Arts Illustrated

June 16, 2020

The Gallery Architect

Beyond the public and the private space, the real and the virtual, the artifact and the artifice, architecture’s ‘audience’ has been reduced to a theatre audience of people, their indifference and dislocation an unrecognised threat to themselves

Gautam Bhatia

In a conceptual art exhibit in New York in the 1970s a cubical house is balanced on a point against all values of gravity and stability, against every conceivable principles of structural order. Its entrance door is at the top of a slanted wall with no possibility of approach. If you managed to make it inside, the chances of remaining there are slim, for the floor slants away at a steep angle and directs you past a window that is on the floor. A table and chair fixed on the wall close to the ceiling…. The whole composition was a dramatic simulation of architectural imbalance and convention, and conceded in its improbable display moments of satire, fetish and, most of all, a self-conscious preoccupation with hope that architecture could be practised as an art.

Gautam Bhatia Gallery Architect
City as Planter Box

The endless need to express a private autonomous view, has become a feeble characteristic of a profession wishing to exercise visual control over people’s lives – and in making farcical attempts to the extreme, offering at least, a picture of resistance to conventional codes and practices. But the subjective imposition of these small ideas, inebriated by design, technology or subversion could hardly surpass or impose itself on the natural struggle of construction and the way architecture behaved under the stress of  real life and seasonal change. Outside of the cube in the gallery, the temporal framework of the ordinary building retained its intensely humane characteristic. Buildings stood their ground, they aged, altered and decayed like human skin, and left you aggrieved at their decline and passing. The temporal generational nature of private space made it impossible to alter the memorial space of the home, and reduce it to mere artifact, an object of wonder under controlled condition.

Gautam Bhatia Gallery Architect
Buried Cities

The primary focus of the diplomacy also threw light on the nature of public and private space. When the home’s domestic dimension is a measurable personal identity, and seen as personal possession, the public realm is an altogether different matter. Its ambiguous outlines are under constant review, and too often subject to urban forces of memory and archeology.

To even begin to define public dimension, the architect needs to alter all architectural definitions and erase boundaries between construction, landscape, domesticity, urban life, sculpture and art. An idea of public cohesion that grows out of planned collision between strikingly diverse realities, the courtesies of reticence and restraint can no longer be practical in an open canvas with its obvious risks of experimentation, especially when an untutored public is its audience and critic. Beyond artifact, the space becomes enlarged by event, by encouraging accidental overlays distorting the familiar, and so forging a new language of communication. Such work revels in a changing audience, and calls upon the viewer to be a participant and alter the canvas to his or her own image.

Gautam Bhatia Gallery Architect Window Buildings
Window Buildings

The new resident of the city lives in a material gullibility. A spectator in his own home, sitting before a screen to experience the joys of domesticity. In so doing, the once active participant, only wishes to experience the enhanced view of himself on the screen. Everything is LIVE and tinged with the welcome of a computer download. Data on the net, people on long-haul flights, standup comedy, products bought with COD, bank wire transactions, everything occurred in the instantaneous perspective of virtual time. Only death, destruction and grief kept the body in tune with reality. A culture that had formed out of images had no need for connection to place or memory. But a nagging fear stalks the subconscious: the screen may just be a delusion. It may even go blank. What would happen then windows wouldn’t open, the microwave won’t operate, Facebook will disappear with all its friends. Architecture and all its attachments had to operate in a state of induced somnolence. People knew the best architecture was in international art shows and the Biennales, and the long-term resident of shabby streets and broken buildings was not a participant in its making.

Architecture Gallery Gautam Bhatia
Architecture Gallery

So in the eroding structures of participatory activity, architecture took a back seat. With the clamour of every building seeking its moment of fame, its planned noticeability went unnoticed. The unchanging visibility of the new architecture was a mere record of its inception through its short life. In its visible and planned difference, everything looked the same, a tireless stream of disjointed images sparked with nervous delight. Architecture’s participants were quietly and without fuss, reduced to a theatre audience of people who moved in and around the featureless terrain, their indifference and dislocation an unrecognised threat to themselves. Entirely unaware that another life was possible. In the centre of their own city they went in search of other possibilities, but found instead a large featureless gallery space, containing a conceptual art exhibit, with a cubical house balanced on a point, defying gravity.

All drawings by Gautam Bhatia


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