The Architecture of Abduction

The Architecture of Abduction


Development of An Architectural Performance 

By Matthew Bird 

Over the last eighteen months I have been developing an architecturally performative project for a new double bill project from Phillip Adams Balletlab titled And All Things Return To Nature Tomorrow. Choreographers Phillip Adams and Brooke Stamp have developed two interconnected performances with a team of collaborators and dancers. For the most part I have worked with Phillip Adams on the Tomorrow aspect with the collaboration producing immense creative research through various means including developmental installations, university student collaborations, field trips and most recently an international residency with Phillip and other collaborators. In short, the creative research aspect has been a brilliant adventure for an architect, exploring a range of design possibilities devoid of a traditional approach of yellow trace and marker pens.

Some background: I’m not really a traditional architect in the first place. My contemporaries tend to term my work and approach as ‘on the fringe’; experimental, performative and non-traditional which in turn I’m thankful. The office environment, with overheads, too many stakeholders and a slow process of design sketches to brick and mortar reality does not interest me. Over the last seven years or so I’ve been crafting architectural projects, by hand, in range of interdisciplinary platforms with crossovers into interior design, decoration, installation, set-design, scenography and recently slipping into land-art.

I’m thankful that my world has intersected with Phillip Adams. He is an extraordinarily creative and visionary choreographer, a man that pushes the envelope of dance through experiment and an interdisciplinary collaborative approach. Phillip invited me to design the performance environment of BalletLab’s 2011 project Aviary, specifically crafting two bower nests and backdrop for the third act ‘Paradis’. Throughout this project development there was a professional ‘click’ between the two of us, allowing for the possibility to ask and materialise the ‘what-if’ aspirations. This interaction has certainly supported the creative outcomes of our current collaboration and no doubt strengthening and broadening our creative and professional ambitions.

The journey for the project Tomorrow has been an exciting platform to test our mutual interests, design directions and design processes. Phillip has a passionate interest and knowledge in architecture, specifically twentieth-century modernism that I think manifested and is continuously reinforced by his numerous visits to Palm Springs, a mecca of stunning mid-century glass homes in the desert. I believe it was on one of these visits he discovered ‘The Integratron’ located in the nearby and sublime Mojave Desert. The Integratron is a small architecturally considered project built in the 1950s by unusual means to communicate with aliens. Yes aliens. Apparently its builder had an encounter with extra-terrestrials who gave him blueprints to construct a perfectly composed dome, both acoustically and aesthetically, with a central oculus and sixteen radial apertures. This utopian project became the significant conceptual catalyst to develop Tomorrow.

So before I knew it I was on a plane to visit The Integratron. And it was an adventurous research trip to say the least. The building’s interior was exceptionally crafted with a circular raised floating platform, housed under a dome structure, built from laminated timber beams arranged radially supporting a concrete oculus. The proportions of the space were mesmerising. Today the space is used for ‘healing baths’ where participants are invited to lie down on blankets while an instrumentalist plays crystal bowls. Very hippie, but I happily and with a slight hint of cynicism took the opportunity. Unfortunately, I did not have an encounter with aliens but was captivated by the immersive vibrational energy that circumnavigated the space. It felt like I was lifting off the floor at one point.

Post this experience the research trip manifested as an initial performative installation in the Mojave Desert. I felt it was important to test the mesmerising geometries of The Integratron by replicating them on the desert floor myself. Armed with marking materials of pegs, reflectors and builders line I sourced from a local Home Depot I built a radial landing site in an attempt to communicate with the supposed aliens. And the aliens did arrive in the form of a ‘desert-rat’ - a menacing alien appearing from nowhere on trail bike with tattoos and a rifle. The surreal experience was amplified with the desert-rat circumnavigating the landing site with doughnuts and burnouts. This important and dubious moment was at once conceptually compelling for the project and near-death terrifying.      

I took the opportunity to visit many more significant desert architectures to help support the research into utopian communities, including Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West and the ambitious Biosphere 2 project all in nearby Arizona. Further to this Phillip and I spent two days in a Jeep exploring architecturally significant modernist homes in both Palm Springs and Los Angeles. I counted fifteen and in many cases jumping the fence, inviting ourselves in to explore the homes in intimate detail. The field trip highlight was visiting The Pavilion For Japanese Art at LACMA by the late and idiosyncratic architect Bruce Goff. My hero. Google him now. Frank Lloyd Wright on acid.

The experiences in the United States have shaped the direction of Tomorrow. Importantly discovering the success of utopian structures are not the built results but the community that collectively supports the construction phase. Arizona University academic Beth Weinstein has been along for the ride and has supported Phillip’s and my research with her brilliant knowledge of utopian communities and more so the architectural legacy of performative space. The participatory event of collectively constructing space has become a crucial aspect of the performance of Tomorrow. Allowing the community to design and build, the ultimate challenge for an architect.

Phillip and I tested and developed this important aspect during a three-week intensive residency in Luxembourg at The Centre de Création Chorégraphique Luxembourgeois (TROIS C-L). For me this was a rare opportunity to focus on a single project, away from Australian distractions albeit a fairy-tale shaped city in the snow. Choreographer Brooke Stamp and collaborating composer Garth Paine also contributed along with performers Matthew Day, Deanne Butterworth and Rennie McDougall. The studio time afforded us to significantly develop the project sonically, choreographically and materially.

For me the highlight of the residency was the incredible collaborative nature that transformed the project from a top-down approach to a ‘community of ideas’ allowing us a team to iteratively develop the project into an ‘architectural performance’ outcome. As a group we spent hours nurturing a participatory way of constructing a utopian space interconnected with further ideas of vibrational energy, alien encounters and abduction. Many developmental installations were created, testing further materials both within the studio environment and around the historic urban city of Luxembourg.

The time in Luxembourg also articulated and expanded many crossover connections with Brooke Stamp’s choreography in the overall double bill project, titled And All Things Return To Nature Tomorrow. For example we have sonically and aesthetically connected the mutual theme of vibrational energy with the use of sixteen suspended cymbals that instrumentally conduct the generative and immersive composition of composer Garth Paine. The cymbals are arranged in a circle format articulating the radial geometries of The Integratron in California and simultaneously defining a performative circumnavigable volume for both works.

And All Things Return To Nature Tomorrow is further supported by transcendent fashion designed by Susan Dimasi of Materialbyproduct and immersive lighting design by artist Robin Fox. Their collaborative design contribution has reinforced and expanded the thematic direction of the project.     

As the project moves closer to the premiere at MTC’s The Lawler Studio in March I can’t help but be excited about what we as a collaborative team have achieved. The premiere will not be the conclusion but the ultimate evolution of the project. Within the parameters of a black-box theatre the audience each night will become the latest community for our utopian build. Every performance will be different with a new set of circumstances encountered from audience participant’s individual and collective disposition with the hopeful culmination of an abductive architectural experience.

Tomorrow’s development as a collaboration is the ultimate research experiment. We have travelled and absorbed ideas beyond our expectations. We have collectively tested new experimental ideas of space, material and experience within a performative arena. Ultimately I believe we have developed a successful interdisciplinary framework to cultivate intriguing intersections of architectural space with performance. Exciting stuff. 

And All Things Return To Nature Tomorrow runs from 15-23 March at The Lawler, Southbank Theatre. Tickets are available to purchase here

This article was published Phillip Adams BalletLab's ArtsHub Special Report. 

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