Art can, however, open new windows of partial understanding.
Meanwhile, projected next to each other on the opposite wall are two of Ende’s videos (Over and Under and Revolving Door) each showing human engagement with two different structures. The functionality of these structures may be called into question as their “architecture” requires human attention and labor to work with, however, this labor comes precisely from such a lack of functionality, rendering them as Lalley puts it in the exhibition’s press statement “both an image we can apprehend as a primary form, […] and as a physical thing, a shape that we can look or peer through.” Much like with the broken hammer analogy, the user of these strange shapes and shelters becomes aware of a multiplicity of potential functions and experiences contained within the structure that goes far beyond the depths of the image/thing’s surface. In this sense, the mutual interdependence of both architecture/object and the human body/object establish an actual intimacy by not privileging ease of use, but rather the action of use. Ende’s sculptures toy with the phenomenological legacy of hard-edged Minimalism but necessitates investigation beyond vision and invites a tactile set of inquiry. To navigate Ende’s spaces becomes an active dialogue between individual human subject and the building as a subject as well, it becomes conversational, rather than the monologue of singular use. In Revolving Door (2018), a cruciform set of walls on rollers are pushed around like a door to nowhere. While the rollers move it across the floor, the human operators are dislocated from any fixed entry point. The disarticulation of the portal from place asks a series of questions about the form’s possible future enunciations. What might it look like if the wind got hold of it? How would the object reveal itself through usages beyond the human?
Across the floor is a set of nine tempera on wire-framed sculptures, each in varying shades and intensities of blue by Matt Brett. Brett’s work postulates various architectures. Built with rigid wire grids and sharply tied points of string that highlight Modernism’s penchant for disciplining bodies. Brett’s wire structures both emphasize and challenge enforced order with their thick blue tempera coating, the organic forms of their exteriors, and through titles that soften the sharper edges of the work (Older Than Rhianna, for a sculpture that resembles a wheel or Reality Based Community, which resembles a 3D model of a black hole or an atomic donut) . Brett’s own notes included in the press release describe the forms being deployed and reveal an overlap between structures that condition their perception (whether consciously or not)
“About a hundred years ago some artists were trying to imagine hypothetical invisible structures that drove life and informed experience. Surrealists. Now there are actual invisible forms that drive life and inform experience. These are my attempts to imagine those structures formally.”
Brett’s introspection into the unknown and invisible, which actively regulates and structures the everyday is a textbook example of why the real cannot be reduced to the limits of perception. Objects like the Reimann surfaces studied by Maryam Mirzakhani or Fermi-Dirac structures come to mind when engaging with Brett’s sculptures. Each structure looks familiar enough to be some kind of auto-CAD model of a newly proposed building by a radical designer but vague enough to remind the viewer of the diagrams from physics classes.
Where Ende’s work proposes the deconstruction and irreducibility of spatial experience, Brett’s work instead looks at the base structures of experience, translating them into a speculative architecture. In conjunction, they culminate in asking what becomes of the relationship to the built environment when the strange or unknowable are recognized in objects once taken for granted. The title not to scale implies something not being what it ought to be, a falling short inherent in representation, a set of expectations and dimensions that are improperly scaled. The faintest lines of Ende’s drawings and the deepest blue wires in Brett’s sculptures do what much good art does: confronts the viewer with a moment of recognition just over the horizon, something that can’t be accessed, and an acceptance of that uncertainty.