Brick WINDOW Brick: The Welcome Collective

Hannah Purvey-Tyrer and Aaron Prior: The welcome Collective.
‘Brick window brick’

By Graham Mathwin

Modernism and its use of concrete are often drawn up out of the past to pay tribute to the work of those perhaps most influential of modernists – the architects. The reason this may still be relevant is because concrete is hardly relegated to the past, and modernism, if we are to take The Pompidou centre’s inauguration of their ‘plural modernities’ exhibition seriously - is also not over yet. Rather, both have diversified. This exhibition is something of that diversification. Here concrete takes on the strangely pleasing shapes of teacups and necklaces and paintings and bulging cubes - concrete, it seems, has mellowed in time. The delicate vessels, the teacups, cast in a parody of the industrial production of goods, some of them felted with black fibres, are small ornaments that deliberately falter in their practical, heavy materiality. Everything Loos would have detested. Yet the ornamentation is so mild, so modest, that it takes on the appearance of something almost organic in the space. It seems like the least ornamental ornament that could be made. It implies a certain regard for the paring back associated with modernism, but applied to the development of something without a purpose, something to regard, and something outside the implied directness of modern arts strategies.
The softness of the black fibres stuck to the exterior of certain objects, and that form the hard-edged shapes on the large concrete ‘slab-paintings’ is another element in the mix, an odd, craft-like juxtaposition, it domesticates concrete further, covering it in fur, softening its gaps and lines into a soft, flat matte black. Craft is present throughout the entire show. Everything is crafted (though it sits on the edge of industrial processes like casting) and the dialogue of the home, the domestic, is constantly brought into play through it.
It is not against the nature of concrete for these things to occur. Concrete is such a pliable material that it is capable of a poetics beyond the narrow aims of the modernists. I am frequently entranced by the bridges of our city, especially driving under uncompleted ones, where curved concrete pillars stand as strange monuments to practicality, currently presenting only their beauty as forms to the world. Even if these structures will eventually be the pillars of our supremely practical road infrastructure, there is a moment, a small space, wherein concrete can be appreciated for something other than its incredible strength and ability. This anonymous grey material is the building product that enables almost anything to occur. Even Le Corbusier, with his wooden-plank cast exteriors, knew that concrete took on the qualities of whatever material it was pressed into. Like a superior plaster it could become anything, a copy of whatever you chose, yet be able to stand through rain, hail and flood. It has resilience and plasticity. It is the tension of these things that runs through a lot of the work here too, and gives something of the idea that plasticity, though it is perhaps overlooked, is worth as much in concrete as anywhere. It is difficult to articulate exactly what is pleasing about this show, but I am sure that it rests in this materiality. For it is here that its strongest ideas are presented. It is the delicacy and uncommon, homely joy that is ascribed to these objects made of concrete that brings home its strongest points, that concrete jungles, in which we all live, may eventually become just that – an ecosystem, diversified, a great, living rainforest made of concrete and metal and glass. There is no hope of going backwards, this is certain, but how we will go forwards could perhaps use some thought. 
The entire show is replete with a kind of hope that is quite distinct from Modernity’s ‘purity’ and social engineering. It is a corrupt, sweet, awkward architecture that the future holds, and what hope it can bring is up for debate. It is certain that what it has been missing, and what this show provides us, is some of the people that will have to inhabit it. People who have grown up in times long after modernism, and for whom it is another language, amongst many, and for whom the strangely idiosyncratic domestic, undervalued and underappreciated for a century, in favour of boldness and broad thinking, has a new importance. The strength to be perfectly idiosyncratic and happy in this choice runs throughout the show. It is not a troubling, unpleasant topic, nor a particularly dangerous one, but perhaps one with a subtle pull like the curves of this bulging concrete.


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