Taking history as her point of departure, Bryony Roberts’ installation Inverting Neutra reconsiders the relationship between the iconic modern house, the architect who created it and the surrounding environment of Southern California – both past and present. It also engages with Roberts’ background as an artist and architect, respectively, as well as her ongoing research and interest in spatial organization and historic preservation.Inverting Neutra is testament to how we might begin to engage with modern architecture as part of the contemporary condition. Situated in Richard Neutra’s personal studio and residence in Los Angeles, the installation, as its title suggests, is both derived from and resistant to the famed Austrian architect’s mid-century house and design. For Roberts, a practicing artist/architect, “the house was an interesting preservation challenge since it focused on the spatial organization rather than the facade as a dominant motif.” .
Built in 1932, the VDL Research House was conceived as an experiment in architecture, biology and human psychology. Accessible and democratic in style, Neutra focused on technology and economy as a means to explore contemporary housing design and social interaction. Designed using the latest building materials at the time including aluminum, steel, concrete, mirror, and glass, Neutra made use of these new raw materials to employ spatial illusions that expanded the living area beyond the home’s modest 2,100 square-foot floor plan. Roberts’ installation, like the house, maintains a strong orthogonal perspective that projects lines and volumes beyond the fixed planes of the sculptural piece and creates the optical effect of varying depths and spaces.
Realized as a series of linear projections that manifest themselves in different shades and lengths of blue satin chord, the intervention successfully mediates between armature and artifice. Derivative of the house in form and methodology, Roberts’ artwork connects old/new and positive/negative to create spatial organizations that exist somewhere between organic/rational and interior/exterior. Seamlessly integrated into the existing structure by means of suspended aluminum and steel channel frames attached to existing support beams, the installation appears to generate from the framework of the house itself. The tensile sculpture, suspended from the ceiling, hovers mere inches above the ground ever-so-gently due in part to small weights adhered to the ends of each string. The weights allow the string to move but still permit moments of straightness and regularity. These moments, according to Roberts, “when you see the grid snap into space and can read the rows clearly, is an important perceptual moment for me.”
The internal system designed by Roberts inverts Neutra’s existing spatial order by drawing attention to the exterior volumes that intersect the interior space of the house. Her work isolates these void spaces as a way to demonstrate the house’s intrinsic need to hinge on these in-between areas. The precision and control exhibited by Neutra is also paralleled by Roberts in her meticulous insertion of form into the overarching structure that at times can be read as the void, and her installation the solid, and vice-versa. Where Neutra applies restraint is precisely where these blurred boundaries occur and the house extends to become part of the California landscape. Similarly, where Roberts limits her control of the system (particularly on the upper two levels of the house facing the reservoir), a serene breeze guides the string and produces a kind of dynamic movement that the house naturally lacks. According to Roberts, “the house sets up the possibility of these different kind of kinetic spaces – creating this push and pull interaction between house and artwork.”
This tension between house and artwork is intensified at dusk when the installation reads graphically and more diagrammatic, closer to the proposed architectural rendering of the house and correlating installation. The neutral brown and grey tones of the house fade into the background and the architecture is read as a series of blue vertical lines that connect and pivot at distinct points of interest. The cool hues of the string are effectively activated by a series of LED lights attached on the bottom of the piece that intensify the blue shades of color that smoothly dissolve into the evening sky. Stagnant or in motion, naturally or artificially lit, Roberts’ installation undeniably creates an active dialogue with Neutra’s VDL House and the architect himself through their inherent symbiotic relationship. Part of an annual artist-in-residency program at the VDL House that invites artists to engage with the modern architecture of the house and continue this ethos of experimentation originated by Neutra in the 1930s, Inverting Neutra is currently on view through September 7, 2013.
Through 7 September 2013
by Bryony Roberts
Neutra VDL Studio and Residences
2300 Silver Lake Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90039