Bryony Roberts + Mabel O. Wilson + Marching Cobras Commissioned by Storefront for Art and Architecture 2017-2018
Presented by Storefront for Art and Architecture, the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance, and Performa 17 Supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Graham Foundation, and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council
Marching On: The Politics of Performance explores the histories, driving forces, and legacies of marching and organized forms of performance. African-American marching bands have long been powerful agents of cultural and political expression, celebrating collective identities and asserting rights to public space and visibility.
Historically rooted in military training exercises and combat formations, African-American marching bands and drumlines honored service in U.S. conflicts and highlighted the absence of civil rights despite sacrifices to defend the nation. While their movements, costumes, colors, and iconography have radically expanded since the nineteenth century to incorporate other forms of performance including dance lines, hip-hop, and step choreography, they still remain connected to a lineage of marching as political expression.
Commissioned by Storefront for Art and Architecture, Bryony Roberts and Mabel O. Wilson have created a research project, performance, and exhibition that explores the crucial role of collective movements as acts of both cultural expression and political resistance. The project was inaugurated with a series of performances that interwove echoes of the 1917 Silent March against racial violence with references to the revered Harlem Hellfighters. These performances were developed in collaboration with the Marching Cobras of New York, a Harlem-based after-school drumline and dance team, and presented in partnership with the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance as part of Performa 17.
For the exhibition, Bryony Roberts and Mabel O. Wilson combine the many layers of the research and performance project into a spatial installation. Continuing and expanding upon the theme of camouflage, the exhibition displays volumes of custom-printed fabric in hybridized patterns. In part, marching bands served as a form of camouflage that enabled African-Americans to gather and occupy public spaces when otherwise prohibited during the era of Jim Crow segregation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In response, the exhibition's patterned textiles merge military camouflage with the geometric paving patterns of Marcus Garvey Park, the site of the inaugural Marching On performances. Changing color along the length of the gallery, the fabric creates pockets of space for thematic topics related to the history of race and urban public space.
Marching On ultimately celebrates historical and contemporary forms of marching by revealing on the power of this type of movement to articulate cultural heritage in moments of rapid change.
Digital collages by Bryony Roberts Videos by Ferran de Mendoza Photography of performance by Jenica Heintzelman Photography of exhibition by Miguel de Guzman and Spencer Kohn
Site-specific Installation The American Academy in Rome Cinque Mostre Exhibition February-May, 2016
Primo Piano responds to the unique stone floor of the American Academy in Rome entryway as well as the surrounding tradition of patterned stone floors in Rome. Built in 1914, the entryway floor of this McKim Mean & White building is a modest, neo-Renaissance pattern of travertine circles and diamonds inlaid into peperino stone. But in the vicinity are examples of medieval Cosmatesque floors, with intricate patterns of circles, triangles, and squares, which were used to guide the positions of clergy and worshippers during religious celebrations. The new pattern of Primo Piano, made with adhesive vinyl shapes, creates a visual oscillation between the existing floor at the American Academy and references to the surrounding Cosmatesque precedents. Disrupting the existing axial, symmetry organization of the entryway, this pattern introduces alternative directions for movement and attention in the space, which emerge from the existing geometry and also defy it.
These studies are inspired by patterned stone floors in Rome, in which precious stones are cut and inlaid into intricate geometric patterns. In particular, the project looks at the medieval Cosmatesque floors seen throughout central Italy, in which simple geometric forms - squares, diamonds, and circles - accumulate into complex fields of texture through the combination of different marbles.
These collages explore how complexity can emerge from material difference within simple geometric patterns. The studies are both drawings and designs for future installations. As architectural drawings, they experiment with representing space not through line but through only the juxtaposition of color and texture.
Site-specific Installation Neutra VDL House, Los Angeles Supported by the Graham Foundation July 13 - September 7, 2013
Inverting Neutra is an installation at Richard and Dion Neutra’s VDL House II (1932/1966) in Los Angeles that offers spatial inversion as a strategy for activating historic architecture. The VDL House is known for its close interlocking of interior and exterior spaces, in which exterior patios penetrate the house from the street up to the roof terrace. This project performs an inversion by turning the void spaces into distinct colored volumes, filled with hanging blue cords following the spacing of the stair module. Turning voids into volumes of color, this inversion both celebrates and subverts the existing architecture. The hanging cords move in the wind and in response to touch, creating a register of climate and movement through the house. In addition, the blue cords are cut to follow the contours of human movement, for example, dropping lower in a seating area and lifting up above the main stair. The result is an interactive and dynamic installation that calls attention to the constantly shifting environmental and social activity in the house.
Rather than critiquing Neutra or his architecture, the project serves as a provocation to the schism between preservation and architecture practices, siting creativity in the transformation of existing structures. The project hosted a discussion on alternative preservation practices, including Barbara Lamprecht, Kimberli Meyer, Todd Gannon, Dora Epstein Jones, and Sarah Lorenzen.
Bryony Roberts + South Shore Drill Team Performance at the Federal Center, Chicago Chicago Architecture Biennial October 2-3, 2015
Conceived for the Chicago Architecture Biennial, this collaborative performance was created by architect Bryony Roberts and choreographer Asher Waldron of the South Shore Drill Team. Mies van der Rohe’s Federal Center in Chicago is a monument of modern architecture and national government, unified by a relentless and ever-present grid. It was initiated by Mayor Richard Daley in the late 1950s, at a time of great investment in the downtown Loop, and disinvestment in the predominantly African-American South Side of Chicago. Responding to both the architectural space and its larger social history, this project introduces a dynamic performance by the South Shore Drill Team, a youth organization from the South Side. Merging military drill routines with hip-hop choreography, the group transforms the lines of the Miesian grid into an electrifying system of movement. Their transformation challenges the current militarization of public space and the longstanding segregation of urban space in Chicago.
Photography by Andrew Bruah Video by Andy Resek of Winterbeach Productions
Site-specific installation Orange County Museum of Art, CA Cal-Pac Triennial 2017 May 6 - September 3, 2017
Imprint is a cast of the Brutalist concrete facade of the Orange County Museum of Art. The piece was commissioned for the OCMA California-Pacific Triennial, intended to be the last show in the building before its demolition. The goal of the project is to document and reproduce the building as a record, but also to produce a transformation of the familiar facade. This large-scale fiberglass cast is an exact copy of the existing walls, down to every bump and pebble in the concrete. Mounted in the front windows of the musuem, the piece creates sculptural continuity with the surrounding facade, but noticeable material discontinuity. Backlit in the window, the cast is an ethereal, translucent surface. This highlights the artificiality of the representation and its difference from the original. Rather than aiming for objectivity, this copy acknowledges its own artificiality and the corporeal dimension of its construction. Installed facing the lobby, the texture of the brutalist facade becomes a sensuous surface that visitors are invited to touch.
Photography by Jaime Kowal, Bryony Roberts Fabrication by ADM Works
Site-specific Installation The American Academy in Rome July 2017
This installation grew from a study of the medieval Cosmatesque floors in Rome, dating from the late 12th- and early 13th-centuries. In churches such as San Clemente, San Crisogono, and Santa Maria in Cosmedin, medieval craftsmen used small, found pieces of marble and precious stones to create intricately patterned floors. Although the geometries were simple—squares, circles, and triangles—the variations of color and veining in each piece stone create complex fields of pattern and color.
Inspired by these floors, Pavimento is a contemporary spin on the Cosmatesque techniques. Again, the geometries are simple, but the material variations introduce optical tricks and unforeseen complexities. Rather than using found marble, this project uses faux-marble contact paper found at hardware stores around Rome. The fanaticism for marble ornament continues into the present day in Rome, but now in plastic adhesive form, and this project takes advantage of its availability. In addition, the project is site-specific—responding to the terra-cotta floors of the underground Cryptoporticus at the American Academy in Rome. Medieval patterns are stretched and aligned to the grid of terra-cotta tiles, moving in and out of alignment with the underlying grid.
Assistant: Roberto de Crecchio
Bryony Roberts + Melissa Lohman Site-specific performance Piazza del Campidoglio, Rome Supported by the American Academy in Rome June 16, 2016
A collaboration between Bryony Roberts and dancer/choreographer Melissa Lohman, this project stages an encounter between contemporary performers and the monumental space of the Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome. Famously redesigned by Michelangelo in the 16th century, the space features a central oval ground with a spiraling pattern, which was later realized by Mussolini. As the seat of the municipal government in Rome, the architecture and plaza of the Campidoglio has been carefully constructed to represent a center of local power that points towards the Vatican.
The dancers alternately trace and deviate from the patterned ground, responding to both the centralizing and decentralizing elements of the space. Measuring the space with their bodies and with long white rods, the dancers turn a dutiful study of the pattern into a more varied confrontation with its constraints.
Dancers: Chiara Casciani, Maria Elena Curzi, Silvia Franci, Lucrezia Micheli, and Chiara Pacioni Percussionist: Angela Naccari Video editing: Jamie Lansdowne Video camera operators: Clarissa Cappellani and Raffaella Antonutti Photography: Claudia Pajewski, Antonio Convista, and Javier Galindo
Corpo Estraneo Video
Solo exhibition Pinkcomma Gallery 49 Waltham Street, Boston September 6 - October 14, 2016
Tailored is a collection of shapes that interlock with human bodies. Fitting closely around shoulders, chests, and hips, the objects offer intimate contact on a level not usually found in furniture or architecture.
This exhibition builds upon the artist´s ongoing work with pre-existing buildings, in which she measures and extends the idiosyncrasies of historic architecture. Her work focuses on specificity rather than generality—how the details of an existing condition can be generative, rather than the imposition of an external system.
In Tailored, the pre-existing condition is human bodies, each defined by individual shapes and sizes. While each piece in the show is tailored to a different person, the project produces surprising commonalities in proportion and dimension between people of different genders and sizes—generating an ambiguity between the specific and the general. The abstraction and ambiguity of the shapes produces an open playfulness as people find their own configurations of interlocking.
Assistants: Andrew Brookes, Zhuang Guo, Caleb Hawkins, Chris Mollica, Brian Park, Huopu Zhang Materials generously donated by Filz Felt
Invited Masterplan Government Quarter, Oslo, Norway Spring, 2015
Bryony Roberts led the Oslo School of Architecture (AHO) team to produce an invited masterplan for the government district in Oslo. The masterplan addresses the transformation of postwar modernist buildings by Erling Viksjø that were bombed on July 22 2011 by Anders Breivik. The AHO Team submitted alongside other invited teams such as BIG, Snøhetta, and MVRDV, and offered the perspective of experimental preservation. The AHO Team project most actively questioned the government plans for the site and advocated for the preservation of the existing buildings. As a result, it garnered massive support from the general public and architecture community, and took first place in the NRK national poll.
This project identifies the existing condition as a "monumental field," in which buildings from multiple time periods and architectural styles represent aspects of Norwegian society. "Open Quarter" extends the underlying grids of this monumental field to structure a thickened ground plane and the placement of new towers, which must accommodate over 2 million square feet of new office space.
Team Advisers: Jorge Otero-Pailos, Erik Langdalen, Christian Parreno, Guttorm Ruud Graduate Students: Helle Bendixen, Nina Gjersøe, Liv Hanstad, Hauk Lien, Eva Negård, Ida Nordstrøm, Liv Oppenbøen, Rebecca Schulz With assistance from Craig Konyk's students at Columbia GSAPP
This project proposes subtractions to postwar towers in Los Angeles, in order to expose the spatial possibilities of the existing structural frames and to develop an aesthetic of subtraction to rival new construction. While these buildings were built near the end of architecture’s faith in a universal grid, this project aims to appropriate and reconfigure the grid to generate spaces of surprise and differentiation. Wherever clusters of density exist in Los Angeles, such as along the Wilshire Corridor or in Downtown, there is a plethora of 1960s and 70s exposed concrete frame towers. Built in a range of scales and construction quality, one could say this is one of the most characteristic building types of the Los Angeles area. This design proposal pursues how a subtractive process could address the programmatic obsolescence of these buildings and generate a new experiential environment based on the grid.
Cityvision New York Competition Honorable Mention 2013
Open Zones offers a horizontal framework for stitching together historic landmarks, public space, and new development across Manhattan. This strategy reconciles the otherwise incompatible agendas that have guided New York City planning over the last hundred years: the modernist ideal of open public space, the preservation of historic architecture, and the recent turn toward sustainable densification.
Exposing the structural frames of existing and new architecture, Open Zones reveals an open field that enables connections across disparate units through expansive, luminous public space. Challenging the characteristic verticality of Manhattan, the horizontality of each zone generates new part-to-whole relationships between former icons and the public zone. Each building is simultaneously part of a field and an individual monument.
One Prize Competition 2014
Responding to the architecture of Building 128 in the Brooklyn Navy Yards and the need for a flexible learning space, Central Dock offsets the shape of the gable roof to activate the vertical section of the building. Like a ship docking in the center of the building, the Central Dock acts as a hub for surrounding occupants, concentrating shared programming of exhibition, cafe, and screening spaces.
With assistance from Connor Gravelle and Carolina Murcia
Site-specific performance Inner City Arts, Los Angeles For LA Forum's ForumFest, 2013
For this live intervention, performers wear geometric shapes that fit precisely into the negative spaces of Michael Maltzan's Inner City Arts complex. Shaped by the angular lines of the existing architecture, the shapes slot into corners and recombine to form different additions to the buildings. In contrast to a static installation, the performance creates an interlocking of the human body, prosthetic shapes, and existing architecture.
Site-specific installation Brooklyn, New York 2006
This site-specific installation explores how the insertion of a new figure can interlock with an existing space to transform its perceptual and programmatic conditions. The project raises the datum of a bathroom floor and wraps the new elevated floor surface around all of the existing furniture and bathroom fixtures. The new datum makes the existing objects appear to rise out of a larger volume, but also maintains the original function of the bathroom. The figure both asserts a new whole and leaves the existing objects intact. .