Catalogue essay.
Phase Mother Earth. / 2

The Laundry Room 

The project started with a series of conversations between the curators, Maiko & Eduardo together with Richard & myself. We spoke about the nature, history and context of the laundry room and the building it was situated in, and discussed how it sat in relation to Eduardo's apartment. The room was just next door to Eduardo's apartment, separated by a single skin wall, which formed one side of Eduardo's hallway. The wall was rendered on the hallway side as you would expect, but also on the laundry room side, whereas all the other walls were just painted brick. The laundry room had other distinct qualities too; it was a very dark, small space (less that 10 sq M), it was also an odd five-sided shape, and with no windows.

These conditions lent it a very specific atmosphere, with remnants of it's original life, such as capped off pipework coming in and out and a line of sturdy hooks around the wall just above head height. It was apparent that it had been unused or mis-used for some years (since the 1950's we found out, due to a tragic accident), there were layers of different coloured flaking paint (municipal palette), pools of spilt paint on the floor and some gold aerosol-ed graffiti on top.

Whilst there were plenty of interesting aspects to the space, what I became most fascinated by was the separating wall, as dividing element. Eduardo had told us that he hoped he might be able to remove this wall at some point in the future, to expand the footprint of his compact living space. We had discussed the logistics of that; negotiating purchase from the council, where services might enter and exit, and the nature and material of the wall itself, which was a little mysterious, being plastered on both sides, and in such a utilitarian space.

This and the so-far-only-imagined, enlarged living space made me want to investigate what the wall was made of. By piercing this wall we could provide a glimpse of how the two spaces might feel if connected as one, revealing sight lines from one space to the other.

We would also though, discover what the wall was made of and establish the scale of operation needed to remove it.

On it's own this might have remained an imagined idea, perhaps best put off until Eduardo had established a plan with the council. 

Introducing large holes through the wall, would produce cores, from the drilling process, as a kind of archaeological evidence, which could also act as weights, which together with some laundry room hardware (pulleys, hooks, ropes), could make a device that acted as a door closer. The opening and closing of the door would then mean there was a piece of wall traveling up and down in the space as you entered. It would also animate the space by altering the meagre light levels offered by a centrally mounted ceiling light and the three pierced holes in the wall (which turned out to be made of cinder block, which I think was identified by Richard, via his wild knowledge of the fabric of the world).


The whole project was surrounded by a fluid discussion, we talked a lot of other buildings and things related to building things. We talked of Eladio Dieste, a Uruguayan architect and engineer whose work I had only seen in books but was deeply impressed by, who built incredible huge, yet delicate structures from brick, that looked like they shouldn't stand up. It turned out that Eduardo's father had commissioned a colleague of Dieste's to build the family house, and Eduardo knew a handful of his buildings in Uruguay. We then talked about books on Dieste, and his writing which echoed some of my own preoccupations;  ‘For architecture to be truly constructed the materials should not be used without a deep respect for their essence and consequently their possibilities. This is the only way that what we build will have the cosmic economy.’* I had picked up on this quote and was intrigued by his use of the wording 'cosmic economy'. Both words were most likely chosen for their original and fuller meanings; cosmic meaning holistic? and economy referring to resourcefulness?  Eduardo described a Brazilian term for a kind of another kind of building culture that is common in poorer neighbourhoods around the world; "puxadinho", which means something like ‘little (improvised) extension’. This reminded us of the work of Mexican artist Abraham Cruzvillegas and an ongoing project of his called ‘Autoconstrucción’. This is a term he coined to describe a similar, ad-hoc process of making, that stemmed from a childhood upbringing, seeing a suburb of Mexico City stretch via varied interventions with available materials. Maiko introduced to the conversation, a group of Japanese artists I wasn't familiar with, called Mono Ha, and particularly a work from 1968 by Nobuo Sekine called ‘Phase – Mother Earth’ - a project that shared a loose conceptual similarity with my proposal for the laundry room wall. 

Writing this now, makes me aware that we all share a kind of anthropological interest in how things are made and how different cultures create things in different places and at different times, but which can share certain qualities. It's a little like the concept behind the Pitt Rivers Museum, where the focus is on a particular archetype regardless of geographic or historical provenance, which shifts the view more towards specific things. It probably also explains a bit our interest in the nature of things and the making of them, how they can hold a certain kind of power, which language sometime fails to properly describe? And maybe that sums up what we all spend a lot of our lives thinking about, which is how quite everyday things can also be quite special?


* Dieste Quote ref. P.21 Eladio Dieste. The Engineer's Contribution to Contemporary Architecture. Remo Pedreschi (Thomas Telford Books 2000)