In this Q and A session, Mathijs discusses the purpose of it all, the mystical Louis Kahn, Russian Constructivism, of Hybrids, work in progress in a functioning library, and reasons (or not) To Build, among other things. AN: What is your sense of Structure and Space? ML: Well in my opinion there is no such thing as ‘mere space’. We humans always, in one way or another, see space as having particular characteristics. Space comes with rules, with identity, which a set of parameters what we perceive this space to allow us to do or not. And each space tells us how to behave in it. AN: In this project at the library, your work seems to question these parameters.
You use space as though to counter the set rules? ML: Well in my opinion there is no such thing as ‘mere space’. We humans always, in one way or another, see space as having particular characteristics.
Space comes with rules, with identity, which a set of parameters what we perceive this space to allow us to do or not.
Each space tells us how to behave in it AN: In this project at the library, your work seems to question these parameters.
You use space as though to counter the set rules? ML: Yes and no. I am aware this is a difficult answer to your question. The thing I am building in the library has really no purpose at all. And I think it is a good thing I am allowed the space in the library to do so. I could also get space at FNB (First National Bank) I think, if I would work them for some time.
But there it would serve a very clear purpose, it would be the same structure, FNB loves Art, but I would most likely be tool for their PR department; same story in Maboneng, where Art is instrumentalised for gentrification.
In the library I can do something without it being instrumentalised.
So the library itself is not really setting up many rules for how I should use the space.
I can build stuff there that will be mostly incomprehensible for viewers at first sight.
AN: Where does your work seek a connection, then?
With your audience here, I mean.
ML: I want to build stuff that escapes the ‘question/ answer’ paradigm AN: Create a void in the subconscious? ML: I want to connect to my audience by building something of which they will think: this somehow suggests a purpose, but hell: we can’t figure out what purpose
But it clearly must be good for something this thing these people are constructing, because it is highly complex. There is tremendous effort being put into it. They work for weeks- it must be good for something, right? Otherwise, why all this effort and why this very complex design! An: TO BUILD underlines the basic definition of Work. Work equals effort over time.
Internationally, what do you think about the architectural structures around? ML: I love Louis Kahn (the American modernist architect)
When I was visiting a friend in Boston, the only time I ever was in the States, I visited one of his buildings- the Philip Exeter Academy.
There are some small similarities between how he handles geometric shapes and my approach.
His buildings are a sophisticated balance of simple geometric shapes. AN: “A great building must begin with the immeasurable, must go through measurable means when it is being designed and in the end must be unmeasurable”, he said. ML: He’s a bit of a mystic in his speaking I think.
I never really understand the guy. But I do understand his buildings when I walk around in them. AN: But surely you understand ‘Architecture is the reaching out for the truth’? ML: What could that mean!
With Kahn I see a man that sketched simple geometric shapes, and then somehow, mysteriously creates order in them of the most fascinating quality. AN: You said it- he speaks about the spiritual air of a building.
The Philip Exeter Academy has those crisscrossing lines similar to what you do in your work MA: Yes.
I really recognize something in how he deals with space. AN: What do you think of Antoni Gaudi’s architecture? ML: I’ve never been inside any of his buildings. I know the images, but for my taste it is perhaps too organic.
I see the quality, and the buildings must be great. AN: Ok. Your work emphasizes geometry. ML: But I always like straight Modernism or Art Deco leading up to it more. AN: Like the Bauhaus? ML: I am very fascinated by Bauhaus.
Also, the hybrid they tried to make of all disciplines.
Russian Constructivism. AN: Hybrids. I think that is what your installation/performance is all about MA: I think you are right. I am not an architect, but people always ask me if I am one, or an engineer. AN: Hybrid life in the 21st century MA: What would that be- hybrid life nowadays?
The way I am handling that now is really new for me.
This is the first project that really puts the centre point of my project outside of the installation itself. AN: The beauty will be to sync all into a ‘whole’ body of work.
Is there a possibility of relocating this work in other spaces? ML: The system, the wood grid, can be done in many places. But the connection it makes with the location is site-specific. Not to say that the library location is completely unique and one of a kind. AN: But it is ML: Well it might be, yes. AN: Because you can never replicate the library anywhere else, with the people flowing into the building, its location, etc. ML: Exactly. There are similarities with earlier projects. The one in the shopping mall was similar, but certainly not identical AN: Of course, that shows a rhythm. ML: It is difficult to find locations, as I want to use. I need a public place that allows for a mix of my work and the location. But I also need some sort of a retreat in that space- to be able to work in relative quiet. AN: That precludes open spaces outdoors ML: The problem with open spaces will be: my work will become a sculpture, or a monument. AN: Apart from being created in a place of ‘too much’ external? ML: I need some sort of intimacy for my work. Wide-open spaces don’t provide that. AN: What is the duration of this installation/performance? ML: We started on the first of February (2017), and the process will continue until the end of April- 3 months.
Building up the work, making it more complex, but also taking it away again. There will be no moment when the work is finished. AN: Construct, deconstruct, show voids. ML: It takes another breed of artist than me to make a piece that will stay where it is. AN: Are you making any connections between the installation and the primary function of this particular space? The Library? ML: Well… it is a very open place. There is the studio, which operates in the limelight of the library system. It is there, it is hidden a bit, it is not very official, but it is there. And it is open to society in the best way possible in that building (the Johannesburg City Library). Also, it is free-no entrance fee. Everybody can use a table to study there. I also like the fact that therefore access to my art will be free. It is a place to explore ideas, to encounter stuff you were not looking for but stumble upon when checking the books. AN: Your work brings in ‘noise’. Do you think it does not detract? ML: We are in a peculiar spot in the library. The big open spaces we use are ‘half there’. They are in-between the old library and the new parts built into it in 2012. We are strangely very visible but at the same time a bit out of sight. We do any noisy work before opening hours, or in a nearby studio. AN: Ok. The joining is done in plain view? ML: Yes, but that is very quiet work. And we are in a very deep space. The people studying are not disturbed AN: Your work is full of repetitions, of hexagonal shapes, crisscrossing lines
ML: Repetition it is, yes. AN: Interceptions, and optical intrusion on space. What other elements play on what you are doing? ML: The use of wood. That has its own will, and it is handwork. It is precise but not. AN: Wood-organic and a bit pliant. It’s a very basic material to build with.
ML: More basic would be clay AN: Do you nail the joints? ML: Everything fits together with bolts and nuts. We drill holes and fix parts together with bolts and nuts- like meccano. AN: Will the structure be freestanding, or cling to the interior of the library for support? ML: We will lift it, with hoists. I would prefer to connect with the library walls, but the building is very fragile. So I think it will be more or less free from the walls. But I will do my best to connect to the actual library building to avoid a structure that appears to be detached from it. AN: Thanks, Mathijs. We are done for this set. From a chat on Facebook Messenger, 10am, February 16, 2017