Text by Georgina Wright
As part of Liverpool’s 8th Biennial Exhibition, A Needle Walks into a Haystack, a commentary on domesticity, the new commission for Tate Liverpool, La colline d’art (Art Hill) by Parisian ‘Supermodernist’ Claude Parent is remarkably relevant and inspired. Claude Parent is one of the most radical figures of French avant-garde architecture, and La colline de l’art is the latest demonstration of the oblique function, a standard of architecture he developed in the 1960s with theorist Paul Virilio, proposing that buildings contain ramps and slopes, avoid right angles and be wall-free where possible.
Parent’s La colline d’art is a structure within the Wolfson Gallery and encompasses these slanted floors and ramps allowing the audience to meander around the construction and tentatively tread up and down the slopes, experiencing the museum anew. Parent has ultimately designed a particular viewing system as well as a collective living room for public use. The notion that these curved mounds and sloped edges can be utilitarian as furniture in a living space examines the manner by which we view the domestic environment and ultimately the way we view the museum in relation. Parent’s work explores whether this unfurnished architecture alters social order and the dynamics between people. The structure presents a collective utopia; the indefinability makes it difficult to distinguish between what is a wall and what is a ceiling, to differentiate what is up from what is down. Through the dismissal of categories and hierarchical order systems, Parent requires to discover a new freedom, something that is distinctly evident within this work. All visitors investigate the space, equally intrigued, some lounge on the curvatures; others peer across the gallery from the raised platforms.
Within this substructure, works from Tate collection are displayed, complimenting Parent’s enduring passion for challenging conformity. These works selected by Parent and curator, Mai Abu ElDahab, emphasize his interest in exploiting geometry and include the artists Helen Saunders, Edward Wandsworth, Gillian Wise and particularly Naum Gabo, whose work includes sculptures created with transparent materials suggesting the intangible and evolving nature of form. What’s more, Parent’s radical rethinking is assimilated with the work of Gustav Metzer and Francis Picabia whose contemporary ideas provoked scandal. The prevailing theme of disorientation continues throughout and is evident in the work of Paul Nash whose angular, destructive and indefinite images are viewed whilst tilted on the ascent to the raised platform within the structure.
Throughout his career, the self taught Parent has disseminated his philosophies through various means including drawings, models and plans as a way of viewing the world without the limitations of conceptual propositions. His thoughts continue to make their way into other architects’ constructions, changing people’s attitude on how they experience their surroundings. Consequently, Parent’s La colline d’art distinctly reveals to the viewer this very change.
Georgina Wright is a writer based in Liverpool.
Photograph by Mark McNulty