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Scandinavian Freestyle

Catalogue essay Hero Foyer Commssion , 2012
Fiona Abicare in association with Minifie van Schaik Architects

This is a brochure. It frames a particular presentation that sits somewhere between a gallery opening and a realtor’s open house. As a functioning foyer turned artwork, Scandinavian Freestyle was realised by the artist Fiona Abicare in association with Minifie van Schaik Architects. The foyer introduces us to the interior of the Hero Apartments that were redeveloped by Fender Katsalidis Architects in 2001, out of the 1948 Melbourne Telephone Exchange & Post Office originally designed by the Commonwealth Department of Works. It is a communal space that funnels the experience of the entrance and exit to more compartmentalized parts of the building. Like any piece of interior architecture it intervenes in the sociability of those who inhabit and use the building – offering the opportunity for encounter, utility and transition. Abicare’s intervention is not solely the aesthetic refinement that she brings to utilitarian design but the demand for the audience and occupants to question how to value a work that conflates disciplinary boundaries.

Scandinavian Freestyle comprises upholstered seating, mail retrieval structures, drapery and an artwork in an architectural context that sees some of the temporary structures, fixtures and adorning features stripped from the initial 2001 redevelopment. Abicare’s practice appropriates design methodology seamlessly so that her project integrates into the program of the building and coheres with our assumptions of what an interior design outcome might look and feel like. This creative process of course has a historical resonance to the various iterations of the ‘total artwork’ found in modernist design.1 It also however was a common mode of practice for artists in classical periods to site and customize their artwork within specifically designed interiors.2 Abicare however regularly takes on the design and production of framing mechanisms that disrupt any relegation of an artwork constituting a sited solution to ‘creative’ content. Scandinavian Freestyle is one such example, where Abicare intervenes by not only responding to historical context of the sited architecture but also creates her own spatial and structural supports. An incisive response to the history of the Amsterdam School and Scandinavian Freestyle Classicism can be found in the curved tiles that produce the various columned forms in the space. These tiles simulate an expressionistic play of brick but are in fact French lava stone that have been CNC-routed, fired and enamelled. These forms give voice to Abicare’s ongoing preoccupation with not only material duplicity but also the psychological tenor that this engenders. Terri Bird has evocatively noted, in regards to a 2008 project, that Abicare engages in the ‘investments of desire [and] libidinal forces’ that erupt ‘through crusts and bloodless skin’ of the work.3 Bird here was describing the tangled lines of desire that Abicare embeds in the fabrication of her sculptural projects, which emphasize the sensual potential of materials that always have a corporeal implication. For Scandinavian Freestyle this attention to the body is not overly preoccupied by its literal representation but through its activation by the spatial dynamic of the architecture. 4

A look at this dynamic reveals a complex relay of representational modes are at play in the interior – between viewing and being in view – between evading the gaze and being captured by it. Abicare is always articulating the double-life of her often-bespoke sculptures, objects and decor. Thinking about their actual material quality and how an audience encounters their placement in space, but also reflexively incorporating their own remediation in the space of display. This is a spatial practice that utilizes the image in a critical yet equivocal manner, understanding that the image imposes a fictional veil on our comprehension of space. The architecture in this case plays its role in this mise-en-scène alongside the residents of the apartments. The letterbox structures have their back turned, disguising their utility but framing the occupants’ everyday experience of collecting their mail. The recurrent articulation of a rhomboid plane blocks a perspective on the space as it screens the activities at the end of the foyer. As a flat shape the rhomboid alludes to encountering an object from the side rather than the flattened space of the front. This is a space of experience rather than representation, you might think, but an archival photograph that documents the studio of George Allan and Stanley Hammond is printed and pinned on a metal rhomboid. It reveals the studio setting of the Hero bas-relief that is affixed to the exterior face of the building. This uncovering of the archival photograph reveals part of the interior charge of the artwork – a charge produced by the artist’s decisions, knowledge, toil and trouble; a charge dislocated from the artwork’s finished presence on the façade. The photograph broaches an interior space that the stylized musculature of the Hero, in its shallow deco depth and experienced only from the vantage of a pedestrian on the street below, has no chance in producing. It is in this photograph, printed on a reflective surface, that Abicare begins to asks the most pertinent question of Scandinavian Freestyle regarding the construction of stylistic conventions and how we as subjects are implicated in their construction.

  1. Anna Rowland’s notes, that the Arts and Craft Movement endeavoured to use ‘applied arts and craft to engender ‘dignity in labour, humanity, healing and wholeness’; while Walter Gropius, the first director of the Bauhaus school used the concept of Gesamtkunstwerk to articulate his vision of art, design and life, ‘as a plea for unity, collaboration, wholeness and reintegration’; Anna Rowland, Bauhaus Source Book (Oxford: Phaidon, 1990), 10-11.  

  2. For Jason Gaiger the sited quality of art is pervasive in pre-modern practice as found in ‘altar pieces, frescoes, sculptural niches and official portraits for residences.’ This has interesting implications on how we constitute artistic autonomy in relation to architecture. Jason Gaiger, ‘Dismantling the Frame: Site-Specific Art and Aesthetic Autonomy.’ British Journal of Aesthetics 49, no. 1 (2009): 43-58.  

  3. Terri Bird, ‘Figuring Materiality.’ Angelaki – Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 16, no. 1 (March 2009): 6.  

  4. Activating the behavioral space of the viewer is initiated as a concern by the art field within Minimalism. But it only goes so far in unpacking the psychological, interactive and social potential that ensued in post 1970s art practices.