New York

Mark West

The Storefront for Art and Architecture invites artists and architects to consider installations that use the interior as well as the exterior space, encouraging them to exhibit investigative work. This past summer, architect Mark West became an unofficial artist-in-residence in order to construct the first exhibition of the fall season. West’s installation Pressure Buildings and Blackouts, 1992, centered on the relationship between technology and the conceptualization of a work. In this instance, his productions concerned new structural and representational methods: what at first seemed like parallel yet independent pursuits became strongly linked in the gallery’s close quarters.

For the past four years, West has experimented with concrete, which has always been used according to conventional methods of construction. Typically, concrete is poured into plywood forms, and the final form is based on the shapes, sizes, and planar geometry of milled lumber. West observed that common practices produced not only predictable but problematic results—their strict geometry compromised their structural capacity by restricting the effect of gravity.

The “pressure buildings” section of this dense exhibition included columnar and sinewy forms made by pouring wet concrete into fabric tubes that resembled the casings used for sausage, which were individually sewn by West on a sewing machine. The sacks encouraged certain forms but did not completely determine the final form. The viscosity of the concrete and the force of gravity stretched and shrunk the fabric in unanticipated ways. Bases spread generously onto the floor. Capitals suggested new iconographies based on fresh technologies rather than classical motifs. The shafts of interior columns had a lush and sensual variety. All of the objects embodied tension as the weight of wet concrete tested the flexible fabric tubes. Construction became a negotiation between esthetic vision, structural characteristics, and a less restrictive use of materials.

In addition to building columns—fundamental structural supports—West filled fabric sacks and tossed them through holes he had cut in the gallery’s exterior wall. Like knots and coils of intestines, they slithered out and flowed down the elevation to the sidewalk, their actual solidity belying their apparent pliability.

The section with West’s drawings and collages, included large drawings on fabric and small collages sandwiched between glass shelves supported by a web of cables and ropes. The “blackouts” were an idiosyncratic method of collage, drawing, and erasure. Surfaces of cut paper and appropriated images were drawn on to create a dense black field, upon which the artist then began a dedicated assault with an eraser. Images were depicted through a removal of the thick fog of lead and graphite. Drawing became an exercise in illumination through blinding blackness, a singular process of excavation. Thickets of mechanistic and organic forms, the drawings of crabs’ legs, hearts, and arterial systems coexisted with sci-fi structures. Throughout, there was a crushing sense of claustrophobia as space was liberated from darkness and then filled with an overwhelming collection of images.

In both the concrete forms and drawings, West’s work attempted to reexamine the use of materials that can influence architectural theory, proposing strategies for a more invigorated, intellectually challenging praxis. Ultimately, West’s work encourages viewers to desire and expect a full range of questions and responses to architecture.

Patricia C. Phillips