Ob­ject of de­sire

Ob­jectspace has pulled off the al­most im­pos­si­ble: a new space with a ground-break­ing ex­hi­bi­tion on a tiny bud­get.

HOME Magazine NZ - - Art & Design - HOME is the proud me­dia part­ner to Ob­jectspace. Fu­ture Is­lands at Ob­jectspace 13 Rose Road, Pon­sonby, Auck­land ob­jectspace.org.nz Pho­tog­ra­phy Sam Hart­nett

A new de­sign mu­seum pulls off the im­pos­si­ble

A day out from the open­ing of Ob­jectspace’s new gallery and the New Zealand de­but of Fu­ture Is­lands – the New Zealand In­sti­tute of Ar­chi­tects’ ex­hi­bi­tion at the 2016 Venice Ar­chi­tec­ture Bi­en­nale – and the site is swarm­ing with men in high-vis gear. The build­ing is run­ning late, time­lines have been stretched. The show’s ‘is­lands’, car­bon fi­bre plat­forms on which mod­els of New Zealand ar­chi­tec­tural projects sit, float in space, while painters touch up the walls around them. And yet, sud­denly, a pro­saic 1980s in­dus­trial unit on a back street in Pon­sonby, Auck­land, is a gallery, thanks to a crisp façade of white alu­minium pan­els, sliced through with lights, de­signed by Richard Naish of RTA Stu­dio – built on the slimmest of bud­gets. Late last year, Ob­jectspace an­nounced it was shift­ing from its charm­ing home in a for­mer bank at the top of Pon­sonby Road to a new space, with an ex­panded fo­cus on ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign. De­spite the ever-grow­ing in­flu­ence of th­ese dis­ci­plines on our lives, there had never been a ded­i­cated home for them in a mu­seum con­text. That was about to change. By Fe­bru­ary, the or­gan­i­sa­tion had build­ing con­sent and in July, the lights were turned on in the façade. Af­ter the nu­mer­ous stresses of the project – which in­cluded rais­ing the mod­est bud­get from a host of part­ners in­clud­ing ar­chi­tects, mak­ers and cor­po­rate spon­sors – it was the ‘aha’ mo­ment Pa­ton had been wait­ing for. “It’s not a mas­sive $20 mil­lion build­ing, but it’s a mas­sive thing for an or­gan­i­sa­tion of our size,” she says. In­side, there are crisp white walls and scarred con­crete floors that show the his­tory of pre­vi­ous uses, and the ser­vices are on dis­play above the block walls. In short, it shows you what you can do with sim­ple ma­te­ri­als and some good think­ing. “There is sim­plic­ity and a mod­esty to it,” says Pa­ton. “It’s not pre­tend­ing it’s not a 1980s in­dus­trial unit, yet it has this magic. I don’t think it’s try­ing too hard. It’s bet­ter than I had hoped.”

Charles Walker, cre­ative di­rec­tor of Fu­ture Is­lands, dis­cusses lessons from Venice and restag­ing the show in Auck­land.

What did you learn from Venice?

We made a fairly provoca­tive cu­ra­to­rial de­ci­sion not to in­clude ex­plana­tory texts or dis­play cap­tions in the show it­self, so as to heighten the sense of drift­ing into an un­known place. The is­land metaphor draws on nar­ra­tives of is­lands as sites of pos­si­bil­ity or places of dis­cov­ery, so there is no for­mal route through the show. Many spoke of a sur­real ex­pe­ri­ence, of fa­mil­iar yet strange ob­jects that looked as if they had floated in from an­other world. Many said it was beau­ti­ful, which we’d hoped it to be. We did have some feed­back that the lack of writ­ing was frus­trat­ing or con­fus­ing, but I still feel we made the right de­ci­sion. We wanted to in­spire a sense of cu­rios­ity and won­der, and to un­set­tle some as­sump­tions about ar­chi­tec­ture in New Zealand and how we ex­hibit it.

Did that change the way you in­stalled it here?

We’ve been able to stick fairly closely to the orig­i­nal lay­out, and keep the ex­plana­tory text to a min­i­mum. The only change has been to ac­knowl­edge our team mem­ber, Rewi Thomp­son, who passed away ear­lier this year. His own house in Ko­hi­marama, which was in the orig­i­nal show, is now sited on a pink is­land – a ref­er­ence to an ir­rev­er­ent and provoca­tive project of his.

It’s a rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent con­text, isn’t it?

In Venice, we had a large palazzo with big win­dows: rather than try to con­trol the space by block­ing out the light, we al­lowed a play of light and shadow over the is­lands. The win­dows were also open to the sounds and smells of La Serenis­sima. The site was im­por­tant to us in a way that is not nec­es­sar­ily the case for other ex­hi­bi­tions at the bi­en­nale. Ob­jectspace is es­sen­tially a black box so we had to re­design the light­ing to suit. The show now looks quite dif­fer­ent – and pos­si­bly even more dra­matic than it did in Venice.

What was it like see­ing it hung again?

See­ing it again is like see­ing it in a dream. That ‘fa­mil­iar yet strange’ thing again, but we had never re­ally seen the ex­hi­bi­tion in the dark. The ef­fect has been to fo­cus more at­ten­tion on the project mod­els, but per­haps also to make the whole ap­pear even more play­ful.

Above Richard Naish of RTA Stu­dio has trans­formed a 1980s in­dus­trial unit in Pon­sonby, Auck­land. Right Fu­ture Is­lands fea­tures mod­els of New Zealand ar­chi­tec­tural projects – both real and imag­ined – float­ing on car­bon-fi­bre ‘is­lands’. Be­low Hang­ing the...

Th­ese im­ages Hang­ing the show at Ob­jectspace was an en­tirely dif­fer­ent process to that of hang­ing it in a Vene­tian palazzo. Thanks to mod­ern light­ing, the ex­hi­bi­tion is pos­si­bly more dra­matic than its orig­i­nal stag­ing.

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