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Abitation and the Ideal House Project

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June 2 - June 30, 2012
Ian Carr-Harris and Yvonne Lammerich. Abitation and the Ideal House Project, 2012. Image courtesy of the architects.
Ian Carr-Harris and Yvonne Lammerich. Abitation and the Ideal House Project, 2012. Image courtesy of the architects.

Idea Exchange
Design at Riverside
7 Melville Street S, Cambridge, ON
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Artists Ian Carr-Harris and Yvonne Lammerich explore a fragment of Canadian history through early drawings of Champlain’s vanished fort at Quebec and C.W. Jefferies’ 1940’s reinterpretation of the fort, used to illustrate introductory grade school history books, as source material for their 3 D models in the Abitation Project.

The exhibition compares the Abitation Project with the Ideal House Project, which considers a disused Ontario barn from the early twentieth century as historical artifact. Both projects share an element of fantasy and provide the base for an examination of collective and personal memories, and concepts of the “ideal” house.

Ian Carr-Harris
Ian Carr-Harris is an artist based in Toronto, Canada, whose work has been exhibited nationally and internationally since 1971. Significant exhibitions include the Venice Biennale (1984), Documenta,...

Ian Carr-Harris is an artist based in Toronto, Canada, whose work has been exhibited nationally and internationally since 1971. Significant exhibitions include the Venice Biennale (1984), Documenta, Kassel, Germany (1987), the Canadian Biennial at the National Gallery, Ottawa (1989), the Sydney Biennale, Sydney, Australia (1990) and the Montreal Biennale (1998). In 2007 he was named a recipient (Laureate) of the Governor-General's Awards in the Visual and Media Arts. He was educated at Queen’s University, Kingston (Modern History), the University of Toronto (Library Science) and the Ontario College of Art (Sculpture).  He is a life member of the RCA and a current member of the Chelsea Arts Club in London, UK, and is represented by the Susan Hobbs Gallery in Toronto. He teaches at the Ontario College of Art and Design in the Sculpture/Installation and Criticism and Curatorial Practice Programs.  His writing has included reviews and articles for journals and magazines, including Parachute, Vanguard, Canadian Art, Prefix, and the London (UK) magazine Contemporary; he is a contributing editor for Canadian Art magazine, Toronto.  He was a founding Board member of one of the first artist-run galleries, A Space, Toronto in 1971 and of one of Canada’s premier international exhibiting space, The Power Plant. He has served on the Board of the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Board of the web-based CCCA (Centre for Canadian Contemporary Art), where his work can be viewed on line through www.ccca.ca as well as through the Susan Hobbs Gallery.

Carr-Harris says "My work situates itself in that space we reserve for our recognition that the histories and structures which we use to give definition to identity are themselves contingent and fluid, no less elusive than the identities we seek to secure. Through shifts of emphasis, the work seeks to disturb our field of knowledge while leaving it also apparently intact. ”

Yvonne Lammerich
Yvonne Lammerich currently lives and works in Toronto, and is a graduate of the Ontario College of Art. She received her MA in Art History from Concordia and her  PhD from UQAM. She has...

Yvonne Lammerich currently lives and works in Toronto, and is a graduate of the Ontario College of Art. She received her MA in Art History from Concordia and her  PhD from UQAM. She has exhibited in Canada and Europe since the 1980’s, including France, Germany and Poland.  Her large installations were included in peinture peinture, Montreal (1997, 1999) organized by Rene Blouin and Christiane Chassey, as well as the Musée de Quebec (1998), and the Québec International Biennale, 2000. Since moving to Toronto she has contributed a major installation, Island, to the Nature in the Garage Project, Toronto (2006) and mounted a solo exhibition, Belief, at Diaz Contemporary in 2008. Also in 2008 she was invited as one of three artists to participate in Correspondence / Common Ground at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery as well as exhibiting Abitation 1608-2008 (based on Champlain’s drawing of his fort at Quebec) at the Trianon Gallery in Lethbridge. The installation Rimeter was included in the exhibition Empire of Dreams, Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA, Toronto) in 2010. In that same year she co-produced (with Ian Carr-Harris) the project Copy This for the exhibition Art School Dismissed, Toronto, and initiated the TMCA project (Toronto Museum of Contemporary Art – a hybrid virtual Museum) whose most recent incarnation was shown in the exhibition It takes everyone to know no one at the Barnicke Gallery, University of Toronto (2011). Upcoming in June, 2012, is the Ideal House Project, School of Architecture, Cambridge Art Gallery/University of Waterloo.

Over her career she has curated several exhibitions and written for Parachute, Canadian Art, and Contemporary Magazine, London UK. In 1996 she received the Maria Stafford Mid-Career Prize administered by the Canada Council. She has also executed a number of public art works in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. In addition she participated in the Banff residency “The Future of Idea Art” in 2006. Her work is represented in the collection of the Musée des Beaux Arts de Montréal, the Musée du Quebec, the Canada Council and other public and private collections.



  • Abitation and the Ideal House Project, (installation), 2012. Photo: Peter Ross
    Abitation and the Ideal House Project, (installation), 2012. Photo: Peter Ross
  • Abitation and the Ideal House Project, (installation), 2012. Photo: Peter Ross
    Abitation and the Ideal House Project, (installation), 2012. Photo: Peter Ross
  • Abitation and the Ideal House Project, (installation), 2012. Photo: Peter Ross
    Abitation and the Ideal House Project, (installation), 2012. Photo: Peter Ross
  • Abitation and the Ideal House Project, (installation), 2012. Photo: Peter Ross
    Abitation and the Ideal House Project, (installation), 2012. Photo: Peter Ross
  • Abitation and the Ideal House Project, (installation), 2012. Image courtesy of the architect.
    Abitation and the Ideal House Project, (installation), 2012. Image courtesy of the architect.

Curatorial Writing

Introduction  by Esther E. Shipman, Curator, Design at Riverside.  Architecture surrounds us literally and figuratively.  It could be argued that there are few other artistic expressions that...

Introduction  
by Esther E. Shipman, Curator, Design at Riverside. 

Architecture surrounds us literally and figuratively.  It could be argued that there are few other artistic expressions that universally impact everyday life as pervasively. Architecture is a profession studied, and practiced all over the world. Historically, it has been defined as the science, art or profession of designing and constructing buildings or other structures. In virtually every jurisdiction, legislation requires the successful completion of specific education, working experience and exams as prerequisites to acquiring the designation of ‘architect’. 

In recent years, the term ‘architecture’ has been borrowed, repurposed, and absorbed into common usage to refer to any ordered or arranged design of the parts of a system, or a strategic plan. For example, it is now ubiquitous in describing the creation and development of new computer software.

The lines between architecture and art in academia and in practice are also becoming progressively blurred.  Conceptual and theoretical architecture has been increasingly accepted in architecture school curriculum, and has gained momentum as a distinct field of discourse and writing. Conversely, aspects of architecture have long held a fascination for artists who are drawn to both the conceptual and the physical, i.e. rendering (drawing) and construction as a metaphorical ‘muse’.

Abitation and The Ideal House Project featuring the work of Ian Carr-Harris and Yvonne Lammerich is just the second architecturally themed exhibition by artists to be displayed at Design at Riverside--which is dedicated exclusively to producing and presenting architecture and design exhibitions, events and publications. This exhibition proposes an artistic vision of architecture that melds a strong narrative, research, exemplary craftsmanship, and thought provoking concepts that correspond to the gallery’s mandate and includes nuanced touchstones to Canadian history and translates experiences that architects, artists and the public will relate to.

The exhibition brings together what appears to be two disparate architectural investigations, Abitation which presents 3D models of Champlain’s vanished fort at Quebec inspired by two very different renderings of the fort c. 1608 and c. 1940’s, with The Ideal House Project which outlines the artists’ (mis)adventures creating a new rural home/studio from the remains of a derelict historic barn.  

Carr-Harris and Lammerich use drawings, projections, photography, texts and models to weave together fragments of Canadian history and heritage building traditions with the mysteries and longing of the ‘Ideal’ in art and architecture. They share their research, artistic explorations and experiences as they navigate the contrasts between a bucolic ‘Ideal’ confronted by the harsh realities of a hostile frontier, nostalgic reinterpretation and bureaucratic red tape.

Design at Riverside is pleased to have the opportunity to present Abitation and The Ideal House Project together for the first time.*

*Abitation was previously exhibited at the Museum of Southern Alberta.

Champlain and the Ideal House, Notes, May 2012 by Yvonne Lammerich and Ian Carr-Harris  A Question: The two parts of the exhibition mark a critical issue within the discourse of modernity that...

Champlain and the Ideal House, Notes, May 2012 
by Yvonne Lammerich and Ian Carr-Harris 

A Question:

The two parts of the exhibition mark a critical issue within the discourse of modernity that underlies contemporary art and life – the question of how what we think and what we do can find a connection. The Abitation of 1608 is an historical artifact, open to art, and as such it is a concept that can frame our thoughts about being in the world. The Rednersville building, a living house, is an architectural construction replicating the memory of the 19th century barn, and in that respect it is a projection of what we must do in order to live within the demands made on us by the natural environment. The question posed by this exhibition is, then, how do these two – fort and house – coincide?

As artists, we have a history of renovating space in order to make space function for both working and living. Inevitably, the same qualities that we have brought to the production of art we have also brought to the construction of living space. Over the years we have been struck by how visitors to our spaces have commented equally, at least, on the living space as much as on the work produced in the studio, and this duality of experience – while satisfying – has also seemed a conundrum: why make art if making space offers apparently equivalent or even greater impact?

The Rednersville Road project has become a vehicle by which to confront the dichotomy behind this question. In conceiving of the ideal as inextricably linked to history, to art and to life lived, it has become clear that the original utopian ideal of the traditional avant-garde – to fuse art and life – can trade across the dimensions of space and time, where history dissolves into presentness and art and architecture cross on the axis of reflection.

Preamble

We all have a concept of the ‘ideal’ home or house, even if only as a sort of fantasy or dream. This conceptual ideal therefore exists alongside reality, which may or may not permit its realization. The arbitrating factor that permits or prevents the ideal from occurring is circumstance, which can be of one’s own making, or imposed upon us in the form of impediments produced by the regulations that govern us.

While these impediments can close down possibilities, they can also present opportunities for reconfiguring assumptions. For this reason, it is important to understand that the ideal is formed through challenge, through a ‘praxis’ or cauldron of ideas and practicalities that both test and inform the concept of the ideal as an ideological entity.

In looking at Champlain’s drawing of his Abitation at Quebec and considering the circumstances of its founding, one senses from him an enthusiasm or desire to represent as many aspects of his having achieved a secured settlement as possible. Over 300 years later the illustrator C.W. Jeffries, coming to the fort one might say as a sort of historical tour leader for the Ontario Department of Education, is content simply to offer a picturesque version that offers up an imaginary or fantasy sense of coming upon it. Champlain places us intimately within the fort; Jeffries places us as a passing onlooker. Two versions of the Ideal view.

In looking at the barn on Rednersville Road, our desire to construct for ourselves a settlement in PEC held its own circumstances, paralleling Champlain’s project in that where the fort represented a commercial venture linked to the fur trade, the barn represented in its history a working building, originally as a blacksmith’s shop, and for our purposes the basis of a workshop for the production of visual artworks.

Just as Champlain built his fort at Quebec for the advantages that the site represented – at a point on the river that worked well for the fur trade and for security, the 19th century barn on Rednersville Road was selected by us for its 21st century advantages – in particular its location on a major road connected to the national highway system. But it must also be said that there is a parallel to the two drawings of the fort. On one hand, we came to the barn, not unlike Jeffries, as tourists looking for the picturesque. On the other hand, we came to it invested with the possibilities that its shape and space could provide the practical functions essential to us. This became clearer at the point in the acquisition of the site when we were required to remove the barn due to its proximity to the road. It was then that we began to realize how its space and visual legacy had taken over our imagination, and its disappearance re-enforced our desire to replicate its inherent spatial dimensions. The barn has become a building in the image of the barn. At the same time, it has become, or rather is becoming, a conflation of the picturesque and the practical, of the barn’s history and our own intentions. Just as Champlain was able to identify the traces of Cartier’s history of settlement near Quebec, we can find traces of our own history within the construction of the Rednersville building.

In English, the word ‘building’ is both a noun and an inflection of a verb. In the act of building there lies the basis of desire, of intention being formed, or given form in the sense of an evolution of its spatial and aesthetic functions. The concept of ideal form, or the idealized structure – whether in art, architecture, forts or barns – lies not in some finality, but in the play of possibilities that attends the process of becoming. An evolutionary aesthetics.

The Models:

The barn model: 113 cm long x 75 cm wide x 75 cm high approx. The barn is represented by its main beams and connecting posts using brushed aluminum stock. This structure is then enclosed within a Plexiglas profile (including cut-outs for doors and windows) of the barn’s sides and ends, with each of these enclosing elements individually held to the internal beam structures at a slight remove so that they stand separate from one another to leave a small gap between them. The roof is left open.

The house (version 1):  113 cm long x 75 cm wide x 75 cm high approx. The house is represented by its external sides, ends and roof in unpainted Russian birch ½” plywood. Each of these elements (sides, ends and roof) are separated by a small gap that permits light to bleed through and define the contours of the building. The windows and doors are sealed with a translucent white surface to allow light to define their shapes. The above ground part of the model is set on a ½” plate of Plexiglas, placed over the underground (basement) structure of the building.

The house (version 2): 113 cm long x 75 cm wide x 75 cm high approx. The house is represented in unpainted ½” Russian birch as a fold-out and pull-apart structure enabling a play of its components.

The Process

Nothing links art and life together more firmly than talking to someone who takes the time and care to figure out how to make something that conforms to building codes and to their own sense of what is right, let alone what you would hope to see. An interesting example was cited by Marvin, our electrician, who told us a story of a fellow who wired up his own house before calling in the inspector. Everything worked – lights went on, lights went out. Trouble was, it looked like a bowl of spaghetti with wires going every which way. Sorry, said the inspector. It looks terrible. Rewire it. I’m not going to put my name to such a thing.

There you have it. The process of constructing a building faces two demands: the safety regulations that accrue around every aspect of the structure, and the expectation of good workmanship that individuals bring to the job. If you were to crawl through the passageways that allow workers to penetrate hidden recesses within the Byzantine church of Santa Sophia in Istanbul, you would find the stonework to be as handsome as anywhere in the public spaces. God sees all. Curtis, our plumber, while hooking up our lines remarked that he liked to see his copper pipes make elegant networks of lines in space, while sad at the prospect that of course all his work would almost immediately be covered over by drywall.

A special case was Lowell, who was given the job of coating the building in corrugated galvalum for the roof and walls, and flat metal for joints and edges as well as for the external lights and electricity. Working only with a grinder he had customized for safety and efficiency, Lowell and his two sons managed to clad the raw building with a skin that was a model of sensitive proportions and precision in craftsmanship, with every screw and joint in just the right place to create an impression of internal logic that turned the building into a structural object.

But none of this would have happened had it not been for Bill Bronson, our builder. It was working with Bill that prompted the realization that oddly enough our experience of building the Rednersville house held an uncanny relationship to the old barn on which it was modeled. The barn would have been raised with the help of neighbours and a few skilled craftsmen. In the case of the house we quickly discovered that Bill had over the years constructed a network of trusted local guys who know their trade and, just as important, take great pride in what they do. In Bill two great qualities constantly surfaced: on one side the need to ensure that the building would pass inspection; on the other side, the need to dream the possibilities and feel one’s own way through the complex aesthetics that the process offered if one was to make a building worth having. Nothing less, really, than the Ideal.




Funders

City of Cambridge Canada Council for the Arts Ontario Arts CouncilWaterloo Architecture