Why do architects want to be considered artists? While everything – architecture included – is open to artistic inquiry, architecture is defined by a different set of contexts: people actually have to live and work in the buildings architects make. Immanuel Kant called the defining aspect of art ‘non-purposiveness’, with the difference between art and craft being utility. No matter how useful architecture might be, there’s something sexier about art, or at the least being called an ‘artist’ that architects seem unable to pass up.
The French-Portuguese architect Didier Fiuza Faustino is one of those architects that others claim ‘blurs the boundaries between art and architecture’. Though looking through his studio’s portfolio reveals only a few completed buildings, Faustino proposes and sometimes builds everything from catwalks, housing extensions, cultural facilities, children’s playhouses and furniture, as well as the odd, mysteriously named ‘outlaw territory’. The domain that he inhabits is similar to that of Atelier Van Lieshout – an architectural studio happy to take its projects into the sphere of visual art, where their ideas have found more ready reception.
Faustino works to ‘struggle and combat’ – as he declares in his polemic titled ‘Against Hygienapolis’ – in order to inject ‘doubt and endangerment’ into a public and private space often overly defined by Modernist perfection, a place where bodies have no place. It’s difficult to imagine how these ideas might translate to furniture design or domestic architecture, but they seem to have some legs in a gallery installation. With his exhibition at LAXART, Faustino attempted to make contemporary visual art using the language of architecture. The particular nomenclature for this project was the chain link fence. Of decidedly humble origins and utilitarian purposes, the chain link was brought up a notch or two when Postmodern architects, notably Frank Gehry, started using it as a serious material with an aesthetic purpose. Faustino took this simple material and uses it in such a way that contradicts its determined utility and literally bends and shapes it to a new purpose.
Faustino’s installation, Point Break (2009), was the second edition of a previous project from the architect and his Paris-based studio, Bureau des Mésarchitectures. During the tail end of George W. Bush’s presidency, Faustino installed a set of chain link fences in the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York to close off its open façade. With the election of Barack Obama, he rethought the project; the chain link fence topped with barbed wire that once delimited space is now an open spiral, which danced through the galleries’ interior spaces, an engineering feat accomplished by thin wires hung from the ceiling. Though the changing of the guard in the US seems a little too literal and heavy-handed a metaphor (of the variety that architects often attribute to their buildings), the object itself, whatever its intention, was a potent thing, shaping the space of the gallery without closing it off.
The other piece in the show was a megaphone entitled Ill Communication (2009). As illustrated on the gallery’s website, the speaker holds the megaphone to the face of the listener, their head enveloped in its fibreglass case. But the sound emitted is only a whisper, keeping the bodies separate with a one-sided intimacy. The megaphone as an object strays perilously far from literal architecture, but, like the torqued chain link fence, it stands as a metaphor for the kind of control that Faustino bristles against.