Brigette Shim and Howard Sutcliffe, Steven Fong, General Idea, Marc Baraness, Tim Scott, Nolan Natale and Chris Brown, Blair Robins, Donald McKay, Renée Van Halm, James Brown and Kim Storey, Fred Urban

Curated by: Janice Gurney, Andy Patton and Allan Tregebov

10 May 1986 - 31 May 1986
Opening Reception 10 May 1986 8pm

The Interpretation Of Architecture

May 10 to May 31; Opening Saturday, May 10, noon to 6 pm.

The artists and architects featured at Mercer Union include: Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe, Steven Fong; General Idea; Marc Baraness; Tim Scott, Nolan Natale and Chris Browne; Blair Robins; Donald McKay; Renee van Halm; James Brown and Kim Storey; and Frederic Urban.

THE INTERPRETATION OF ARCHITECTURE is a multi-venue exhibition featuring the work of over forty artists and architects from Toronto and surrounding regions. The exhibition is intended to distinguish architecture from building and to suggest that architecture must be formally, socially and culturally articulate, and that it must surpass the reductive demands of program alone.

Although a significant number of local artists’ work consistently refers to architecture, there has been little or no previous contact between the art and architecture communities. This exhibition is intended to address this isolation, as well as the current status of architectural culture in Toronto. The architects included in this exhibition are those who have demonstrated a commitment to the local architectural culture.

THE INTERPRETATION OF ARCHITECTURE was organized by YYZ and was curated by Janice Gurney, Andy Patton and Alan Tregebov. It will be held at the following locations: Mercer Union, YYZ, Gallery 76, Ydessa Gallery, Ballenford Architectural Books, University of Toronto School of Architecture, S.L. Simpson Gallery, and 1087 Queen Street West Storefront.

Artists and architects showing at Mercer Union:

MARC BARANESS, a graduate architect teaching at the University of Toronto, will be showing drawings which are investigations of architectural space, volumes, and elements.

BROWN AND STOREY, a Toronto based architecture firm is headed by its two principles, James Brown and Kim Storey. Both hold a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Toronto. Their piece, entitled “Arch Angels”, is made up of “painted glass panels which illustrate research into forms and their representation as an image/idea.”

STEVEN FONG received his Master of Architecture in Urban Design from Cornell University in 1979 and currently chairs the University of Toronto’s Programme in Architecture. His presentation will feature two single-family residences, one is urban and located in Toronto, the other rural. Through a critique of their respective contexts, these two works arrive at the synthesis of art and architecture.

GENERAL IDEA is a world famous group of artists originating out of Toronto. Their work has been the subject of major retrospectives in Amsterdam, Toronto, Basel and Vancouver. At Mercer Union, General Idea will be showing drawings and photographs of the “1984 Miss General Idea Pavilion.” A high-tech computer animated videotape may be included in this exhibition.

DONALD MCKAY is an instructor of architecture at the University of Waterloo. A ten foot long model created for the Waterfront Park Competition will be on display.

BLAIR ROBINS, a Toronto artist, received his BFA from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 1982. He will be exhibiting “Concession 86,” a small edition of screen prints which reflects current breakthroughs in the field of space travel.

BRIGITTE SHIM and HOWARD SUTCLIFFE both received their Bachelor of Architecture and their Bachelor of Environmental Studies from the University of Waterloo. The work presented at Mercer Union was created to intensify the experience of “Wall,” a primary element of architecture.

TIM SCOTT, NOLAN NATALE and CHRIS BROWN worked as a team to design the winning entry for the City of Toronto’s Waterfront Park Competition. It is presently before the City for consideration as to its possible implementation. Their work at Mercer Union will be related to their proposal and will include a scale model.

FREDERIC URBAN is a practising artist, teaching at the University of Waterloo School of Architecture. He will be showing a series of 7 drawings, one in each gallery space. Entitled “7 Conventions,” each piece illustrates and defines an architectural term (plan, elevation, section, etc.).

RENEE VAN HALM studied art at Emily Carr and Concordia University and currently teaches part-time at York University. Her piece “Escaping History” looks at the representation of time through images of architecture.


Building in a Cultural Context
Jane Purdue
Now Magazine, May 1986

While the debate continues over the University of Toronto’s consideration of the closure of its internationally respected school of architecture, a new exhibition called The Interpretation of Architecture seeks to increase public awareness of architecture and it’s place in a cultural context.

This timely exhibition is sponsored by the YYZ Artists Outlet, which has been responsible for two other equally ambitious projects, namely Monumenta in 1982 and New City Sculpture in 1984. The curators for this new project, architect Alan Tregebov and painters Janis Gurney and Andy Patton, will attempt to bridge the gap and address what they see as an isolation between the local visual arts and the architectural communities. “There will be a real blurring between the work from the artists and that of the architects,” predicts Gurney.

“This show is about architecture, which is the most public art of all,” explains Patton who was one of three painters to represent Canada at the Sydney Biennial last year in Australia. “Works of architecture can be artworks that sustain the interpretation, the weight of dialogue, conflicting opinions about its value, et cetera, just as in the visual arts. Architecture can create a cultural object and not just be a brick wall or a glass-backed elevator.”

Featuring the work of over 40 artists and architects, The Interpretation of Architecture opens in eight locations this Saturday (May 10). On view in commercial and artist-run galleries in the Queen West area, at Ballenford Architectural Books in Yorkville and at the University of Toronto will be drawings, models, site proposals, photographs, sculpture, installations and videotapes. All will examine the interplay between architecture and urban design. There are four “red” buildings included in the exhibit, represented by posters designed by each of the architectural firms responsible for the new Mississauga city hall, the Ontario Trucking Association, the metropolitan YMCA on Grosvenor Street and the Seagram museum in Kitchener/Waterloo .

“From the architectural community, we looked at those who have shown their love for architecture by taking part in various competitions,” explains Tregebov, himself an associate professor and coordinator of the second year studio program at the U of T’s troubled school of architecture.

“There are very few competitions in Canada and therefore, limited opportunities to have projects realised. But by submitting theoretical works, you least you are getting your ideas out into the public realm and contributing to the architectural culture.

For example, Detlef Meltins, a teacher with the University of Waterloo school of architecture, will present his proposition for a new tower at the CNE, in response to the recent destruction of the Bulova Tower. This new tower is represented by a model which is transformed into a lamp.

“He works at so many different levels, both politically and artistically and plays between various scales and perspectives,” says Tregebov enthusiastically. “This is where architecture is most alive– when you can deal with narrative, metaphor, history, politics and about putting together materials such as glass and steel.”

In response to the public outcry following the announcement of the plan to close U of T’s architecture department, a task force is now considering making the faculty an independent college, in affiliation with the university.

“It’s a coincidence that all of this controversy is taking place concurrent to our exhibition, which we began to plan months ago,” says Tregebov. “All of the principals from the architectural firms responsible for the featured buildings have been actively involved with the university. We’ve also invited Steven Fong, chairman of the department, along with a number of other faculty members. But it’s not a coincidence that most of the contributors to the various competitions also teach to earn a living. That’s the one way that they can afford to take chances with their theoretical presentations. ”

The visual artists represented in the exhibition are ones who, in a variety of methods, explore art within the context of architecture. Many are familiar to Toronto audiences, among them General Idea, who will be represented by drawings and photographs of the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavilion, Renee Van Halm, who often constructs theatrical “sets” as part of her painted installations, and Kryzaxtof Wodiczko, who uses building facades as backdrops to his slide projections.

Of particular interest to Patton as a curator is the work of sculptor Spring Hurlbut “It’s forceful and immediate and has many concerns embedded in it in relationship to culture.” Some two months of on site preparation has gone into Hurlbut’s installation in a store front at 1087 Queen West, home to the Music Gallery, the Salon and many independent artists’ projects such as this. Two 12-foot-high columns were designed “to mirror the original architectural conditions of the space.”

For over 10 years, Hurlbut has used plaster as her medium, some times employing as much as two tons of material, as in this new work. Known primarily for her work with walls, or rather her walls created on top of “real” walls, she has recently turned her attention to the column.

The thick plaster is pulled and manipulated as Hurlbut slowly works her materials up one column and down the other, creating “channels of movement.”

“One column is essentially dealing with a gravitational pull down wards, which is indirect opposition to the other as it coils into an almost impossible upward movement. This is the first time my work has ever produced a dialectic — the columns are in reference to one another, creating a visual dialogue.”

The Interpretation of Architecture offers many possibilities for exchange between artists and architects. Perhaps even more importantly, it has the potential to generate more public concern for Toronto’s future urban design and development. According to Tregebov, “There is a public responsibility in architecture that goes beyond other forums. ”

To which Patton adds, “Buildings are an image of our future and we have the right to demand quality to our environment.”

A Timely Reminder of Common Ground
Carole Corbeil
Globe and Mail, May 1986

THE INTERPRETATION of Architecture, now on view at several Toronto galleries, is a timely show that attempts to break down the barriers between architects and artists. The show, according to co-curator Janice Gurney’s foreword in the catalogue, arose out of the observation that there is a “wide range of work being done by a significant number of local artists that consistently refers to architecture or is structured architectonically.”

This Is certainly true. Many local artists have developed a critical approach to the legacy of modernism as it is manifested in architecture and city planning, and used architecture as a metaphor for conditions of creation and production — General Idea’s ongoing description of the Miss General Idea 1984 Pavilion — or simply of experience — Renee Van Halm’s transformation of the idea of Renaissance public spaces in her paintings. (These artists are represented in works at Mercer Union.)

Both disciplines, in fact, have been involved in the same kind of critical rethinking of “internationalist” modernism for years, as well as in attempting to define an ethic of post-modernism that would transcend the banal historical mannerism now attached to the label. Architecture, limited as it is by specifications and budgets, has had a tougher time doing this, although many would argue that the art market is as structurally dictatorial and limiting.

A number of architecture school graduates (Brian Boigon, at the S. L. Simpson Gallery, and Alexander Pilis at Gallery 76) have crossed over Into the world of the galleries. This move, according to George Baird, who also contributes an essay in the catalogue, can be seen as tactile, “designed to create a zone of refuge, from which a criticism or attack on conventional architecture could be made, and a challenge laid down to the sociopolitical assumptions which underpinned it, all this from the safe refuge of the gallery.”

Artists, like architects, have fought for the preservation of local landmarks (The clock tower at King and Bathurst, the Shell / Bulova tower at the CNE) and it is in this kind of local involvement, as well as in critical assessments of Toronto’s particular brand of architectural modernism, that the conversation between artists and architects could be most fruitful. Indeed the most appealing side of this “post-modern” dialogue between artists and architects has to do with their sense of Toronto as a city with its own historical dialectic.

There are more than 35 artists and architects involved in this exhibition, and the work covers a broad range of concerns. Sometimes, as at YYZ, a work by an artist (Gordon Lebredt’s video meditation on the shell of the never-completed, and now destroyed apartment complex by the Bayview extension) and the work of an architect (Detlef Mertin’s proposal for the CNE, which is a response to the destruction of the Shell / Bulova Tower) echo each other, in the sense that they are both responding to absences.

Artists, on the whole, seem to be critical, or at least to be using architecture as symptomatic of political and economic ills, or as something on which to focus their sense of impotence. (Susan Speigel’s drawings at Gallery 76 appear, for instance, to want to expose the authoritarian order of classical architecture by projecting extreme emotions onto architectural motifs.) Pilis’ constructions seem bent on seeing thanatos, the spirit of death, in the- city’s preoccupation with towers. This approach relies on rather vague emotional projections.

Krzyslof Wodiczko, on the other hand, literally uses projections. He projected a small swastika on a circular architectural detail at the top of the South African embassy in London, a Pershing missile onto the Victory column in Stuttgard when missiles were being installed in Germany. (The photographs documenting these projections can be seen at the Ydessa Gallery and at Ballenford Books.) The specificity of this work, as well as its appropriateness, both in terms of political timing and in the way the image fits in with the architecture, is impressive.

Other artists, notably Jane Buyers, Sheila Ayearst (at the S. L Simpson Gallery) and Gail Swithenbank (at the Ydessa Gallery) are not so much “positive” about architecture, as Andy Patton puts it in his thoughtful catalogue essay, as interested in the ways in which dwellings frame and contain our visual and emotional experiences.

Two works, one by an architect, one by an artist, can serve as metaphorical brackets for The Interpretation of Architecture. Architect Frederic Urban has taken seven conventions of architectural representation (elevation, floor plans, axonemetric, wall section and so on), defined them in writing, and drawn one aspect of the gallery or building they are in, using one of these conventions.

On the surface, this looks like an educational service, showing the codes of architectural representation to the uninitiated. But these unassuming pieces, by focusing on the primary language of architectural drawings show how this language, like all languages, doesn’t so much reflect experience as shape it. The language is meant to facilitate construction; it does this, but it may do do so at the expense of other ways of experiencing space.

Spring Hurlbut’s columns, on the other hand, which have been elaborately covered In swirling plaster, seem to be a response to the absence of poetics in most architecture space. The traces of her tactile experience in shaping the swirls reminds us of what we’re missing: a sense of actively shaping, with our hands, the places we inhabit. Her work is beautiful, but it is also powerful because it articulates a strong human impulse. And this kind of work, which is about the process of shaping an environment, and responding to that shaping as it takes place, is in total opposition to the kind of construction that depends on the visual grammar of blue-prints.