Model Behaviour

Model Behaviour, currently on display at The Holden Gallery in Manchester, examines the function of modelling in recent histories of art practice and features works by Oliver Boberg, James Casebere, Jordi Colomer, Thomas Demand, Luisa Lambri and Toby Paterson. Modelling imagines or reflects upon built forms and enables architectural thought and experience to be expediently given physical form. The exhibition identifies the practice with the impulse towards visualisation, the physical articulation of the unrealisable or ideal, detailed examination or scrutiny, and the production of a fictive or imaginary space. Yet despite its subject, there is only one architectural model on display: Toby Paterson’s ‘Hypothetical Relief (Moscow)’ (2010). All the other models remain in the artists’ studios, and are made present through photography and film. Louisa Lambri also presents photographic details of the buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright and Gerrit Rietveld.

The gallery is a spacious arena for the photographs and films that comprise the exhibition, forming a linear progression around its walls. The viewer encounters modelling as experiment, as proposal, and as copy, and reconstruction and photo-document as both detail and close-up. The works also reference an array of styles from vernacular architectures to modernist ideals and their postmodern re-imagining. Moving from one piece to the next brings architectural thought and experience into a state of play for the viewer, whose encounter then becomes provisional in the same manner as the models’ statements. Each reading becomes recognisable as the selection of one possibility among several.

The architect’s models blown up in Demand’s photographs, for instance, shape our interpretations of Lambri’s detail shots of modernist buildings. Both lack the verification of scale that a surrounding context might offer, and in both instances the viewer encounters the work as a photographic object on the wall, before considering its depicted content. For a moment the corrugations of a sheet of cardboard equate in size with a wall of glass bricks, and the viewer is left uncertain whether they are looking at a model or an actual building. Casebere’s studio photographs mark a shift in the modality of the model towards mimetic artifice, and the model as re-construction is fed through the lens of cinematic convention in Boberg’s films, which transform film stills into banal continuums of inaction.

Somewhere between the artifice and partiality of the models rendered in ready-to-hand materials, some with the look of off-the-shelf kits, and mediated through the dislocations of photographic documentation our priorities get inverted. We see the vibrancy of imagination and critical reflection in the model as leading the practice of building, which survives as architecture only so long as it maintains the questions from which it first issued.

Andy Broadey is an artist based in Manchester and lecturer in Contemporary Art, History and Theory at the University of Central Lancashire.

Image courtesy The Holden Gallery.

Model Behaviour, The Holden Gallery, Manchester.

26 October –  11 December 2015.