The following is the catalogue essay I wrote for Richard Stride’s brilliant Mould exhibition.
Something unexpected is growing on the exposed faces of the city. Irrational forms spreading beyond the rectilinear constructions it’s spores have found purchase on, outside the flattened space of the architectural drawing.
The growth extends out in physical projections – exotic shapes jutting across spaces – but also projects into the future, provoking us to imagine possible formations resulting from the mix of old and new. Familiar straight paths suddenly exploding in a spaghetti-junction of fly-overs and underpasses, the smooth functioning of the city’s maintenance and reconstruction has been disrupted and is now operating according to a shifted set of driving forces.
We’re tempted to think of the city beneath as a static, monolithic whole, but it too is growing, albeit much slower. Which of the many jostling accounts makes most sense of the city and helps comprehend the agency directing it? The landscape of the modern city sculpted by the will of the Economy, growing according to implicit natural processes as city-organism, engineered and optimised by urban planners as city-machine, politically constituted (more or less democratically) through negotiated claims to use, or assembled organically from unarticulated myths and desires. All of the above?
Spatial practice, ideology, traditions, conventions, material properties, and technologies coalesce around the allowances of the landscape forming, at the macro level, the characteristic structures of our cities. Sometimes giving the grid of blocks, regimented streets, and avenues emerging from geometrical thinking that reproduces itself as paradigmatic themes of proportion, well-being, and universal transcendental order enacted by such architects as Vitruvius, Baron Haussmann, and Le Corbusier: rationalising and mediating nature by reframing it within a system of axis and right-angles.
Or sometimes giving cities that hug the curves of ancient rivers; shepherd trails becoming meandering alleyways, irregular patchworks of houses filling gaps introduced by wartime destruction.
Richard Stride’s practice examines the emergent agency of the built environment itself, focussing on the point of departure from one system to another: the moment that the internal logic of a system breaks into something other. In Stride’s works, everyday objects of ordering and construction – stackable boxes, paper trays, building blocks, nails – transform into unexpected (though strangely coherent) organisations seemingly according to their own devices; an arrow-straight train-track heads towards an explosion of junctions and diversions; a series of cardboard boxes disrupts into mutated polygons. These assemblages of “ocky straps, ratchet straps, paint rollers,pulleys, cranes” leave their conventional context and arrangement, heading towards an indefinite other.
In this exhibition Stride is no longer diagramming the change, but attempting to engineer the break himself. His work Mould represents the seed of a new “fractal ontology”, where a “finite number of components produce an infinite number of combinations”1. It offers a line-of-flight departure from the linear system of modernist design: through its crystalline structure, Mould provides an emergent system and set assemblages that come together and lead to unexpected results, producing something organic, and “distinctly non-linear.”
Mould’s transgressive engagement with space mirrors the deterritorialising potential of unorthodox human spatial practice: how the act of subversive movement through a space can shake the standard narrative of the city. Mould’s alien incursion into the cityscape can jolt or seduce, providing an alternative growth logic “surprising, transverse or attractive compared with the usual choice” similar to the pedestrian who has broken free from convention, become a traceur taking a parkour line-of-flight across buildings that is “neither foreign nor in conformity”2 with the orthodox conception of place. These nascent spatial practices seem almost super-natural and magical in comparison to habitual everyday engagement.
Mould bluffs and seduces its way into our interior spaces through glossy marketing material and a designerly aesthetic. Once in, it’s well placed to subvert the agency of the host, destabilising the assumed primacy of human intention in the production of the built environment. The consumer becomes a reproductive agent for Mould which,like the virus tricking the cell into copying it, dis-intergrates the former and uses it as fuel for its own ends: a rogue Rube Goldberg Machine that once diligently constructed may well shoot the constructor in the foot.
A tension is introduced into the Humanist ethics of complexity and simplicity, order and chaos. The normal construction of a building involves the growth of scaffolding pre-empting formwork: the formalised, intentional, seemingly permanent concrete structure grows from the temporary, contingent scaffolding (steel rods and platforms giving an exaggerated articulation of the gestures of the final structure). Mould uses the formal intentional structures – of the city, the buildings – as its own scaffold, to re-inhabit the spaces with the contingent.
This reciprocal relationship echoes a fractal structure, where reoccuring patterns and relationships are visible regardless of the level of magnification. Like the non-linear physical properties of silicon and gold, chip components, subdued and controlled in the computer, used to intone discrete mathematics through binary, digital representation, which then model quantum interactions, or describes the organic shapes, fractal smoothness of curves, chaotic evolved systems that end up opaque tree-like structural systems.
As the fractal begins to grow, we’re held at the point of differentiation from one structure to another: the common-place has taken a dog-leg turn and we’re watching to see what happens next. Stride brings us to the moment of coiled dynamism, like two repelling magnets held against each other, or the microscopic shifts in atomic forces that trigger a nuclear blast.
Watch this space.
1 O‘Sullivan, S. “Fold.” (2005). The Deleuze dictionary (2005): 102-04: 103.
2 Certeau, M. d. (2002). The practice of everyday life. , University of California Press. 101.