Pin Up Project Space

April 14, 2011

Despite being dedicated to the exhibition of architecture and design, a new Melbourne gallery proves to be less about the display of objects, and more about the communication of ideas.

The Pin-up Gallery at The Compound Interest: Centre for The Applied Arts at 15–25 Keele Street Collingwood, is the brainchild of curator Fleur Watson and architect Martyn Hook, a couple who work together under the banner, Something Together. The intention is to fill a niche that is missing in Melbourne’s gallery scene: a space dedicated to exhibiting architecture and design – although they are careful to describe it as a project space rather than a gallery. The objective is to focus on ideas, and to offer insights into the design process, avoiding a museum-style display of refined drawings and models.

Well known in architecture circles from her previous role as editor of Monument magazine, Watson spent some years in London and completed a masters degree in the curation of design and architecture. “At that time in Europe, before the global financial crisis, there was a lot of self-funded, independent cultural activity going on,” says Watson. Like its European counterparts, the Pin-up space is fully self-funded, to avoid the compromise that inevitably comes when dealing with vested interests. “At least in the beginning we wanted to avoid those constraints,” says Watson. Sponsors or grants can be sought if needed, but the base running costs are low. The fitout of the space itself takes the form of an assembly of clips and hanging screens, designed by Universal Design Studio and Chase and Galley, two of the exhibitors in the exhibition (other former collaborators Büro North and March Studio also feature in the line-up.)

Something Together has a long track record of organising design events and exhibitions, and when they wanted to start their own space, they found a perfect fit with The Compound Interest: Centre for The Applied Arts, which is a collection of small design-related businesses and includes Lamington Drive art gallery. “We saw that there was this culturally engaged group that spoke to each other here, but none of them seemed to be very engaged with architects. We saw the opportunity to cross-pollinate; a notion of being able to exchange,” says Watson. It is no accident that nearly 50 percent of the exhibitors are architects in the first show.

Exhibiting architecture in a gallery (or project space) – does this make sense? Is the viewer too far removed from the actual building and spaces, the very stuff of architecture? To assume so would be to misunderstand the practice of architecture, because what do architects do? They draw, they model; they represent buildings. They are also, clearly, interested in other fields and leap at the chance to do something different. Just looking at the work presented by architects is revealing: models (x 2), furniture (x 1), product (x 1), abstract art (x 1), video (x 1), column (x 1), graphic (x 1), light (x 2). The brief was to “reflect on their work – past and present – to encapsulate a ‘Design Moment’ or ‘Big Idea’ that continues to underpin their practice today,” and to incorporate five cardboard archive boxes into the exhibit. This ensured a consistent aesthetic, colour, and texture to the show, which might otherwise get unruly with such a diverse group of exhibitors. Broadly speaking, there are nine architects, two graphic designers, two artists, two furniture designers, two jewellers, two artists and two fashion designers in the show.

The range of responses and the different issues, of scale, of representation and so forth that each practice and discipline had to confront was broad. In analysing the show, I kept categorising each work, coming up with headings like ‘identity’, ‘materiality’, ‘scale’, ‘practice’ and ‘engagement’. Do the works (and words) submitted match the industry the exhibitor comes from? How was the archive box treated? Was it explored and exploited for its physical/visual properties, or ignored and made subservient to ideas? Some disciplines work in a small enough scale to simply show a key work. This is not the case for architects, but interestingly PHOOEY Architects and Elenberg Fraser took the opportunity to build 1:1 scale works. PHOOEY Architects lined a column with curls of cardboard and other project offcuts; cardboard Corinthian extending all the way down the shaft. Elenberg Fraser made a column/melting artwork/light fitting out of archive boxes dipped in resin. These works don’t represent architecture so much as recreate architecture in the space.

The most conventional exhibit by an architect was by John Wardle Architects, who hung two scale models from the ceiling. But they are no ordinary models: they are exceptionally beautiful, sculptural things, quite at home in a gallery context. The grain in the corrugated cardboard from the archive boxes is used brilliantly to emphasise the ‘cut ends’ of the buildings (or spacecraft?). Happy accidents from existing openings in the archive boxes are incorporated, in one instance creating an exit hatch on the bottom of the larger spaceship.

Some practices exhibited previous work. March Studio offered a wild kaleidoscope of stop animation they have made over the years. “There is no one precise moment that has altered the direction of March Studio practice since its inception four years ago,” goes their statement. Others produced new work but within the usual constraints of their discipline, and others worked entirely outside their usual frame of reference. The two artists, Dana Harris and Peter Atkins, took the opportunity to collaborate on ideas relating to the design of a Clement Meadmore chair.

‘Pin-up’ is a term familiar to architecture students – or at least, those who studied before digital presentations became the norm. A pin-up is where you pin your drawings to the wall in an informal exposure of the design process to your tutor and peers. The Pin-up website states that the show “provides a rich and revealing insight into the design process”. This is particularly evident in the work of jewellery designers, Studio Hacienda, who used the archive boxes in numbered sequence to show and share the process of the design and production of a piece of jewellery. “The whole idea is that it is about communicating the value of architecture and design in a more public arena,” says Watson. On behalf of Melbourne I say: “Thank you! We need it.”

Toby Horrocks is an architect and freelance writer. He worked for John Wardle Architects for many years before starting his own practice. He designs cardboard (Freefold) furniture, and has abiding interests in architectural history and environmental sustainability.


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