Katleen Vermeir

Architecture for third parties

Prior digression

Architecture and the plastic arts appear to be increasingly intolerant of each other and are starting to resemble each other less and less. In Antiquity, the Graeco-Roman era and also in the Middle Ages, the specific distinction between the fine arts and the technical (architecture?) was not made at all. It was only masters that were highly esteemed. Architecture and the plastic arts encountered each other in a symbiosis of functionality and symbolism.
The one was inconceivable without the other. In the gesamtkunstwerk at the turn of the century and the International Style (the worldwide fusion of art and science), the intention, by synthesis, of treating art and architecture as equals was repeated rather meagrely.These were the final convulsions – cramped simulations of a homogenisable world-view. Today, the only thing architecture and the plastic arts can do together is go shopping.They are totally alienated from each other and mutually exploit each other. The artist integrates/manipulates architecture from the outside as something exotic, or exciting. Architecture only becomes workable to the artist when it is stripped of its dogmatic, standardised functional character. There are plenty of examples of this. Dan Graham, Gordon Matta-Clarck, Atelier van Lieshout, etc…Whereas the artist ‘works’ with architecture, the architect employs the artist and enters into a partnership with him.These are two totally different attitudes. The two Swiss architects Herzog & De Meuron, for example, worked for the Eberswalde Library together with Thomas Ruff.He designed the pattern for a silkscreen print that was to be applied on the concrete facade of the library like a sort of wallpaper. In the end it was the architecture that prevails, partly because of the emphatically functional nature of the library, even though Ruff’s print surrounds the entire building. In combination with true (read:’functional’) architecture, the plastic arts assume a rather small scale, something second-rate. It becomes integrated art; a magic potion to provide the architecture with meaning. The Flemish Community’s De Ferraris and Conscience buildings are striking examples of this. Art investigates architecture (blows it up) whereas architecture exploits art in a marketing sense. This mutual shopping, ideological or otherwise, is a new contemporary relationship between the two disciplines. A relationship which in itself need not be problematical in any way.

Katleen Vermeir, November-december 1999/Ambulant architecture

Since 1998, the work of Katleen Vermeir (b. 1973) has displayed an increasing interest in architecture. This is proven by the titles of several recent works and installations (ambulant architecture, liquid architecture, genius loci , etc.), as well as the actual ‘architectural’ interventions in existing non-architectural contexts. Her use of the concept of ‘architecture’ must be interpreted as guiding rather than determinant. In her work, architecture is also stripped of its dogmatic functionalism; the functional is converted into an icon; a reinterpretable image. Vermeir’s architectural interest can be traced to her immense fascination for movment and for writing it down. Her early work includes countless ‘seismographic postcards’ (records of the landscape drawn during bus trips in China , in which her passive hand was guided by the bumpy roads), ‘movements in space’ (studies of the routes taken by people in exhibition rooms, dance halls, schools, building sites, etc.)and also recordings of her own patterns of movement (NY, NY, House with garden, adjacent rooms). In her drawings of movements, Katleen Vermeir succeeds in reproducing a specific spatial context in a highly direct and tactile way without having to sketch a literal image of it. The dimensions of her spatial image are provided by the capacity or incapacity for movement, distances between things and the topography.

Vermeir’s work ‘water Drawing’, a black & white silent video from 1999, can perhaps be seen as a pivotal work. Just like earlier works, ‘Water Drawing’ is a recording of her own patterns of movement. Only this time she is not moving through a real space but describes in her lines of movement a space from her memory. She draws the plan of a room with a brush and water on an open square with no surroundings. She has never seen this room, let alone lived in it. Someone has described to her in words what stands where in the room, as well as their relationships with each other expressed in subjective measurements by footsteps. In her turn, Vermeir traces the room out step by step from memory, on a highly personal 1to 1 scale.the jolts of her footsteps give a rhythm  to the marking of the lines and gives dimensions to a new space as well as the objects in it. The square was bathed in sunlight. The sunlight makes the lines white and mirror-like, though the heat makes the drawing disappear soon after it has been done. The plan is painted over again and again in an unceasing Sisyphean labour. The traces of water result in a hyper-transient petrification that makes the original walls and furniture even more abstract. Each part is repeatedly named and drawn but a total picture -an architecture- is never achieved. In the act of overdrawing, the initial hypermnesia seems to degenerate into a inescapable amnesia. The evaporating water reinforces this. What is to be done with spatial memories? Are they superfluous?

1D vs 3D
Even when Katleen Vermeir makes 3-D installations she still continues to draw, not with a pen or brush, but with materials less suited. With ‘ambulant architecture’ at Galerie Netwerk, she undertook an artificial excavation for the first time. It was artificial because there was actually nothing spectacular to dig up or scrape away. In the distant past, Galerie Netwerk was a terrace of workman’s houses. Using black thread, elastic bands and metal rods (doorway lintels), she ‘drew’ the old plan, the present structure and the unexecuted design plans  for the gallery in a new synthesis. Diagonal stairs, non-load-bearing walls and doorways are reduced to outlines in thread through wich one can walk freely. Here too the recording of movement is taken to extremes-walking through walls and objects. The convergence of past, present and future has something labyrinthine about it: it is complicated, indefinable, and has no clear aim, but clears space. Katleen Vermeir is here acting as an architect, a third party-an outsider-who makes do with unintentional and odd combinations and literally gives shape to them. The use of the ‘alien’ building materials disperses any apparent shortcoming and all form of imbalance. The absent and real context combine in a sublimated ‘super-context’, a succession of a-functional moments which are so (un)structured that the space can tolerate an increased level of chance. This is an architecture resulting from an impossibility in time, an architecture that resolutely undermines any form of aplomb.

2.5 D
‘Water Drawing’ is a two-dimensional work that manifestly lacks any form of extrusion. With ‘Liquid Architecture’, another silent black & white video from 1999, the third dimension (height, the Z axis) is included, though only as an imitation. The memory of a Chinese interior with a bed and table is painted with water in a trompe l’oeil perspective, once again in the open air and with no visible surroundings. The perspective and the patterns of proportions is only correct from the viewpoint of the static camera. Architecture is not a space but a drawing. The scale and location of the project make her personal recollection into a communal object; at first sight it is perhaps intangible for the occasional passer-by, but is nevertheless communal. Interior and exterior are definitively abandoned as concepts that regulate space. By painting her recollection of the room on the square, the intimate interior space loses its naturalness and the external space its emptiness. The entire shot is filled by the interior. Just as in ‘Water Drawing’, the iterative overpainting of the evaporated outlines provides for a subtle aedem set aliter, the same but different.

Peter Swinnen, 2000

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