Interview with Sophie McKinlay

GGM: Gander-Goldfinger-Marriott

SMcK: Is the project a collaboration?

MM: That was the original plan...

RG ...but it’s become more like a collision than a collaboration...

SMcK: Why did you want to work together in the first place?

MM: To try and find a middle point that both of our thought processes revolved around. Ryan and I talked a lot about how we had both referenced Goldfinger in earlier works. And because Goldfinger tied our various interests together he became that middle point. We were going to make a small show of freshly self-generated things, but then we decided to try and fabricate things that would be useful instead.

RG: Originally I was thinking about our designing a terrace of five houses - one would be for a writer, one for a composer and one for a visual artist. They would look the same from the front but be very different inside. I thought we could build them, pre-sell three and keep one each. Everything always has to have an ulterior motive....

MM: I have done things like that but without such a high degree of strategic pre-planning. Most of my flat is furnished with off-cuts and leftovers of things I have used in shows or acquired in some way. I have very rarely gone out and bought a chair.

SmcK: Instead you give these things you acquire another life?

MM: Right. I’m sure lots of other artists and designers do this too....

RG: It’s funny because when you fabricate things that look great and are also useful you always find a way to retain them and the stories they tell...

MM: They have gone on a journey and they keep a little bit of the story of that journey in them. This is very different to buying something from Habitat.

SMcK: Ryan, what are you doing for the exhibition?

RG: When Goldfinger married Ursula Blackwell from the Crosse and Blackwell empire her parents gave them the money to build three terrace houses on Willow Road in Hampstead. Goldfinger used the space in the back of the house to build a big wooden structure like a vitrine, except with no glass on the front. There is an angle-poise light to the side, pictures on the back of the vitrine, and a series of objects on a shelf. It’s like a device that the Surrealists used to explore the associations of seemingly disconnected ideas and materials. For me, this was interesting because of my Loose Association series of lectures. I’m always looking for devices that can automatically trigger associations between disparate fragments of information.

SMcK: How did the Surrealists use it?

RG: Well, there would be a sofa with a coffee table in front of it and you would take an object and place it next to it. Then you would take a picture down and put another up, perhaps with an article next to it. Very soon the entire thing would become like a big speaker of information.

SMcK: So it wasn’t just a backdrop?

RG: The idea was that you moved things around like a pin-board, and it was always there for you to draw associations from. It was a device to put the ideas that were important to you in the very front of your mind in order for them to collide - like me and Michael colliding with each other in this show. I’ve remade one of these devices for the exhibition - I decided to put money into fabricating it mainly because I want one. Once the show’s over I’m going to move it to my studio in Suffolk and place it in front of my sofa.

SMcK: How does it function?

RG: My version is the object I just described but with the addition of about six books, ten pictures in frames and four objects. While I want it to reveal the fact that it was designed to make these collisions between content and information happen, I didn’t want to give content to it - so I sprayed everything with primer.

SMcK: So it alludes to a function instead of having one?

RG: It’s like these things are not really there – they are absent.

SMcK: Ryan has just admitted to making something for the show that he wants to take home. What about you Michael?

MM: Well, it’s a bit similar, in that what I’m doing is based around the practicality of using existing readymades. The original idea was that I was going to put together two components from existing projects and make a new table that referenced the table in Willow Road that Goldfinger made out of found objects. Goldfinger’s table has never been published or written about – it’s symptomatic of what’s happened to his entire body of work. 

Willow Road remains one of the most valid ways of modernism working in a typical English setting, like a row of terraced houses. Because of the intelligence behind its planning, the house still works well sixty odd years later. There is this fantastic phrase that Goldfinger coined – ‘Kasbah architecture’ – in referring to Le Corbusier and co. Instead of a geometry of white purist forms, which only function well in a hot climate, Goldfinger suggested a house built with care and craftsmanship designed in response to the given context - the vernacular and climactic conditions of Britain. Goldfinger’s buildings are very tender, and his use of both raw colour and applied colour is so human.

SMK: Do you think the reason behind this human element is that Goldfinger was more willing to make concessions to the people he was making these buildings for?

MM: Yes, I think he thought about people using them rather than just looking at them. Goldfinger’s table in Willow Road has some kind of cast iron machine base and its large tabletop is covered with lino. It’s very simple and very discrete.

SMcK: Did Goldfinger do things like that because of financial constraints?

MM: I don’t know: but I’m imagining that he found the base and recognised it as an intelligent device for a table and also a very handsome piece of modernism in the way that Victorian industrial objects were essentially modernist but without the strict geometry introduced by the modernists. I think it shows in both Goldfinger’s buildings and his furniture that he was not restrained by geometry. His cantilevered chairs placed around the table in Willow Road are a lot more fluid than either Mies van der Rohe’s or Marcel Breuer’s iconic chairs. They look a bit odder, but they are a lot more comfortable.

There is also going to be a photo of Goldfinger’s table in-situ at Willow Road in the show. The top of my table was originally going to be an ash top from an SCP product that I had some spare prototypes from. But they proved too small, so I’m making something new. The base of my table will be constituted from a plastic moulded stool that I did for the Southbank Centre’s 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain. Goldfinger was involved in the festival in 1951 - he designed a funny little kiosk for it. The form of Goldfinger’s cast-iron base in his Willow Road table has a familiarity with the form of the plastic stool I’m going to use. So many modernist designers just puff things up instead of adapting what’s already around them. Often their designs look too self-conscious – too designed. But Goldfinger’s more subtle approach has lead to his occupying a very slight place in modernist architectural history...

RG: ...and because he has been demonised due to the Trellick Tower...

SMcK: It’s interesting that you both picked up on these things at Willow Road. The furniture was designed for the space and the people who lived in it and it creates a very particular environment...

RG: ...I have just changed my mind about the grey objects I mentioned earlier.... Instead they should be a palette of browns and creams - warm autumnal 1970s colours.

Besides our two objects, there will also be transcripts in the show of Michael’s exhibition at the Geffrye Museum [Mies Meets Marx/MMM, 2002], all the stories and objects relating to the lives of the other objects in Willow Road, and my lecture, Loose Association X. Overall, the show is an enquiry into the world of things that we are both interested in – one mad journey leading you to another one quite organically. There’s a big discussion of mobiles in Loose Association X that refers to the [Bruno] Munari versus [Alexander] Calder situation – that Calder hated Munari because he stole the mobile idea from him. So I might put a mobile in too – me trying to do a little mobile joke.

It’s nice how these two things in the exhibition are quite grounded in Willow Road and Goldfinger but other things in it start to make the step somewhere else. The visitor is left to carry on walking, in whichever direction they choose....

Sophie McKinlay is a freelance curator who organised the exhibition Cedric Price: Doubt, Delight and Change at the Design Museum in 2005 and co-organised Zaha Hadid: Architecture and Design at the same venue in 2007. She is currently working on a site-specific project for Penguin books in New York and the forthcoming Damien Hirst exhibition at Tate Modern in 2012.