While modularity has existed in some architectural form since at least the time of the Romans, the module as a reliable unit of construction was perfected during the Industrial Revolution of the Nineteenth Century. Machines made it possible to create consistently sized and predictably performing modules at a quantity limited only by the availability of their raw materials: clay for brick, silica for glass, and iron ore for steel. These units were used to form exteriors, interiors, and everything in between. They allowed for both highly regular repetition and expressive permutation, giving rise to a particular architectural language that has shaped our urban environments. Within this year’s Grow Op Exhibition, three artists, Melanie Billark, Michah Donovan and Olga Klosowski, have elected to use the module as a unit for exploration of our ideas of landscape, nature and the built form.
Grow Op is an annual exhibition that uses art and design to engage with the natural and artificial systems around us, inhabiting the blurring boundaries we hold between culture and nature. Located in Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel, the show seeks to broaden the public’s conversation around the crises that we face at the local, regional, and global scales.
Artist Melanie Billark has been developing increasingly complex projects using living mosses as a material. Her piece Wilding consists of over 100 clear acrylic blocks assembled into a translucent wall. Each block is a hermetically sealed chamber containing mosses collected from laneways and sidewalks across Toronto. The mosses had taken hold in these inhospitable landscapes, displaying a remarkable resiliency in the face of harsh environmental conditions and heavy traffic.
Within the space of her projects modules, the mosses demonstrate a form of self-renewing, self-supporting ecosystem. Billark states: “I consider these boxes as a wildlife sanctuary, somewhere where I can monitor, preserve, and protect these species until they have been revived before returning them to their natural ecosystems.“
The design of the units – uniform, clear acrylic boxes – allows for the constant viewing of this unitized landscape. While the modules forms are consistent, their interiors vary, thanks to the living natural processes taking place within them. It’s an inversion of our typical experience with landscape, where we’re often the ones within the hermetically sealed boxes, looking out at the landscape beyond.
In contrast to the precision and crispness of Wilding, Micah Donovan’s project Potager takes a different approach to the vessel that sustains organic life. Donovan is a returning Grow Op artist whose work integrates food and technology. Potager is his modular biomorphic structure consisting of a series of slip-cast ceramic containers that form a kind of planted masonry wall using the module to create a vertical farming landscape. It’s a living wall that is not only seen, but can also be experience through touch, smell and taste, once it’s herbs are harvested and consumed. The artist’s long-term aspiration to is to expand this project to the full scale of building, where Potager can re-skin existing structures into productive landscapes.
Olga Klosowski’s work focuses on creating objects through a process of destruction to combine elements of memory and materials from the past. Her project Stack consists of 100 hand-made bricks carefully arranged across the floor of the Gladstone’s Second Floor Gallery. The bricks are not made of clay or concrete, but ashes. Klosowski states: “Rather than continuing the cycle of destruction, I used these unwanted materials to rebuild them into new structures, giving them a new life and purpose.”
In her use of ashes, Klosowski subverts our expectations of the solidity of the brick as a masonry unit. The piece evokes the inexorable transience of material states and contemplates the dissolution of a bricks-and-mortar world.
These Grow Op artists have constructed landscape-based reinterpretations of the module. They have simultaneously embraced the repeatability of architectural modules and the diversity that organic materials offer. The richness of these proposals is founded upon the inherent qualities of the diversity of landscape.
The Gladstone Hotel’s Grow Op 2017 exhibition opens April 19th and runs until April 23rd. For more information, please click here.