Sculpting Conventions

TEXT Brendan Cormier
PHOTO Cheryl O’Brien

In October, sculptors Daniel Young and Christian Giroux were awarded the Sobey Art Award–Canada’s pre-eminent award for contemporary Canadian art. While sculpture remains the foundation of their discipline, the duo’s recent work has explored issues relevant to architectural practice–issues relating to mass production, modular fabrication, urban development, and digital modelling.

For example, Reticulated Gambol is an interactive pavilion structure for Lee Centre Park in Scarborough, which comments on the serial production of outdoor play objects. The piece consists of a reconfiguration of standard playground equipment into a grid formation. The new configuration and singular blue colour emphasizes both the modularity and repetition of parts–recalling the mass-produced nature of play equipment in the city. The grid configuration also suggests the idea of a system that can be continually expanded, echoing early Modernist manifestos such as Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse, but also the “city frameworks” by radical architects of the ’60s, such as Constant Nieuwenhuys’s New Babylon. Aside from this, the so-called pavilion remains a successful and well-used playground, demonstrating how a sculptural intervention can act as a commentary on an object as well as a functional object in and of itself.

Every Building, or Site, that a Building Permit was issued for a New Building in Toronto in 2006, is a 35-mm film work that does exactly what its title suggests. The 13-minute film loop cycles through every building and site in the city where a building permit was issued. The austerity of the methods–a single tripod-mounted shot that lasts eight seconds before the next building or site is featured–has a profound effect on the viewer. One is able to slowly pick up on recurring themes and patterns in the new buildings being projected. Not only does one get a succinct overview of what was built in that year, but also a clear image of the building conventions, mass-produced materials, and aesthetic trends wrapped up in these buildings, which ultimately contribute to the look and feel of the city.

The relationship between architecture and sculpture has a long and rich history. However, while the two professions have traditionally traded notes on formal aesthetics, Young and Giroux’s work points to an exchange founded on the processes and conventions behind the architecture itself. While Young and Giroux have clearly drawn inspiration from modern building practices to produce their artwork, it is not ridiculous to suggest that architects could equally draw inspiration from Young and Giroux. CA

Brendan Cormier is a writer and co-founder of the Toronto-based urban design/research collective Department of Unusual Certainties.