The following is a statement from Kwon Miok, curator of the Clayarch Gimhae Museum in Gyeongsangnam-do, South Korea. The curator was writing in advance of the ninth exhibition by the World Association of Brick Artists. The curator describes some of the notable works on display in the gallery. The commentary was edited for length.
Clayarch Gimhae Museum is pleased to present this WABA (World Association of Brick Artists) exhibition. WABA is an artist-based group that recognizes bricks as art making material and expresses a belief in its infinite potential through the making of sculptural brick works.
Above image: Fritz Vehring, Labyrinth, installation view WABA 2015.
The group started when Gwen Heeney (1952~) and Ulla Viotti (1933~) discussed the idea of using bricks for making artworks in the Yellow Brick Road Symposium and Conference in 1998. Since the 1980s, members Robert Harrison (1953~) and Jacques Kaufmann (1954~) who attended the YBR symposium, have organized many conferences and carried out numerous projects using bricks. Fritz Vehring (1944~) participated in the symposium and exhibition held in Bremen, Germany in 2001, the artist group gained momentum.
Ulla Viotti has been actively working on the subject of brick in various locations and spaces for more than 60 years. In this exhibition, she introduces installation work using brick, bamboo, and stone pebbles with the theme of excavation. This work visualizes the concept of an archeological excavation as a mysterious and poetic garden that uses over 2,500 black/silver bricks as the main material. The theme ‘excavated garden’, symbolizes ancient human civilizations and the pyramid shape at the center with a triangle on the floor forms a relationship between reality and shadow. The rectangular brick sections and vertically placed bamboo sticks represent space and columns as architectural elements. A linear path of white stone pebbles produces a central axis, an icon of ancient architecture.
Fritz Vehring, who has consistently presented a contemplative sense of beauty through strong minimal form, introduces the Labyrinth, a kind of maze enclosed by walls of various heights made of 4,700 bricks. The concept is influenced by Daedalus’ ‘Labyrinth’, which was built to isolate Minotaurs from the world. While the labyrinth in Greek myths was meant to hold Minotaurs, (half man and half beast), Vehring’s labyrinth is a metaphor for life through endless corners and continuous alleys.
Sound emanates from speakers at each corner, and contemporary music by collaborative Korean artist An Jin-ah leads visitors to the center of the labyrinth, where they encounter a symbolic oval object. His labyrinth plays the role of a device that makes people walk slowly, meditate and think about the meaning of life.
Robert Harrison’s Elementary Brick piece is a site-specific installation, consisting of three parts; a serpentine line of brick, a spiral stack and three smaller spiral pod forms. Utilizing 3,500 bricks, steel wire mesh, copper tubing and industrial steel culvert pipe, he transforms the materials into Elemental Brick, which at its essence, is about energy, and the connection between the earth and the sky.
People are encouraged to explore the space and follow the serpentine line to the center where the spiral stack form, made of steel wire mesh and industrial steel culvert pipe is filled with black and white brick.
The serpentine line of brick utilizes 10 different brick shapes and colors, with additional elements of local river washed granite stones and shards of Buncheong (Onggi) pottery, symbolizing the geology and rich heritage of Korean ceramic history.
Gwen Heeney introduces the The Laboratory Project using unfired ‘green’ bricks. To her, the laboratory is a creative space to work on artistic inspiration. This project changes the exhibition area itself into a space that illustrates the working process.
She displays how she was inspired to creating her forms through her visual experience in Korea. The contrast between hundreds of white high rise box-shaped apartment buildings and the organic curves of the mountains, along with the conveyor belt production line and the endless robotic production in the automated brick factory.
The largest stack of green bricks expresses a skyline and a pile of earth cut to represent the shape of a mountain. Placed on steel tables and shelves, objects used in Heeny’s work like wood frames, tools, dry clay, and pigments give a sense of the artist’s laboratory.
Responding to the inspiration of materials in a given space, Jacques Kaufmann’s work is based on the mechanism of space, material, and his artistic vision. As a ceramic artist, his passion for the material begins with the infinite potential of earth based materials. The two-meter tall Mur Frisson divides the ten-meter exhibition area into two parts.
Easily defying the definition of wall, which is the border between inside and outside, it blurs the border. Bricks are neatly stacked on either side, but start to ‘waver’ towards the center, representing the vibration of the surface.
To the artist, vibration is the first sign of physical change along with the emotional condition. Through Kaufmann’s energy, 1,500 black bricks used in “Le frisson, c’est le début d’un changement d’état” becomes the wall of metaphor beyond its physical property.
Bricks are the only handheld building material. When a brick is held by the hand, architecture begins; thus bricks are the most human building material. Bricks represented humanity during the Renaissance period when Filippo Brunelleschi (1377~1446) designed a spectacular brick dome in Firenze, Italy, and the skyline of New York in the early 20th century demonstrates the marvel of civilization with luxurious terracotta decoration made of brick.
The urban landscape of the 21st century has been replaced by steel frame and plate construction, with façades of glass. Bricks stimulate nostalgia in the postindustrial society of today, practicing seismic design and atypical architecture. Nevertheless, the existence of brick, the most familiar building material still being produced globally is house friendly, which may be related to the fact that ceramic bricks are the oldest architectural material.
Though bricks as an artistic medium are faithful to the doctrine of minimalism ‘seeking temperate formal aesthetics and essence by pursuing the simplest and concise way with the characteristics of simplicity, repetition, and property of material, they exist beyond the modular concept of minimalism due to the numerous symbolic representations of brick itself.
Thus, the existence of WABA, that utilizes brick as an artistic medium has such strong meaning, and their love and use of brick is understandable. Bricks themselves are the icon of architecture and metaphor of life.
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