End Note

In­side his enig­matic stu­dio on Ster­ling Road, one of the world’s fore­most thinkers and cre­ators of 3D tex­tiles is get­ting ready for his next big show BY CATHER­INE OS­BORNE

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How ar­chi­tect Philip Beesley fig­ures in the fash­ion world BY CATHER­INE OS­BORNE

It’s dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand the

work of Philip Beesley – the an­a­lyt­i­cal mind wants to give mean­ing to his strangely beau­ti­ful and wildly mes­mer­iz­ing

3D veils made of tiny poly­mer nodes that are wired to re­spond to hu­man pres­ence, flut­ter­ing and shift­ing like Venus fly­traps. I’ve given up, which is halfway to real­iz­ing that Beesley’s type of ar­chi­tec­ture is not about re­duc­ing vis­ual ex­pe­ri­ence into sound bites. Our worlds are full of ra­tio­nal­ity; so much so we feel vul­ner­a­ble when we can’t find the words to ex­plain what we are see­ing. When you stand be­neath a mas­sive Beesley in­stal­la­tion, as vis­i­tors will do at the Royal On­tario Mu­seum this June as part of the “Trans­form­ing Fash­ion” ex­hi­bi­tion, the count­less nodes will flicker with a sen­so­rial rhythm as though ex­press­ing an emo­tional, out­ward re­sponse. The ef­fect is some­thing like stand­ing amid alien plant life.

The in­stal­la­tion is a co­pro­duc­tion with long-time Dutch col­lab­o­ra­tor Iris van Her­pen, who is also an ex­pert in 3D tex­tiles and re­spon­sive de­sign, though in the high-fash­ion world. Beesley and van Her­pen are kin­dred spir­its, each chal­lenged by giv­ing phys­i­cal form to such in­tan­gi­bles as vul­ner­a­bil­ity, fem­i­nin­ity and sen­su­al­ity.

This is hardly the way ar­chi­tec­ture is usu­ally de­scribed. Beesley, who also teaches ar­chi­tec­ture at the Uni­ver­sity of Water­loo, has no in­ter­est in the phys­i­cal­ity of build­ings or their prag­matic core. “If only half our neu­ro­log­i­cal un­der­stand­ing is brain driven, why do we ig­nore the other 50 per cent?” he asks. “Why is boil­ing some­thing down to its sim­plest form per­ceived as be­ing bet­ter? Is a sphere bet­ter than a snowflake?”

That’s a phrase Beesley says he finds him­self re­turn­ing to of­ten. We tend to think of some forms as be­ing bet­ter than oth­ers, and to ex­clude those that are too com­plex. So, for­get un­der­stand­ing Beesley’s in­stal­la­tions when you meet them. Sim­ply take in their un­de­fin­able beauty, and you might very well see the snowflakes.

SEE BEESLEY’S WORK IN IRIS VAN HER­PEN: TRANS­FORM­ING FASH­ION, JUNE 2 TO OC­TO­BER 8 AT THE ROYAL ON­TARIO MU­SEUM, 100 QUEEN’S PK ROM.ON.CA

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