The Immobile Seesaw

Guilherme Wisnik

How to exhibit an architecture or urban project? How to break down the barrier between reality and representation that normally imprisons architecture exhibitions in an overwhelmingly contemplative mode? These are some of the questions that seem to guide the Sao Paolo-based firm TACOA for their installation project at the LIGA gallery in Mexico City.

Straight away, I find it refreshing that their project is based on questions, rather than seeking to provide answers to a set problem. It is self-evident that today, when images of architecture projects can be transmitted instantly in abundance via the Internet, exhibitions about architecture are having to reinvent themselves. In addition, they have to deal with a fundamental challenge: unlike art exhibitions, where the audience comes face-to-face with the physical works themselves, in architecture exhibitions we invariably encounter representations of the works (photographs, plans, models, videos, and so on). As a result, these exhibitions frequently resemble enormous books.

Well aware of this problem, the TACOA architects prefer to avail of the opportunity to carry out a concrete action in the world: one that resignifies the city’s outdoor space. This is the eloquence of their action: the exhibition space appears empty, turning it into a privileged window for looking out onto the world. As a result, city and gallery are inverted, and the architecture exhibition can no longer be distinguished from a real work of architecture. Or to put it another way: it is subtly distinguished insofar as it creates a site for observation of the work. The exhibition consists of the creation of favorable conditions for a gaze that looks from the inside out. Outside, without being aware of it, passersby might happen to sit down for a smoke on the long bench and planter the architects have placed there, a simple yet unsettling addition to the urban furniture.

Unstable by nature, the concrete bench-planter slopes like an immobile seesaw, rising from just above the ground at one end to a height of 80 cm at the other, in a striking balancing act. Thus, although on the one hand the work abandons the notion of an ideas-based exhibition in order to make a pragmatic intervention in the ordinary world of the city, replacing the broken planters in the area, on the other hand this action involves a perturbation of the urban space with a bench and vegetation that seem ready to take flight. Geometric rigor and instability are the qualities of this piece, which at the same time makes a discrete reference to the somewhat precarious urban situation of Mexico City: the lack of stability of the soil, due both to seismic activity and to its origin as a former lakebed. Hence the rather wild appearance of the plants occupying the planter, which rather than the usual clipped forms of ornamental species are wild grasses that grow in ponds and lake edges, like the former lake of Texcoco.

Matisse said that he wanted his art to be the mental equivalent of a good armchair on which people can rest themselves after an exhausting day at work. Here, TACOA offers us the support of a suspended, playfully imaginative concrete bench, like an immobile seesaw. On the other side, within the glass aquarium, the museum is empty.