Since 13 March, three exhibitions have been running in parallel in the architecture programme of deSingel: Bovenbouw’s The House of the Explorer, M.M. Olchawska’s The Lost City, and Dogma’s Rooms. Remarkably, not a single photograph is to be seen in any of these shows. For the most part, the exhibits in all three consist of drawings, and this, at first sight, seems to be the only connection between them. The shows are to be visited according to a spatial sequence, but they each have an autonomous character. The sequence starts with Bovenbouw’s monographic exhibition, on show in the larger part of the exhibition box, draped in heavy black curtains. The ‘cabinet’ under the lower ceiling at the end of the hall is hidden behind these curtains and houses M.M. Olchowska’s (artistic rather than architectural) work. At one end of this area, a staircase covered in felt – a remnant of the the Dom Hans Van der Laan exhibition that opened in October 2017 – leads to the corridor-like space in the upper floor where Dogma presents an analytical work on the history of architecture’s smallest actor, i.e. the ‘room’. All three shows radiate the sense of intimacy differently: Bovenbouw through a labyrinthine scenography wrapped by the curtains, Olchowska through her highly personal approach to architecture, and Dogma by drawing the visitor into the privacy of rooms. However, each of them manages to create their own universe and to emphasize what is essential to the work on display.
In Bovenbouw’s exhibition, the diversity of scales, buildings and presentation mediums creates a colourful universe spread over five rooms. These rooms have been created with untreated MDF walls, installed at 45 degrees to the existing walls of the main exhibition hall. The exhibition route becomes a zigzag through these rooms, with walls now thicker, now thinner, and comprising niches with models standing in them or literally built-in. Beautiful, large bas-reliefs of projects look as though they have been framed since, around them, beyond a few centimetres, a thin gap separates the ‘frame’ from the wall surface. Plans, sections, collages on A5 or A4 papers hang in groups, scattered throughout the exhibition. Four larger models rest on narrow pieces of MDF, again placed at 45 degrees on top of the walls. Seen from below they look like three-dimensional versions of the bas-reliefs. Visitors cannot get any closer to them. In the middle room of the exhibition, a round table has been laid out with books wrapped in green paper. These are some of Bovenbouw’s ‘friends’, their identity only revealed after lifting the green cover. The black curtains wrapping the enfilade create a very private atmosphere and simultaneously isolate the existing interior of the exhibition space. This heightens the sense of making a discovery. There is not a single line of text on the walls. The captions of 28 projects ranging from private houses to container parks, from city blocks to renovations of historic buildings are to be found in the visitor’s guide. Cheerful and complex, the exhibits draw the spectator into the baroque world of Bovenbouw, full of fascinations, layers and interests recurrently adapted in the designs. The absence of photography and of any more detailed information is compensated by the book accompanying the exhibition. It is hard not to want to get hold of this publication since the work on display fans one’s curiosity regarding how the practice operates, how the presented projects became a reality.
Malgorzata Maria Olchowska’s The Lost City, on the other hand, displays a very personal approach. Dreamy images made with recognizable architectural typologies radiate a certain melancholy. Olchowska reflects on the sensation of something that has vanished, of architectures that might once have contained something yet no longer contain anything, of cities made out of shadow-like buildings. As beautiful as these images are, however, they remain idiosyncratic, and this is also precisely their quality. Instead of making statements, Olchowska depicts cities from her imagination and lets them vanish. Her work draws the eye and mind into another world, where reality and illusion overlap. Accompanied by a short projection with music, a large book and three small models, a highly atmospheric environment is created, far from the reality of architecture.
Very different to Olchowska’s highly individual production and Bovenbouw’s monographic exhibition, Dogma has embarked on a journey to trace the minimum dwellings. Here the content is based on rooms and is organized according to two subtitles: ‘Loveless: The Architecture of the Minimum Dwelling’, and ‘The Room of One’s Own’. The corridor-like exhibition room serves this approach well. Dogma’s dry scenography uses the two long walls to show a series of drawings under both titles. With ‘Loveless’, a ‘chronological atlas’ of the history of the minimum dwelling is shown, starting in 150 BC and reaching the early twentieth century. Fifty digital, square, formatted prints of coloured plan perspectives hang on two rows. The second part of the exhibition is displayed on the opposite wall, with a row of landscape formatted, detailed perspective drawings of several rooms, again on two rows. Inevitably, one searches for parallels in how they have been organized and at times those parallels seem to be there: Lenin’s room resembles the spartan interior of a monk’s cell and this resemblance catches the eye because they hang above each other. The female worker’s room faces exactly the one-person room for a female worker by Pond & Pond from 1889 hanging on the opposite side in the ‘Loveless’ section. But hardly has the visitor begun to believe for a moment in a connection between the drawings than this awareness collapses again as there seems to be no red thread running through these beautiful drawings of the rooms. No dates are mentioned either, so that the time can only be guessed through the meticulously drawn details. At first sight the rooms are comparable, yet their characteristics differ for some of them were designed by architects and others not. The significance of yet others is mainly due to their occupant. The generic, functional cell of the monk is not far from Sigmund Freud’s famous study with the divan. Somewhere close to it a trained architect immediately recognizes the tent room by K.F. Schinkel. To detect a logic in this intriguing study of the room, visitors must consult the eponymous books of both sections, which are shown on four pedestals. As in the case of Bovenbouw’s exhibition, the generosity of the content stimulates a natural interest to want to know more about this thorough work on the relevance of the room in architecture. Dogma also conducts a silent plea for other forms of dwelling than the idealized version based upon ‘family’. By drawing the visitor into the valuable intimacy of one’s own room, the practice proves the importance of the intimate space versus the conventional, somewhat conservative, imposed idea of the ‘good’ dwelling in architecture. Whether it follows a recognizable method or not, it is a scrupulous study with a sound critique of what defines the dwelling today.
Whether or not it is intentional, the combination of these three very different exhibitions is a lucky one. They all address different perceptions of intimacy in architecture and autonomously offer distinct sensations on the topic through the rigorous production of respective content. In this regard, the combination of these three very different approaches forms a rare, noteworthy moment to experience in the tradition of architectural exhibitions.
Note: During the common finissage on 13.06.2019, Vlad Ionescu (U Hasselt) will reflect on the three shows.