ArchitectureIssue 15

Modelling: an interview with Hesselbrand

Three Found Models at the Revue Gallery

5 August 2016 — 30 August 2016

For the whole of August, through the glass front­ing of the Revue Gallery passers-by will glimpse a large object dominating the interior. It looks like an alien spacecraft before the detail has been added in post-production; like a children’s play fort; or perhaps like the hutch of a vast, elephant-sized rabbit, or some other nonsensical chimera. You smaller, pedestrian, human animals, will be tempted inside the gallery. You will adopt the faux-seriousness of someone who isn’t sure they have the right to be there; of someone, simultaneously, who doesn’t want to have his leg pulled unawares or made to seem a fool; and so you will feign overwhelming – and overwhelmingly serious – intellectual interest, peering closely at the model. You will use its bulk, too, to shield yourself from the initiate at the reception desk until you have a better idea of what’s going on. You may even have had to ring the bell to get inside. The Revue Gallery are aristocratic in manner; we don’t much care for visitors who aren’t prepared to ring for art.

Circumspectly examining the model you notice a blurb tucked away next to it. “Model 1”, it reads, “Movement is dis­locating, but not alienating. Travel creates spaces of exception, inescapable without location. It is speed that brings us together. Being nowhere is what allows you to be here.” Like Alice after reading ‘Jabberwocky’ – for which animal this hutch might very well have been designed – you feel that “Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas – only I don’t exactly know what they are!” We are here to help.

And it is well worth finding out. This exhibition con­tains three such large models, each different. It is the work of the architectural triumvirate Hesselbrand: a group of three architects one of whom, Jesper Henriksson, I had the chance to interview. They are up-and-comers, ones to watch; Hesselbrand was awarded the contract to design the British Pavilion at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale – a precocious feat for three recent students in their mid-twenties – and their practice concerns rethinking living space. Here at the Revue Gallery, however, they seem to be taking the chance to explore some theoretical concerns with space more roamingly.

“These models”, Jesper tells me, are “systems for how to capture found spaces through a process of abstraction.” That sounds awfully complicated, but it turns out not to be. It is, in fact, also rather brilliant. What Jesper means by this, he explains, is that Hesselbrand have attempted to provide the spatial cues for particular social situations without the spaces in which they typically appear. To take an example: Model 3 attempts to replicate the social conditions provided by a stunning natural vista; a beautiful landscape or a sunset perhaps. This blurb reads “Approaching strangers demands a social excuse. There must be a reason for contact. A distant object that cannot be approached, a pleasing but uninhabitable view, allows us to wait at its edge together.” Model 3, accord­ingly, sprawls in landscape (rather than portrait); it occupies one wall of a room, rather than standing in the middle like Model 1, so you can’t get round it; it is set forward, in the middle, away from the wall, creating a distance that forbids reaching through it to touch the wall. It attempts to reproduce, in utter abstract, such spatial conditions offered by a natural vista; whether it produces the same kind of conversations and social actions remains to be seen.

“Architecture ceases to become art as soon as it is finished” Jesper quips during our interview. He has several phrases like this which he drops quite casually, not as gnomic pretensions but as though I should immediately grasp them; he is sincere. And they are not jargon, for he is able to explain. This particular remark was made in the context of a statement of purpose: “[Hesselbrand] are interested in taking a space and applying it to somewhere else and letting it depart from its origin.” As soon as something becomes functioning architecture it is difficult to view it as standing for anything else. It no longer possesses the cast of the globally representative, but becomes specifically, restrictively sited instead. It loses its status, somehow, as rep­resentative art; hence why these particular objects are ‘Models’. Were they anything more concrete they would cease to be so powerful as abstractions.

“What sort of space is the spacecraft modelled on?” I ask him, perhaps not in exactly those words. “That’s a taxi” he says, in his blunt but soothing Nordic twang. “We hope that the people who see it think about what they’re looking at. We’re not interested in educating or telling people what to look at. It’s more of a sensory experience than a verbal one.” Come and take a ride in the taxi yourself; see where or if it takes you. Have a gander at the vista in Model 3, and strike up a conversation with the beautiful model next to you. And, since the mere verbal doesn’t do Jesper justice, we’ll leave Model 2 a surprise.

 

Installation photographs by Max Creasy.