Permanent, Shifting, and Hypothetical Space, by Hannah Keating

The Prada Transformer, built and active in 2008 and 2009, was defined by its changeability. A metal frame encased by a bright white material, the temporary nature of the structure meant it could be rotated, allowing it to be transformed into different shapes.

 A model of the structure [photo via http://prada-transformer.com/]
A model of the structure [photo via http://prada-transformer.com/%5D

This idea embodied many of the founding principles of an entirely different concept, the ‘staatliches Bauhaus'(more generally known as simply ‘Bauhaus’). The German name literally translates as ‘house of construction’, and its 1919 manifesto lamented that art often exists in ‘complacent isolation’ from the space in which it is created. The building envisioned by Bauhaus was, therefore, one intrinsically linked to the creation of art, and simultaneously part of the artwork it housed. In being so enmeshed, the hypothetical building aimed to provide a space that could unite the multifarious media of art:  ‘let us strive for, conceive and create the new building of the future that will unite every discipline, architecture and sculpture and painting’.

 

The Bauhaus building in Dessau by Walter Gropius
The Bauhaus building in Dessau by Walter Gropius

 

These very different manifestations of creative space shared a number of common ideas. What becomes apparent in their comparison, however, is that these ideas can be explored even when the physical structure is removed, through online space.

Bauhaus’s use of unity as a defining ideology was reincarnated by the Transformer. The building housed exhibitions of art in multiple formats: video art, fashion exhibition, and cinema. Moved by cranes, the Transformer became the shape that best communicated with the particular art form it housed at the time. As a cinema, for example, the Transformer was moved so that a projection booth could be built onto the circular face, with the square side holding the screen.

An illustration of the Transformer as a cinema [photo via http://prada-transformer.com/]
An illustration of the Transformer as a cinema [photo via http://prada-transformer.com/%5D

Crucially, the building was equally considered to be one of the creative outlets it hosted, presented as a piece of art itself, as well as the uniting space for other media. As proposed in the Bauhaus manifesto, the artist originally exhibited in the Transformer, Nathalie Djurberg, made interaction with the physical space of the building a key part of her installation. In the book accompanying the exhibition, Germano Celant, director of the Fondazione Prada, stated that Djurberg ‘articulat[es] the floors and walls with objects and projections that mute the whiteness and transform the architectural environment’. Her work included videos that were projected onto the white material that formed the walls of the structure. In doing so, Djurberg transformed the building’s walls into another medium through which to communicate.

An idea based around malleability and receptivity to difference, the Prada Transformer also resembled the Bauhaus movement in more than its interest in a multifaceted building. Key to the reality of the Bauhaus movement was its existence as an educational institution. The movement was embodied in three art schools which enacted its concept of championing all disciplines in art, encouraging the teaching and production of a wide range of creative output, from pottery to architecture. Similarly, a vital aspect of the Transformer’s existence was its emphasis on student work, as fashion students from around Seoul filled the transformer with art of their own creation. The transformer consequently championed the craftsmanship of fashion as a celebrated art form.

This part of the project allowed the students to fundamentally alter its spatial configuration, as the construction’s outer material was removed in order to display their work.

The outer material being removed [photo via http://prada-transformer.com/]
The outer material being removed [photo via http://prada-transformer.com/%5D

With just the metal skeleton then forming its structure, the inside of the building was entirely visible from the outside, and, as a result, the art contained within it was placed in conversation with the structure’s surroundings— specifically, the adjacent Gyeonghuigung palace. The relationship subsequently established between the art of Seoul’s students and the centuries old building furthered the central tenet of both concepts. The Prada Transformer was able to eliminate the distance between the haughty grandeur of a royal building and the experimental creation of young people.

As with the building in Bauhaus, therefore, the Transformer functioned to create a space that provided a site for synthesis. The building was enmeshed in the art it housed so deeply that it shifted its entire structure to embody it. The temporary nature of the structure allowed for such transformation. In making the building changeable, the project valued each exhibition it housed equally, uniting them in a single space, and simultaneously maintaining their integrity and separation. This paradox (central to both Bauhaus and the Transformer) is neatly expressed by Rem Koolhaas, architect responsible for the Transformer, who stated that ‘the project is about merging the unmergeable’.

Evidently, these concepts revolve around the role physical space has in accommodating synthesis of creative media, as well as the importance of valuing all types of creative output. The Bauhaus movement depended upon the existence of a permanent building; the Transformer translated many of the Bauhaus principles onto the increased flexibility of a temporary structure. Perhaps, however, the most complete way to allow for a synthesis of different media is to eliminate the notion of physical space altogether. The permeating inundation of web-based creative output can disguise the opportunity virtual space can provide. Nevertheless, even the most basic blog format provides space to enact that which the Bauhaus and the Transformer held central—the interaction between a hosting site and the art it houses, and the interaction between the different art that exists within that space. Indeed, Miuccia Prada said that for her, the Transformer occupied ‘more of a metaphorical place than a geographical one’.

Online space can be both communal as is physically impossible, or as private. An individual online platform gives room for the creation of the self, a place to explore identity through uniting past, present, and various media of creativity. The Bauhaus educational process, that aimed to be available to all, wanting to cultivate experimentation and varied creation, can be hosted through the artistic manipulation of online space. As the Transformer temporarily positioned the creation of fashion students next to the grandeur of the Gyeonghuigung palace, so individuals can place their ideas and vision alongside the visions of past creatives. The concept of a ‘house of construction’ is able to function in an intensely personal manner. The most humble blog format can serve as a space for the individual to curate their art alongside that which influenced it, alongside the most closely linked and wildly irrelevant, the most obscure to the most famous. As I have tried to do here, online space provides room to find continuities between the disparate and the distinct. Whilst the championing of such online creation is quite the opposite of Bauhaus’s push to enshrine the workshop, this online space enacts another of their ideas— that ‘there is no such thing as “art by profession”. Instead, online, we become artists by self-creation, liberated by the opportunity to become artists through creating and inhabiting our own, transformative space.

 


Hannah Keating is a student at Keble College, Oxford University.

 

 

 

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