Splitting

Imaginary dialog between Ronny Hardliz and Gordon Matta-Clark

by Ronny Hardliz

Published in NEROmagazine and on undo.net

Ronny Hardliz is a Swiss architect and artist. He was a resident at the Istituto Svizzero di Roma (ISR) for two years. In his work, Hardliz uses the field of art to produce architectural interventions that explore the limits of architecture. He also researches theoretical issues in architecture. The Italian version of his book "Synkoperotomachia Poliphili", winner of the Premio Letteraio Lattanzio, and was thus published by Editore Sovera in 2007. He made the positive-negative intervention piece, "Four Corners - Homage to Gordon Matta-Clark", for the reopening of the ISR and for the exhibition 41˚ 53' x 12˚ 29',  Tra-Monti 005. The project consisted of cutting three corners out of a glass and steel pavilion and moving them into the Forum Romanum.

Gordon Matta-Clark was an American artist who worked with abandoned buildings, cutting geometrical shapes out of their structure. His most radical piece "Splitting" consisted in cutting a standard suburban house, the Humphrey Street building, in half. This project was followed by "Four Corners", the removal of the four corners of the roof of the same building, that were then placed on display in galleries. Gordon Matta-Clark died of cancer in 1978 at the age of 35. None of his on-site interventions have survived, they only exist through documentation.

Imaginary dialog between Ronny Hardliz and Gordon Matta-Clark is a text that Ronny Hardliz has composed by using both his own statements and extracts from interviews by Liza Bear with Matta-Clark. The intention of the art piece "Four Corners" and this text is to keep alive the work of Gordon Matta-Clark, because the author believes that it is worth being repeated.

RH      In my work "Four Corners", which I made as a homage to you, I cut three of the four corners out of the studio pavilion located in the garden of the Istituto [Svizzero di Roma] and placed them next to the Basilica Ulpia of the Foro di Traiano [next to Piazza Venezia]. The elements of the pavilion gained a new significance when aligned with the columns of the basilica: they became an object of museological observation. They could be read as leftovers of a past or imaginary space and, at the same time, they could also be used as simple urban structures by passers-by, for example as a place to take a rest - something that also happens to fragments of antique ruins.

The remaining part of the pavilion, a prefabricated glass and steel construction, was opened up to its environment through the three vast openings; one could see a palm tree here, a church tower there. However, more importantly than making the surroundings visible, the roughly cut openings reminded us of the missing corners, which were in the Forum. And they reminded us of the transience of static architecture, of the dynamic condition that is typical for architecture between two static stages, of the enormous movement of material and energy needed to make architecture. In this sense, the absence of architecture here was very architectural.

GMC  ...Most of the things I’ve done that have "architectural" implications are really about non-architecture, about something that’s an alternative to what’s normally considered architecture...

RH      Well, to me what you call non-architecture actually holds the true quality of architecture. For example, the void space between buildings determines people’s behaviors to a much greater degree than, let’s say, a fancy façade. Voids, views, cracks, even movements can be more architectural than buildings themselves.

GMC   ...When you’re living in a city the whole fabric is architectural in some sense...

RH     Exactly. Beyond their status as ruins, as sculptural objects, the corners in the Forum were being architecturally used. People sat down in their shadow to eat lunch or sought shelter from the rain, homeless people occupied them during the night to sleep. The corners became part of the fabric of the city, both urbanistically and socially. And yet their presence was disturbing because of their strange form so they were simultaneously artistic object and architectural fabric.

GMC   ...That’s one of the things I like about the Humphrey Street building, it has a curious object scale ambiguity to it. The cut makes the building into a manipulated thing, like an object, though it’s as much the idea of a cut as the functional construct that interests me... ...In fact, I would be very interested in translating cuts like this into still usable or inhabited places. It would change your perceptions for a while, and it would certainly modify privacy a great deal...

RH      The "Four Corners" project not only transformed the pavilion into an object, it also introduced the cutouts into inhabited public space. Confrontation became inevitable and everybody’s perception was modified. The concrete slabs being used as pedestals or the windows between two exterior spaces were very visible results of the cut and provoked a lot of puzzlement. I guess that’s what you mean when you talk about the cut as a functional construct, the inevitable rupture of the normal. That is what interests me in your work: the idea of the cut as a rupture. Introducing a cut into architecture inevitably means bringing architecture to its limits and questioning it. Somehow, working as an artist makes it easier for us to explore these limits or edges of architecture. Artists can make architecture as an experiment, like in a laboratory. In the field of art many of the connotations usually linked to architecture don’t exist in the same way or to the same degree, such as utility or functionality. The artist acts according to his own motivations and is not dependent on the desires of the client, nor do most of the legal restrictions of building apply. In a way, the cut illustrates the idea of a laboratory very directly.

GMC  ...Yes, a cut is very analytical. It’s the probe! The essential probe... ...The whole thing about introducing architecture into my work has been developing for a long time, that’s becoming clear to me. It’s not about using sculptural ideas on architecture, it’s more like making sculpture through it... ...To some degree that’s the aspect I think of as sculptural, a vigorous transformation process that starts to redefine the given. In the case of the Humphrey Street building it was cutting...

RH      But from an architect’s point of view such a sculptural transformation process has important implications. To think of architecture as transformation rather than invention means to give great importance to the existing and the time and work its transformation requires. Now, in the case of the "Four Corners" project, the actual act of cutting was what transformed the pavilion. This act of cutting made the transformation of architecture visible. I would even say that the act of cutting made architecture happen. By transforming architecture as if it were a block of marble we show that every new architecture is only a transformation of a previous architecture, and therefore the transformation process is more architectural than the architecture itself. I remember when we took out the first window from the pavilion. Since its construction was originally hidden, it took a lot of guessing and cutting to get to know it. But once we hit the right point with the drill, we could heave it out. This event, the slow slipping out of the embracement of the construction, reminded me of the birth of a baby - after all this effort, after all this work!

GMC  ... I think it’s very physical. When you were there watching us remove a corner of the building, there was a lot of huffing and puffing and climbing, and some minor acrobatics. Besides, spending those weeks and weeks with a machine in your hand as an extension of the physical event makes it a hardhat performance, producing cleanlined brutality...

RH      Hm, certainly, in the edge of a cut and in the absence of material all the work can be sensed. However, I’m not sure that performance is the right word, is it?

GMC  ... I mean, it’s not a performance for people to watch, but it’s obviously an event, the result of an activity which is peripheral to performance. It is a kind of strange contradiction, something that doesn’t fit into performance as such because there has been no specially isolated activity, so the whole place and its constituent actions form the record. I suppose in that sense it’s very clear that the activity and the detailed time are part of the piece...

RH      To me these actions are like a ritual in which the genesis of architecture is being celebrated. It’s as if we were playing architecture. In a ritual, we don’t need to have spectators. It’s enough to know that the ritual takes place. Therefore, the piece consists in both the resulting object and the telling of its making. By the way, this is a typical characteristic of your work. None of your interventions are conserved today. We only have records such as films, photographs, interviews...

GMC  ... Little documentation. Which none of us like anyway...

RH    Whether we like the quality of the documentation or not, today it shows us your work without creating a hierarchy between the object and the making. In regards to the projects I have made as homage to you, I consider the documentation of your pieces as a score, like a musical composition, that is worth being repeatedly interpreted and performed in order to allow a renewed experience of the work at different places and in different times.

GMC  ... maybe it’s consistent with everything I’ve done so far. The fact that it is transitory...

RH     It’s probably an inherent characteristic of site-specific art in general, that it exists at a certain place in a certain time, and transferring it to a museum creates a dilemma. Which, by the way, is similar for architects, whose actual work - the buildings - cannot be exhibited.

GMC  ... Exactly. The dilemma has existed since Land art, and I don’t think it’s liable to be resolved in another show. So there is a kind of schizophrenia: [on the one hand] there’s work that’s related to conventional gallery exhibition space. And then there’s what interests me more, how to extend a real environmental situation into something that’s more accessible for people...

RH      After splitting the Humphrey Street building you had the four corners from the roof removed and exhibited as abstract objects in galleries in order to signify the real place of the artwork according to the "site" and "non-site" dialectic of Robert Smithson. Contrary to that, in my "Four Corners" project I moved the corners into the Roman Forum in order to make both the corners, as well as the remaining corps of the pavilion, accessible to the people. In this sense, the pavilion’s real environmental situation in the garden [of the Swiss Institute] was extended into another real environmental situation in the city. In this way not only the physical cut of the structure, but also the spatial cut in the Forum were analytical probes. In fact, during the month that the corners were located in the Forum people didn’t stop at only using it in a normal behavioral way, they actually physically abused it. They wrote poetry on the white surfaces of the walls, they tagged them, sprayed graffiti, applied stickers and posters. Somehow the piece worked like a socio-cultural condenser and after a while the corners were filled with stratifications of signs and messages revealing a contemporary history of subcultural expressions.

Now, I would like to end with your words ...In this way, I could adapt my work to still another level of the given situation. It would no longer be concerned with just a personal or metaphoric treatment of the site, but finally responsive to the express will of its occupants...