Christopher Hawthorne on when architecture and performance intersect
This interest in performance among architects is less a style or a fledgling movement than a register, a way of working. It’s a means of sketching out a new set of priorities — and giving up older ones that are tarnished or compromised. It’s also open-ended, challenging the idea that a building can ever really qualify as finished. It makes room for perspectives that come from other fields.
The artist Alex Schweder, for example, has been mining similar territory for nearly a decade (as have a handful of others in the art world, including Tino Sehgal). Schweder’s work is performance art in the familiar sense but also relies heavily and explicitly on architectural themes. Last year he and Ward Shelley produced a piece called “ReActor” that takes the form of a rotating glass house balanced atop a concrete column. The house was designed to behave like a see-saw: If you walked from the middle to one end, it would tip.
Schweder and Shelley moved into the house — each was allotted one half, with a shared bath in the center — and just by spending time there activated the themes of the piece, which include cooperation, solitude and the pedestal atop which critics and historians have placed Philip Johnson’s landmark 1949 Glass House in New Canaan, Conn.
This month Schweder — calling himself the Schweder Office of Architectural Performances, or SOAP — brought a new performance piece, “Architectural Advice for Performative Renovations,” to Edward Cella Art & Architecture, the gallery on La Cienega Boulevard. It’s part of a new annual show there called “Vernacular Environments,” which in this edition includes work by Robert Smithson, Stephen Berens, Jennifer Bolande and Raúl Cordero, among others.