‘A powerful architectural experience silences all external noise.’ ¹
Since the start of the pandemic, due to reduced opportunities to visit architectural spaces of interest, I have been making work through a more connected experience of home and this has been productive (see June 2020). Over recent weeks, however, reverberations from amplified external noise have impeded my experience of home. I wonder whether the shift in season and altered character of our contracted home are added contributors, or perhaps as time goes on, the shine of home may be tarnishing.
I miss experiencing somewhere different, encountering a new building or space. Until that time, I am using this opportunity to review recent work, research new ideas and consider new ways of working.
¹ Pallasmaa, J (2011) The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses
‘the house breathes differently when Yazz isn’t there’ ¹
It has been six months since the start of lockdown in March and our home has contracted once more (see May 2020). I am noticing seasonal shifts in the character of our home’s architectural light and shadow. It’s as if the building can sense something has changed. None of us knows how this next phase will unfold so, along with everyone else, and it seems even the architecture around us, we’re holding our breath.
During this time, I have been developing the series Drawing Breath by working with richer, deeper graphite and free standing, double sided frames.
¹ Evaristo, B (2020) Girl, Woman, Other
‘In great architectural spaces, there is a constant, deep breathing of shadow and light; shadow inhales and illumination exhales light.’ ¹
Continuing my series of drawings in response to moments of architectural light and shadow from around my home during lockdown, I have been testing installation ideas. The work Drawing Breath comprises plexiglass blocks containing both graphite drawings and cut outs on translucent paper that interact with each other when activated by natural light in the space.
For some time now, I have been exploring ways to communicate my response to architectural light and shadow and this new body of work feels like a promising line of inquiry. Like many, the initial shock of lockdown was destabilising. It has been interesting to reflect on how this new, unexpected drawing approach, that evolved from concentrated working with limited resources, has emerged through the restrictions of lockdown.
¹ Pallasmaa, J (2011) The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses
I have been thinking about the idea that buildings breathe (see February 2020) as this feels particularly pertinent in lockdown. Our homes have expanded to the demands of more inhabitants or contracted to shelter one or two. For some, home feels like a refuge, while for others, a restriction.
For me, after a period of contraction, our home is full again and I can feel the fabric of the architecture sighing. Having lived here for 20 years, it feels like our home is as much entwined in our family history as we are, familiar and integral to our rhythms, and I wonder at our home’s ability to recall and re-establish echoes of previous patterns.
With these ideas in mind, I have been working on a series of drawings, building on previous approaches. Inspired by moments of architectural light and shadow, I am exploring mark making and layering to re-examine and re-consider my experience of home at this time.
In line with ideas from the Beningbrough Hall Project, I am working on a series of drawings that considers the words silent and listen during lockdown; two words comprising the same letters. During this time, I am focusing on noticing, documenting (through photographs) and responding (through drawing) to moments of architectural light and shadow from around my home.
For me, drawing is an action of reception and expression, where I open up my responses to the felt experience of the moment. Through quiet, sensory engagement, I listen to what the experience of drawing is revealing to me. Paradoxically, during lockdown it has been more challenging to find moments of quiet and this has exposed how significant this is in my process. It has also, however, demonstrated that the relationship between silent and listen can be considered in our experience of architecture. Quiet moments, often through fleeting moments of light and shadow, when buildings reveal themselves to us and invite us to be still and listen.
Beningbrough Hall was constructed at a time when scientific thinking was concerned with ideas on light and shadow (particularly in terms of how we see light, projection and perspective). For me, architectural light and shadow connects us to those who have experienced a place through time; they also connect us to our own experiences of home.
As a means to consider how those who lived and worked at Beningbrough Hall experienced the space throughout its 300 years, I have been drawing in response to the architecture and have become interested in some of the decorative motifs found in the ornate plasterwork. These features would have become familiar over time and I am considering how to highlight them through my thinking on light and shadow. I have been testing Echoes of Light, glass bricks that I have etched with some of these drawings.
Preparations to install my video projection, Shadow Sketches, at Beningbrough have been interrupted due to lockdown, so I am transferring the focus of my working to my home to continue my inquiry.
Often when visiting a new place, I take time to experience the architecture through the senses, immersing myself in the feel of the space. As well as looking, I close my eyes, breathe in and smell the air, listen to the aural architecture, feel the atmosphere on my skin, and touch surfaces to feel traces of human use. I take notice of my observations and responses, store them in my memory to retrieve later when working.
The Hall is currently closed to visitors and undergoing some refurbishment. As my time on site is limited, rather than make drawings, I have chosen to take photographs to provide material to work with, so I can start working with these digitally. I find using a viewfinder helpful as a way to explore and gather information about a building, as it enables me to focus on specific points of interest. At this stage, I have limited my research to the main entrance hall and the first floor corridor as the Baroque plasterwork here is stunning. As I work in the space, I anticipate moments when the architecture might reveal itself to me. I am not surprised to notice the results of my work reflect my interest in light, shadow and repetitive, decorative motif.
Back in my studio, I have started to make video ‘sketches’ that focus on interesting architectural moments where I am experimenting with drawing out abstract forms and decorative motifs. This is a helpful way to become familiar with a building and test ideas. As well as focusing on the stunning architectural features, I am interested in uncovering and revealing any hidden or overlooked features, particularly the shifting light and shadow as I have a long held fascination with architectural light and shadow.
For me, buildings breathe, they expand and contract in two ways: firstly, in response to their context, the rhythms of their inhabitants, as well as the natural rhythms of light, seasons, passages of time; and secondly, in response to what is asked of them, their purpose. Buildings hold within them the human everyday but also the in-between, the rhythm of daily life that passes between us, the inhabitants and the building (including echoes of past). We are drawn into conversation, invited to glimpse these rhythms, when we experience and relish unexpected moments of light and shadow.
I am commencing a residency at Beningbrough Hall, Gallery and Gardens this month. Throughout 2020, I will be making work in response to the architecture, sharing my process with visitors to provide another way of experiencing the space.
Starting with desk research, I have been researching Beningbrough Hall, its history, construction, renovations, the people associated with it and their impacts on the architecture and how it has changed, both physically and how it is used. As well as textual research, visual clues such as maps, family trees, architectural drawings, historic drawings and photographs are all rich sources of material to discover how people may have experienced the Hall throughout its history. To establish a better understanding of the building and its construction, I have also researched the Georgian architectural style of English Baroque, its history and characteristics and the wider context of the Baroque period.
Although desk research is a good place to start as an introduction to context, there is no substitution to experiencing the space and I look forward to doing that very soon.