Like a Diamond in the Skyline
At first glance the easiest interpretation of this new body of work by Ri Williamson is that these individual units are maquettes of the kind of angular deconstrivist architecture favoured by the likes of Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind, Rem Koolhas, Zaha Hadid and Coop Himmelb(l)au. Those architects, inspired by the theories of Derrida to deconstruct the four linear walls of the room/cube into functional sculptural forms reminiscent of a university campus, with shades of the planet Krypton in the 1978 movie Superman. Krypton was, no doubt, inspired by Caspar David Friedrich's Sea of Ice (c.1823-4) in the Hamburger Kunsthalle, Feininger's crystalline Bauhaus woodcut Cathedral (1919), and possibly even Schwitters' MERZbau. There has always been something slightly Germanic about faceted forms.
Sitting tidily on their table around their stylised doily of a tree in a brusque summary of city planning, Williamson's structures could be read as playful references to deconstructivism, which complement the minimalist references to Donald Judd and Robert Smithson in the geoforms of her earlier work. Architecture has also played an important role in her recent work, such as her collaboration with architect Thom Craig, and recent exhibitions at Starkwhite in Auckland, and the Christchurch Art Gallery. The point is, though, that these are the finished things, not the three-dimensional prototypes of a future construction.
In J. G. Ballard's 1966 novel The Crystal World, the earth is slowly being transformed into a surreally beautiful, alien crystalline landscape by an infective process of spatial and temporal refraction. This, I think, is similar to the faceted and splintered views Williamson experienced among the skyscrapers of New York City during the time she spent in the United States - a world rendered disjointed, but possibly offering the potential for a new kind of immortality, of all moments being experienced simultaneously.
The other component of this work is the photographs, taken in such a way as to make the models look breathtakingly real. It skewers our sense of scale, and challenges our sense of what is real and what is not - a Baudrillardian Simulacra as neat as any mock-up put together by an architectural studio. The viewer is forced to respond, forced to cast an eye back and forth between photograph and installation in order to consider this subverted relationship with reality.
From a Freudian perspective artists and model-makers have a lot in common; both (apparently) are working from an unconscious desire to exert absolute god-like control over something in an otherwise chaotic and random universe. Art allows the artist the power of creating - which Leonardo back in the Renaissance linked with the imitation of the Divine act. Model-making is more about working in parallel, the earliest models being objects of divine veneration, intended to exert some kind of sympathetic influence over its original, or stand in for the original in the beyond. Creating in miniature is thus an act of cosmic significance. It is also a luxury, a thing intended for the wealthy and powerful, whether that be clay slaves to serve a Pharaoh, or Queen Mary's Doll House. As the "Miniature Killer" plot arc of the seventh season of the CBS television series CSI, the miniature can also be the province of the maniacally obsessive, particularly as a microcosmic stage on which to enact the psychodrama of their fantasies - but then again, some of my best friends (including many artists among them) are maniacally obsessive.
Andrew Paul Wood
sculpture #1 - #9