Architecture converges with art in 'All That Could Have Been' at John Soane Museum

Architecture studio CAN and artist Harry Lawson create three cabinets as installations for All That Could Have Been project at the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London.

by Meghna Mehta Published on : Apr 07, 2020

A collaboration between an architect and an artist to create art installations brings intriguing viewpoints from both the fields. This piece of work puts forward a mirror to what is happening in the architectural industry, keeping it open to personal interpretations. London-based architecture studio CAN (Critical Architecture Network) and artist Harry Lawson recently joined hands to explore the relationship between architecture, time, and objects, for a project commissioned by Sir John Soane’s Museum in London, titled All That Could Have Been. The The architecture firm CAN, led by Mat Barnes, won the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) London Award 2019 for Lomax Studio.

The installations at Sir John Soane Museum, created by CAN architecture studio and artist Harry Lawson | John Soane Museum| All that could have been | STIRworld
The installations at Sir John Soane Museum, created by CAN architecture studio and artist Harry Lawson Image Credit: Tim Bowditch

The Sir John Soane’s Museum is an architectural marvel in itself, being the former home of well-known neo-classical architect Sir John Soane where his drawings, models and paintings are on display, and now also serves as the national centre for the study of architecture. The installation All That Could Have Been is the latest in a series of projects by emerging architects and designers at the museum. Previous exhibitors in the series of collaborations include Studio MUTT, Mamou-Mani and Adam Nathaniel Furman. The exhibition portrays an interesting cross-conversation between the fields of art, architecture and design.

  • Neo-classical façade of the Sir John Soane Museum in London | John Soane Museum| All that could have been | STIRworld
    Neo-classical façade of the Sir John Soane Museum in London Image Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
  • The Sir John Soane museum for the most part retains Soane's original crowded ‘hang’, as the Soane Museum Act requires | John Soane Museum | All that could have been | STIRworld
    The Sir John Soane museum for the most part retains Soane's original crowded ‘hang’, as the Soane Museum Act requires Image Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Drawing from architect Sir John Soane’s own approach to collecting, which can also be seen in the museum’s crowded central space, the installation takes the form of three cabinets. The three cabinets that appear like 18th century neo-classical buildings are an ode to the golden era of the neo-classical architecture. Buildings were created out of decorated column structures, a triangular entablature and extended loggias that created balcony spaces. It is the same style with which the museum was built, though went through many modifications later on.

Titled All That Was, All That Is and All That Could Have Been, the three installations propose a viewpoint of what the past, present and future of architecture holds. Inside each cabinet, CAN and Lawson have placed a number of natural and manmade objects which categorise into contradictory dichotomies; fragmentary and complete, the rarefied as well as everyday objects. These micro-collections reflect on the ways we understand and appreciate physical objects in the digital age and how they shape our understanding of the wider world.

The former house of neo-classical architect Sir John Soane displays his drawings, paintings, models and collections  | John Soane Museum| All that could have been | STIRworld
The former house of neo-classical architect Sir John Soane displays his drawings, paintings, models and collections Image Credit: Tim Bowditch
At the core of my practice is an interest in how objects help knowledge travel into the future, and what happens to them on their journey: how their meaning changes, gets lost, re-interpreted, exaggerated, misunderstood, re-found and trivialised. – Harry Lawson, artist
  • The ‘All That Was’ installation at the Sir John Soane Museum | John Soane Museum| All that could have been | STIRworld
    The All That Was installation at the Sir John Soane Museum Image Credit: Tim Bowditch
  • One of the objects in ‘All That Was’ | John Soane Museum| All that could have been | STIRworld
    One of the objects in All That Was Image Credit: Tim Bowditch

All That Was

With the cabinet constructed in the form of a façade, it reflects on the conflicts that many architects are facing today - between developing new architectural ideas and retaining historic architectural elements. This art installation that represents architecture in its past state takes the physical object as its starting point, presenting historical artefacts, ranging from old rocks to redundant technology, to examine how elements are read and understood in the present and how with time their meanings and values can change and evolve.

  • The ‘All That Is’ depicted through scaffolds in the installation at the Sir John Soane Museum by CAN architecture studio and artist Harry Lawson | John Soane Museum| All that could have been | STIRworld
    The All That Is depicted through scaffolds in the installation at the Sir John Soane Museum by CAN architecture studio and artist Harry Lawson Image Credit: Tim Bowditch
  • One of the objects in ‘All That Is’ installation | John Soane Museum| All that could have been | STIRworld
    One of the objects in All That Is installation Image Credit: Tim Bowditch
  •  The installation All That Is | John Soane Museum| All that could have been | STIRworld
    The installation All That Is Image Credit: Tim Bowditch

All That Is

Adapted from the form of a scaffold, this cabinet reflects on the idea of construction always being in a state of flux. The replicas or objects created in series within this cabinet aim to unpick the notion of the hallowed or the sacred object. Comprehending the way visuals and images have become the key to exist on the internet in infinitely reproduced forms, here objects appear accelerated as though in motion into caricatures reinterpreting their original intentions.

‘All That Could Have Been designed by CAN architecture studio and artist Harry Lawson | John Soane Museum| All that could have been | STIRworld
All That Could Have Been designed by CAN architecture studio and artist Harry Lawson Image Credit: Tim Bowditch

All That Could Have Been

This tomb-like cabinet looks back at the state of architecture and adopts a form to examine the space of contemporary cultural production. Represented through objects that are trapped while being in the limelight, there are a range of fragments and building materials. Considered as a whole as well as together, this incoherent collection of the unrealised, underdeveloped and implied beings, posits a completion for what was never completed or intentions and ideas that never reached their final form.

  • The installations depicting past and present state of architecture | John Soane Museum| All that could have been | STIRworld
    The installations depicting past and present state of architecture Image Credit: Tim Bowditch
  • The installations depicting present and future state of architecture | John Soane Museum| All that could have been | STIRworld
    The installations depicting present and future state of architecture Image Credit: Tim Bowditch

The exhibition reflects the context in which it is placed, commemorating the style and methodologies of neo-classical architect Sir John Soane as well as representing the past, present and future of architecture through satirical and artistic methodologies.

All That Could Have Been was on view at the Sir John Soane's Museum from January 16-February 16, 2020.

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About Author

Meghna Mehta

Meghna Mehta

An architect by education and a journalist by passion, Mehta pursued a crossroad between her two interests. Having completed an M.Arch from CEPT University in Ahmedabad, she has worked in the field of architectural journalism for over 5 years. Besides content generation for STIR, she continues to teach in architectural schools in Mumbai.

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