April 14, 2009

Architects Have a "Field" Day

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There is a question that plagues architects: “Is the building in the drawing or the built work?” Since much of architecture happens on paper and in scale models, architects have had to confront the issue of scale again and again. Architecture students rarely build their assignments in life-scale, rather opting for more wieldy sizes. A handful of professional architects are as famous for their works on paper as they are for their built works — Lebbeus Woods, notably, as well as L.A.-based firm Morphosis.
Three international visiting critics in the department of architecture have taken this issue to task with their massive installation on the Arts Quad, “Field,” which was put up on Saturday and goes down today. Rather than leaving their ideas on paper, “Field” was an inhabitable, interactive and human scale intervention. Comprised of 2800 red sacks diligently filled with hay and staked into the turf by the critics and students, “Field” highlighted the rolling topography of the Arts Quad.
The installation was timed to honor the 40th anniversary of the Earth Art exhibition that was curated by Willoughby Sharp at the Andrew Dickson White Museum of Art. The Earthworks exhibition featured outdoor installations and works by artists who would later be hailed as visionaries, such as Walter de Maria, Robert Smithson and Gordon Matta-Clark.
The “Field” installation, by critics Mauricio Pezo, Sofia von Ellrichshausen and Yehre Suh, differed from the majority of Earth Art works in one notable way. The “Field” installation was superficial in its material palette – rather than working directly with natural materials, “Field” was constructed from red bags and hay alien to the site. The current state of the installation however, was not how it was originally planned. The suspicious, but distinctive smell of a ­— well, barn — lingering around Sibley indicates the out-of-place nature of the materials.
The not-so-cautious nature of drunk students walking across the Arts Quad may have also been detrimental to getting “Field” approved by the powers that be; the original plan for “Field” was a little less squishy, a little more rigid. Lisa Nesterova ’11, a student in Yehre Suh’s third year studio, said that, “From what I understand, the initial idea was sticks or poles which would make a new horizontal datum [to contrast the slope of the Quad].” The red bags filled with hay provided a less hazardous intervention.
Ultimately, it is the unintended consequences of “Field” that made it most successful. Where it differed from the Earth Art works — its impermanence and its function as an obstacle to students — resulted in an unanticipated effect. In the days since “Field” was installed, students have been freely messing with the bags. They move them out of the way when they need to play Frisbee. They pick them up and throw them at one another. They move them out of line just for the hell of it.
The oh-so-well aligned grid which on Saturday rigorously divided the quad is now a little bit of a mess. On the other hand, this registration of movement and activity in the quad is an interesting result of the “land art” installation. “Field” began as something empirical — in the press release, the creators described it as “an idealized and abstract pattern of the Cartesian knowledge.” The riotous, Frisbee playing, sunshine-enjoying students however, disrupted this rigid organization and turned “Field” into a more participatory, engaged installation. Since the land art movement started in some ways as a rebellion to get out of the stuffy galleries and closed rooms that typically exhibit art, it only makes sense that “Field” has taken on a sense of rebellion itself.