Elaine Byrne: RAUM

10 January - 9 February 2013

“Man’s living needs are simple. They become complicated and hypocritical only as a result of artificial stimulations – in architecture as elsewhere. Honest building can be done in wood, mud and stone, just as dishonest building can be done with alpha glass and beta aluminum”


Extract from ‘Pseudo-functionlism in Modern Architecture’, Frederick Kiesler. Published in ‘Partisan Review’, July 1949


Elaine Byrne’s installation Raum is a haunted space, constructed from melancholy,  symbolic fragments of ways of living that have faded away, and thinking that never was. This exhibition is a tribute to difference neutralised by the uncompromising normative pressures of what modernity actually is. Within Raum, Byrne examines the query at the heart of Modernism, articulating that Modernism is at the very least, built on ruins.  Many of those imagined, utopian futures are merely unconsciously reiterated ways of living that already have been, and are now lost. Byrne’s space is a re-invoking of the imaginative world of utopian thinkers such as Kielser. It is a world, seen from our time, of phantoms ideas and ghosts of possibilities that never came to be.


WORLD 1: This exhibition articulates this first world, as the ‘thought’ world of Frederick Kiesler, awkwardly described as an Austrian-American, avant-garde, sculptor, theatre and exhibition designer and architect. Kiesler was a man who spent a lifetime ignoring conventions and persistently asking of the world around him: simple, fundamental questions, such as ‘How are we to live?’ – the kind of questions that got Socrates killed. Kiesler suffered the less dramatic, but arguably as fatal, fate of being largely ignored, sidelined by architects as a utopian dreamer who only built three buildings. However, in his manifestos, writings and innovative exhibition designs, he consistently returned to first principles, arguing that our built environment be designed around the well-being of the ‘psyche of the dweller’. He was deeply antagonistic to modernism architectural practices , arguing that these employed the veneer of the modern to disguise the ruthless logic of economic efficiency.


SPACE 1: Byrne fills the gallery with an amended reconstruction of part Kiesler’s monumental structure  ‘Raumstadt’ (‘City in Space’) originally built in the Grand Palais, Paris (1925) as the Austrian contribution to the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes. Kiesler’s structure was a ground breaking, multi-element installation that incorporated the work of other artists and designers.  It  was itself a sculptural work, which displayed other artists’ work afresh, breaking the dull, conventional ways of presentation and seeing which Kielser thought killed the power of creativity. By actively involving the spectator, Kiesler wanted the viewer to add his contribution to the creative act.


WORLD 2: The second world is the past world of a settled Irish traveller, Hanni Harty, whose cottage in County Limerick has been adandoned since her death in 1994.Byrne presents this world through the lens of context, and time, looking at the practically tangible space between realities and dreams as we can see it.


SPACE 2: Byrne’s reconstruction of Kiesler’s framework of display, which is in the scale of Hanni’s cottage, contains sounds, artifacts,  as well as photographs from Hanni’s house. A two-room house, made primarily of wattle and daub, once brightly and intimately decorated by Hanni, is now a beautiful, chromatic ruin. It is an actual space with a real history, an ‘honest building’ in Kiesler’s terms, but not from the cold mega-city of the modernist future.


‘…Cathedrals were built by slum dwellers…’ -Frederick Kiesler


Text – Nick Hackworth, London