JORGEN TANDBERGOpinion

5x5x5: Model / Primary Atmospheres

23 April 2013
Architectural Association, London

Peter Alexander, Green Wedge, 1969

Peter Alexander studied at the AA from 1960 to 62 but is most famous for being part of the Californian ‘Light and Space’-movement of minimal art (also known as ‘Primary Atmospheres’, ‘Finish Fetish’), and for his signature resin pieces. In stark contrast to the polemics and anti-illusionism of the contemporaneous east coast minimalism and hard-edge painting, his sculptures are both mimetic and romantic. They appear to the viewing subject as pigments suspended in space, allowing a form of ‘entry’ similar to a painting, where the gaze continues inwards into the object, stopping at an indeterminable point. Alexander is said to have stumbled upon the technique while repairing a surfboard when the resin he was using dried up in a plastic cup, sunlight refracting through the material.

Peter Alexander, Prado, 2009

The pieces are as such non-polemical in their conception and origin, purely literal material studies with a defined physical form. But they simultaneously transgress the border between paintings and objects because of their materiality as pigments and powders spread thinly within a transparent material. The pieces seem to internalise both the beauty of a Californian, hedonistic beach lifestyle and its negative counterpart – the emptiness of any beauty produced for consumption.

James Mak, Intermediate School Studio Project
Resin, pigments, onyx filler

Most of Alexander’s pieces have literal names, referring only to the physical and minimal object itself (Green Wedge, Drips etc.) – but where minimalist sculpture works by inhabiting the same space as the subject, promoting a world of transparent exteriority. Alexander’s resin objects allow for a second reading of a figurative nature – an ‘internal space’ within the objects that is potentially complete, united, calm – slices of air, extracted from a vaguely recognizable time and place. They are simultaneously depicted and actual spaces, sublime images of emptiness and literal pieces of toxic plastic.

 

Josh Penk, Intermediate School Site Model
Resin, slate filler

‘Green Wedge’ for example, represents the waters outside of the Californian coast. Its gradient of colour is produced by the geometry of the form, the wedge shape which allows light to penetrate the object differently at different points. Its form of user-activation, the ‘entry’ where your vision travels inwards in the object’s internal atmosphere, works on the pre-conceptual level of perception. It requires a certain concentration, close to the reverie described by Rousseau and Bachelard: where an escape from the social self is made possible in meeting with the object of contemplation. Or Emil Kaufmann’s sublime, the absorptive state of ‘calm meditation in a solemn immobility’.

Jacek Rewinski, First Year 5x5x5m Fragment of the Royal National Theatre 1:50
Resin, pigments

This ‘entry’ is however also continuously counteracted by the ‘presence’ of the physical object itself, forming a dialectic where what is the correct reading remains ambiguous – object or representation. Returning to resin casting in recent years, Peter Alexander seems to have become more confident in this internal contradiction within his work. ‘Prado’ (2009), a perfect green cube, apart from the obvious translation of ‘meadow’, gives allusions to the abstract backgrounds in portraits by Velazquez and Goya that Alexander encountered as a young man in Madrid. These backgrounds perform a similar function of deferral and allow your reading to remain open – between pictorial illusion and empty abstraction.

Gleb Sheykin, Fragment of the Royal College of Physicians 1:50
Resin, black pigment, stone fillers

Brandon Whitwell-Mak, 5x5x5m Fragment of the Economist Building 1:20
Resin, pigments

In January-March 2013, the media studies courses ‘5x5x5: Model’ and ‘Articulating Volumes’ executed a series of resin casts, exploring the gap between depicted and literal space inherent in architectural representation. The main purpose was to escape flatness and to produce some kind of beauty. The courses were an introduction to the workflow employed to create a cast resin model; mould making, casting, joining and finishing. The students then chose the appropriate means for representing spaces as cast models: detail level, colour, opacity or casting technique. Each space studied was translated into a model by being abstracted to its most telling and preferably non-canonical motif, and modelled as one or more volumes that would refract light in a certain manner. The success of the study relied on how well it reduced the original architecture (what was kept, what was left out) and on its material execution. Apart from using resin as a medium, there were few constraints. As unit work was brought into the mix, each model came as a surprise to the tutors (a parametric model of a residence for Mumi trolls, a functional door handle cast with ground AA stock brick).

 

Joshua Harskamp, 5x5x5m Fragment of Barbican area 1:50
Resin, pigments, stone fillers

 

The series of models was photographed as site-less spatial fragments – a non-nostalgic archaeology of sorts. In each other’s company, they imply a range that lies between literal objects and virtual spaces, conceptual versus visual transparency and opacity. They aim to be contradictory; existing between representation and literal thing-ness, and between fragments and holistic objects. To highlight their constructed nature, the objects were presented together with printed drawings of their moulds’ components.

 

For more information:

The Media Studies course, Sampling 5x5x5 – Model is taught by Jorgen Tandberg and Chris Dyvik, along with expertise from the AA Workshop

Course Reference Blog