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The UQAM Centre de Design reopens the Concrete in All its Forms exhibition

The UQAM Centre de Design is reopening the Concrete in All its Forms exhibition from August 3 to August 27, 2020 after closing in March due to the pandemic.

Hotel Edward Hopper Facade, Mark West 2005, graphite on paper, 29 x 36 cm Photo credit: UQAM Centre de design

Concrete in All its Forms retraces the evolution of Mark West’s work from its earliest steps in surrealist paper collages, through his invention of “automatic” drawing techniques. These drawing and collage practices are fundamental to the discovery of ideas relevant to construction, architecture, and structural design.

Mark West proposes methods for casting a new language of architectural and structural form, including flexible moulds for columns, walls, beams, slabs, and compression shells, for both pre-cast and in-situ constructions.

Subway Drape Snuffle, Mark West Early 2000’s , graphite on paper, 74 x 58 cm Photo credit: UQAM Centre de design
Plaster cast, Mark West Studies of branching columns plaster casts Photo credit: UQAM Centre de design

This exhibition tells a story about the intelligence of matter and its own spontaneous eruption into form that produces a complex beauty through simple and primitive means. The scope of the work also demonstrates how creations in disparate scales, modes and materials can inform each other.

For the past thirty years, West has been pouring concrete in flexible moulds made with simple, flat, un-tailored, sheets of fabric. Replacing conventional rigid mould materials with light flexible fabrics transforms concrete from the brutal and rigid material we know into a sensual and sensitive material, alive to its original wetness and plasticity.

Thin-shell Hanging Curtain Panel, Mark West with Anynslee Hurdal, Leif Friggstad and Michael Johnson 2007, Concrete surface of a thin-shell hanging curtain panel Photo credit: UQAM Centre de design
Hanging “Curtain-wall”, Mark West with Anynslee Hurdal, Leif Friggstad and Michael Johnson 2007, thin-shell panel: 3m x 1,2m x 5cm Photo credit: UQAM Centre de design

The common thread that binds these disparate techniques together is a search for ways in which matter can be teased into acts of self-formation — guided by human artifice, but actualized by natural forces, events, and material properties.

This body of work presents a manner of seeing and understanding the material world that rejects the idea of “dead matter”. Instead, matter and form are understood as being always prodigiously active, energized, and alive.

Dianna’s Robes, Mark West 1996, graphite on paper, 100 x 76 cm Photo credit: UQAM Centre de design
Dianna’s Robes Detail Sheet, Mark West 1996, graphite on paper, 38 x 100 cm Photo credit: UQAM Centre de design

West’s insistence on the simplicity of means makes his technical inventions accessible to both low-tech and high-tech building economies and cultures. But this technical simplicity is not merely about being pragmatic.

His choice of extreme technical constraints induces a kind of constructive metabolism capable of producing complexity from simple and uncomplicated origins — a hallmark of natural systems.

This work has influenced a generation of practitioners across the world who are inspired by the vast potential his methods have unleashed. Architects, engineers, builders, artists, and academics admire his work for its originality, rigour, efficiency and beauty. Central to Mark West’s technical work is a practice of speculative and inquisitive drawing.

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