PARIS — Having missed Greg Lynn at the LUMA Arles Foundation’s moving (literally) presentation of Frank Gehry’s architectural models a while back, I sprang at the occasion to look into The Invisible Drawings exhibition by Jakob + Macfarlane at School Gallery Paris. Dominique Jakob and Brendan Macfarlane, a cutting-edge architectural team in France, have done the Restaurant Georges Pompidou Centre (2000), the reconstruction of the theater of Pont-Audemer in Normandy (2001), the library Florence Loewy Books by Artists (2001), and the wonderfully snakey Cité de la mode et du design (2010) on the left bank of the river Seine, among others.
While, strictly speaking, what I saw was neither invisible — architectural drawings from seven projects (2008–14) that they had never shown in public before — nor drawings (they showed limited edition digital prints made from their CAD renderings) the end results were elegant, thought-provoking and compelling; my imagination was engaged with both the possibilities of actual architectural space and the immersive ideals of virtual reality.
Unable to sleep later that night, I mentally compared the virtual spatial conditions in the most recent project “Pavillon Nomade I” (2014) (a collaboration with digital artist Miguel Chevalier) with two of the architectural masterpieces I had experience in Europe: Le Corbusier’s “Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut” in Ronchamp (1954) and Frank Gehry’s “Guggenheim Museum Bilbao” (1997).
The “Pavillon Nomade I” drawings held up very well, by comparison, all having a fertility about them that is absorbing. They all seem to share exquisite whipping forms that suggested to me a world of transmutation. All three architectural projects share a wonderful topological vision that is lashing a compound (but unified) field.
Another drawing, “PEX” (2013), I read as a labyrinth from above, and so a symbol of sensorial immersion into architecture itself, as the entire point of a labyrinth lies in searching about – and the (self)-discovery encountered through the search.
Staring at “PEX” (2013) I thought back to R&Sie(n)’s 2005 exhibition “I’ve heard about…©” at the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris‘s temporary space at the Couvent des Cordeliers, where they utilized generative heterogeneous mutations in the creation of proposed utopian city space. In fact, they proposed the artificial growing (generative and robotic) of extruded urban housing where new city blocks are constructed, via computer-robotic processes, by feeding off the carcasses of derelict and abandoned buildings.
Given the organic-looking, biomorphic architectural forms Jakob + Macfarlane create, I could not avoid thinking again about R&Sie(n) and also about the visionary city planning put forth by the Situationist International. Certainly Jakob + Macfarlane’s drawings explore digital technology as growth, both as a conceptual tool and as a means of production, using technology to create more flexible and responsive environments. But the batches of whiplash lines and flowing voluptuous forms suggested more than that, they took me to that smooth space between physical embodiment and virtuality, where we humans now teeter. They created mental caverns.
Of course this cavernous effect depends, to a large extent, on the personal psychological adaptability of the viewer in accord with the proposed spatial depth cues. But I found myself easily immersed in a version of phenomenological liminality. This, according to the anthropologist Arnold van Gennep, is the condition of being on a threshold between spaces. There is a kind of transcendental breathing going on in all their forms, a blending and bending, in and out, between landscape and architecture.
Moreover, there is a definite tangled and intertwined approach to the vector that reminds me of the dithyrambic visual hyper-logic which has manifested in all modes of decadent artistic periods. The multiplicity of its interwoven-ness challenges the idea of simplicity, a modernist-minimalist idea that has taken on the intensity of righteous injunction, in many cases.
Importantly, their A-life-like rendered forms are embedded within the synthetic and connected present. Yet looking closely at “Pavillon Nomade II” (2014), I imagined it made by a late 21st century robot dandy, a hyper-dandy, as here are the Baudelairean/Duchampian ideals of nonchalance, elegance, and inscrutability along with the triumph of a radical derision for the handmade. Jakob + Macfarlane’s drawings conceptually extol such dandy artifice and knotted ambivalence while staying open to the breath of the voluptuous landscape.
Jakob + Macfarlane’s The Invisible Drawings continues at School Gallery (81 Rue du Temple, 75003 Paris) through June 7.