Colin Lindsay: Rules of the Room

For the exhibition ‘Building Echoes’, Colin Lindsay translated back into the three-dimensional a series of architectural elements from a single found book plate depicting Le Corbusier’s Villa Shodhan. Villa Shodhan was built in 1956 in Ahmedabad, India as a private home for mill owner Shyamubhai Shohdan.  By placing the works Shodhan Screen, Shodhan Portal and Shodhan Hex Table and Chairs inside Interview Room 11, an artist-run space within Argyle House, Edinburgh, the relationship of Lindsay’s work to this particular context operates as a strange Brutalist matryoshka. Lindsay’s objects echoing Corbusier’s blueprint for Villa Shodhan are situated within a Scottish meme of Le Corbusier’s vision for urban planning. Argyle House, a 1968 office block originally providing accommodation for Government, was designed by architects Michael Laird & Partners [1]. Lindsay refers to this shared architectural lexicon as ‘trickle-down Modernism’. Basil Spence’s Hutchesontown C flats in the Gorbals, Glasgow, built in 1962 and demolished in 1993 are a further example. These buildings can be seen as urban poetics or city eyesore, dependent on the polarity of viewpoint.

Installation shot, 'Building Echoes', Interview Room 11, Edinburgh (2015). 'Shodhan Portal', 'Shodhan Hex Table and Chairs', 'Shodhan Screen', Colin Lindsay (2015). Photo: Colin Lindsay

Installation shot, ‘Building Echoes’, Interview Room 11, Edinburgh (2015). ‘Shodhan Portal’, ‘Shodhan Hex Table and Chairs’, ‘Shodhan Screen’, Colin Lindsay (2015). Photo: Colin Lindsay

With Le Corbusier as the original signal shaping both Argyle House and Colin Lindsay’s work, how is each encoded within its situation? Argyle House, which lies adjacent to Edinburgh Castle was described in a leaked City of Edinburgh planning document as a building which ‘dominated’ the surrounding area, asking for any new development to ‘respond meaningfully to the profile of Castle Rock’. [2] This document through implication refers to an antagonistic relationship through proximity between two very different eras of fortress. The latter, Lindsay’s installation within Interview Room 11, transforms the shell of an artist-led gallery into an integrated receiver, harmoniously arranged around the logic of the body and the eye. Corbusier in ‘Towards an Architecture (1923) states: ‘Our eyes are made to see forms in light; light and shade reveal these forms; cubes, cones, spheres, cylinders or pyramids are the great primary forms which light reveals to advantage; the image of these is distinct and tangible within us without ambiguity’. [3] The rules that Lindsay brought to the room allowed for a harmonious whole.

'Shodhan Portal', Colin Lindsay (2015). 'Building Echoes', (2015), Interview Room 11, Edinburgh. Photo: Colin Lindsay

‘Shodhan Portal’, Colin Lindsay (2015). ‘Building Echoes’, (2015), Interview Room 11, Edinburgh. Photo: Colin Lindsay

Shodhan Portal is key in this particular transformation of space. Made from recycled wood and left raw and primitive in construction, its dimensions and portico are monumental in scale, offering grandeur to what otherwise is a BSI [4] standard door frame. Beatriz Colomina in her essay ‘The Split Wall: Domestic Voyeurism’ suggests, In every [building] there is a point of tension and it always coincides with a threshold or boundary. [5] Placed at the liminal point of the threshold, the portal’s presence transforms this normal environment into one which reaches for another ideal.

'Shodhan Screen' (2015), Colin Lindsay. 'Building Echoes' (2015), Interview Room 11, Edinburgh. Photo: Colin Lindsay

‘Shodhan Screen’ (2015), Colin Lindsay. ‘Building Echoes’ (2015), Interview Room 11, Edinburgh. Photo: Colin Lindsay

Lindsay’s approach to making is process-led, conducting a kind of archaeology of the image. Working from the found photograph of Shodan Villa combined three types of understanding or rules; the application of universally accepted principles, guess work and embodied knowledge. Some dimensions could be secured through BSI standards. For example, with the scissor chairs Lindsay used the accepted height of a chair. Others measurements were relational to the artist’s own body, such as his height compared to the potential height of the Shodan Screen. With Lindsay as the translator, the very act of making also allowed an insight into the decision process of the original transmitter, the architect. The architect Howard Roark in Ayn Rand’s novel ‘The Fountainhead’ (1943) looks at elements of nature and immediately translates it into the manmade, which he sees as having supremacy over the former:

“He looked at the granite. To be cut, he thought, and made into walls. He looked at a tree. To be split and made into rafters. He looked at a streak of rust on the stone and thought of the iron under the ground. To be melted and to emerge as girders against the sky”. [6]

However, to enter the physical space of the gallery is not to enter the photograph. Too much is retained of the architectural context of Interview Room 11 to allow for this work to be a direct replica of the Shodan Villa interior. The resulting work is rather a play between these objects and the context. Lindsay made some significant alterations to the gallery space, unblocking windows to let light and views from the outside in, and removing a free standing partition wall to allow for the flow of the space. He also chose what remained in terms of what features were to be amplified or hidden. There are four doorways that exist within the space; the gallery entrance; the original interview room the gallery takes its name from; the gallery office; and the introduced smaller Shodhan portal on Shodhan Shed. The recycled materials and natural colour palette that Lindsay uses to transcribe Corbousier’s Shodhan Screen, portal, chairs and table play off the weirdness of the modern office materials of ceiling tiles and woodchip, lending a precision to the surroundings. By introducing elements from a very different kind of space for living, Lindsay is playing with the notion of the artist-led gallery which can humbly spring up in any empty interior, like the hermit crab who inhabits another’s shell.

'Shodhan Hex Table' (2015), Colin Lindsay. 'Building Echoes' (2015), Interview Room 11, Edinburgh. Photo: Colin Lindsay

‘Shodhan Hex Table’ (2015), Colin Lindsay. ‘Building Echoes’ (2015), Interview Room 11, Edinburgh. Photo: Colin Lindsay

A further element which moves the installation away from the original and the photograph is the heightened embodied experience of the gallery visitor. In a sense Lindsay’s work makes the original Shodhan House inhabitable and publicly accessible. The owner of the original has kept the house private throughout the lifetime of the building. Passing through the Shodhan Portal, the interiorscape of the gallery opens out as a strip, curving out in front of the viewer. Walking to the end of the space, past the seating area, the screen and hut, the person looks out of the windows only to perceive that the floor they are standing on and room they are in is suspended in space. Looking around, the eponymous cladding of white walls are dotted with the past marks of nails and pins. Interview Room 11 also retains some features of its past use. There are columns or totems of computer plug sockets. Areas of wood chip wallpaper stubbornly hold onto some of the pillars. A low polystyrene seventies tile ceiling is mostly intact. Sections have been removed to reveal segments of bare neon tube lighting. A sequence of opaque pyramid  roof lights dot through the space also. There is an omnipresent buzz of the building beyond. A far off door shuts. As the pages of suggested reading matter are turned at the Hex desk, the wind whistles off the Castle’s volcanic plug and echoes in a loose fitting window and pipe. Strips of plastic bags are caught on the branches of trees outside, making an informal wish tree.

'Shodhan Shed' (2015, Colin Lindsay. 'Building Echoes' (2015), Interview Room 11, Edinburgh

‘Shodhan Shed’ (2015), Colin Lindsay. ‘Building Echoes’ (2015), Interview Room 11, Edinburgh

Within this setting, The Shodhan Screen takes the visual form of Corbusier’s brise-soleil; a wall divider with built in sun screen apertures to allow for ventilation, creating the opportunity to bring the outside in. This interplay of interior and exterior is also represented with Shodan Shed, which lies at the centre of this Brutalist Russian Doll. It is the only element introduced by Lindsay that is not directly taken from the photograph of Villa Shodhan.  The doorway on such a humble shelter has been given a smaller version of Shodan Portal. The side is clad in a single unit of the brise-soleil design. For Lindsay this structure is reminiscent of a chantry chapel or altar, a little building of difference, built inside a larger building.

Lindsay has been working on what he calls ‘parallel objects’ over several years, with recent sculptures that refer to designs by Breuer, Rietveld and Le Corbusier. Whilst these sculptures use the original as a blueprint, their transcriptions through material and intention are neither copy nor reproduction.  Time, distance, site and the evident craft skills of Lindsay make these works unique rather than a simulacrum.

Rules?” said Roark. “Here are my rules: what can be done in one substance must never be done with another. No two materials are alike. No two buildings have the same purpose. The purpose, the site, the material determine the shape. A man doesn’t borrow pieces of his body. A building doesn’t borrow hunks of its soul. Its maker gives it the soul and every wall, window and stairway express it’. [7]

 

‘Building Echoes’, Colin Lindsay, Alberto Condotta, Interview Room 11, Edinburgh 16-31 January 2015

Footnotes

[1] Argyle House also complies with Le Corbusier principle of erasing the past, co-existing in proximity only, with the 700 million year old extinct volcano of Castle Rock and Edinburgh Castle. Laird & Partners, the architects of many buildings across Edinburgh were innovators of the possibilities of a building sustaining itself. Laird designed the Computer Centre in Fettes Row for the Royal Bank of Scotland, reusing the energy from its computers to heat the offices. The architects also commissioned artists as part of their buildings. There is a John Bellany mural in the building of the White Fish Authority; an Eduardo Paolozzi at the RBS building in South Gyle and work by Gerald Laing at the Standard Life Building. With artists and creative organisations housed in Argyle House in present day, it is pleasing that artists are once more located in this building.

[2] ‘West Port / Kings Stables Road Development Brief’, draft for consultation, Planning Committee, City of Edinburgh Council, 6 August 2009.

[3] Corbusier in ‘Towards an Architecture (1923)

[4] British Standards Institute was established in 1931 after work since 1901 by the engineering Standards Committee to bring in standard sizes to goods such as iron and steel being manufactured. The Architects Journal Handbook contains regulatory and legislative guidelines relating to building structures and standardized measurements.

[5] Beatriz Colomina, ‘The Split Wall: Domestic Voyeurism, ‘Sexuality and Space, Princeton Papers on Architecture, Princeton Architectural Press (1992), P.95.

[6] ‘The Fountainhead’, (1943) Ayn Rand, P.16, Penguin Modern Classics.

[7] Ibid, P. 30.

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Finlay Mackintosh can dance

We look at the new model of the old Mackintosh Library that is held inside the mint green egg of the new glass building at The Glasgow School of Art, whilst the old Mackintosh is being restored. Finlay Mackintosh (b.1953) tells me about his namesake’s empathetic architectural touches. The Scotland Street School had windows positioned in the cloakroom in such a way that the sun’s rays would come through and dry the coats of the children when they were in class.

Detail, 'Park in bloom', (2014), Finlay Mackintosh

Detail, ‘Park in bloom’, (2014), Finlay Mackintosh

'Park in snow' (2014), Finlay Mackintosh

‘Park in snow’ (2014), Finlay Mackintosh

Finlay Mackintosh can talk. He tells me that over the years he has copied works of the masters like Van Gogh, Gauguin and Rembrandt, to understand the painting from the inside out, beginning in the hidden heart of the painting rather than the surface. “If I only learn one percent from each artist I’ll be ninety five percent better at the finish!

'Railway Tracks, Central Station' (2014), Finlay Mackintosh

‘Railway Tracks, Central Station’ (1995), Finlay Mackintosh

Mackintosh was inspired by his aunt Isobel whose house, he recalls, was crowded with many artworks including a painted cigar tin and a small, perfect flower painting by Scottish Colourist JD Ferguson; as well as mantelpiece paintings, long and thin, by James Morrison (1932-). Morrison was well known for painting pictures in the 1950s’ of recently derelict Glasgow tenements. Mackintosh’s aunt had been secretary to Dr Tom Honeyman, Director of Glasgow’s Museums and Art Galleries. Her husband had been the conservator who had restored the slashed, controversial Salvador Dali painting ‘Christ of St John of the Cross (1951) after it had been attacked by a visitor in 1961. Honeyman had bought that painting for the city. From seeing his sketchbooks, and realising that a love of art had been handed down in the family, Finlay Mackintosh’s aunt encouraged him to take his skills further.

He began attending art school evening classes, firstly in graphics. When homework assignments were set, he would bring in six responses to everyone else’s one; the first signs of as what he coins, a “profundicity”. The graphics tutor advised him his talents and production lay in painting. Mackintosh still continues to enjoy classes, regularly attending the life drawing class at The Flying Duck in Glasgow’s city centre. Levitating pencil drawings of recumbent women are drawn in lines that are simple and sure.

We are settled in the art school canteen now. The paintings we look at on his Smart Phone, whilst diverse in subject matter, all share a confidence in paint, a love of detail and a talent for colour and shape. There is the subject matter I am familiar with, from his sales two years ago through a charity shop on Sauchiehall Street. Dancing paintings of civic spaces captured through the seasons, over the years, include the flower beds and trees of Glasgow’s green parks.

'Central Station' (2015), Finlay Mackintosh

‘Central Station’ (2015), Finlay Mackintosh

'Buchanan Street Buskers' (2014), Finlay Mackintosh

‘The Highlanders, Buchanan Street’ (2014), Finlay Mackintosh

There are new paintings of the city captured in its bustle, with crowds thronging at Glasgow Central Station and another one capturing the festival atmosphere of the June festival the Glasgow Mela. There are a series of scenes which come from further afield from his past travels to Paris, Venice and Amsterdam. Surprisingly, another strong theme is films. One particularly eye-catching image sees a werewolf’s head crowding the frame with his fur painted in thick impasto. Mackintosh tells me he has also made a painting of Doctor Who’s tardis. A particular favourite of mine is a painting of a woman with her dog. He has captured the lean of the dog into her body, and introduced really contrasting planes of colour with a vibrant purple over her forehead, and white ‘socks on the sandy dog’s front paws. Mackintosh explains he is interested in the ‘pull’ of the picture; its ability to connect with a particular viewer to draw them into its depths. The painting should not be flat but have life in it. He always finishes what he starts, because if he doesn’t, he sees it “as the beginning of excuses”.

'Joanna and Frank' (2014), Finlay Mackintosh

‘Joanna and Frank’ (2015), Finlay Mackintosh

'Untitled' (2014), Finlay Mackintosh

‘The Wolfman’ (2011), Finlay Mackintosh

Mackintosh has accrued fans for his work over the years, with Peter Howson visiting him in the nineties and buying six works. He describes how two years ago, three Cornish artists got in touch, getting his phone number from contact details he wrote on the reverse of the hardboard paintings he put into the charity shop. He recalls them visiting his home in Springburn where he makes all his work- “I could see right away they were very respectable, very well dressed.” They were amazed by his level of output- he normally paints one picture a day- and bought several paintings to take back to Cornwall with them. Most recently a school teacher Hazel Walker visited him, and told her sister Audrey, who was a friend of a curator at The Dock in Carrick-on-Shannon, that they really must see his work.  This has resulted in his solo show ‘Selected Everything’ ( 10 April-6 June 2015). The paintings, kept unframed in parts, are cleverly hung in sections, creating schematic globes of how Mackintosh sees the world on the gallery walls.

Installation shot, 'Selected Everything' (2015), Finlay Mackintosh, at The Dock, Carrick-on-Shannon

Installation shot, ‘Selected Everything’ (2015), Finlay Mackintosh, at The Dock, Carrick-on-Shannon

Mackintosh defines an artist as someone who is, “always seeking without knowing exactly what you are wanting to find“. He recalls the last work Charles Rennie Mackintosh made, painting a lobby and stairwell of a Chelsea apartment for a London client. There was a public outcry about the work, as it was painted using only yellow and black. They did not realise that it was because the client was colour blind that Mackintosh had used only colours he could see.

Finlay Mackintosh can dance. He is off to a jazz class in the evening, where he may not be able to do box splits, but can, he tells me, do unusual bends that the others cannot.