Chatter: Architecture Talks Back opened at the Art Institute of Chicago on Saturday with a buzzing roundtable “salon” between experimental architects and progressive design scholars. Packed to standing-room-only, the dialogue asked how new modes of communication are reshaping architecture’s heritage of representation.
The new exhibition features five young architects who are shifting how building design engages the architectural canon. Bureau Spectacular, Erin Besler, Fake Industries Architectural Agonism, Formlessfinder, and John Szot Studio deploy a variety of new architectural media from comics to cinema to installations in neon. “We’re questioning the need to go through the architectural act [of building] to generate a culture change,” posed John Szot, in reference to his studio’s recent architectural film.
Curated by Karen Kice, an assistant curator of architecture and design at the Art Institute, the show is installed similarly to 2013’s lauded Studio Gang exhibition, with insightful process-based architectural experiments throughout a large gallery, followed by a more intimate space for conversation and contemplation. Kice invited Iker Gil to curate the latter gallery. Gil, the founder of Chicago-based architecture firm MAS Studio and the design publication MAS Context, is also coordinating exhibition events, including the inaugural Chatter Chat.
The salon began with a presentation by Chris Grimley on how his practice, over,under, leverages social media for architecture and the paradox of archiving contemporary thought. Next Jimenez Lai, founder of Bureau Spectacular and former mentee of Stanley Tigerman, spoke of caricature in architecture. Lai embraces the chatter of architects: his cartoonish representations of plans and sections look accessible, but are in fact loaded with architectural pranks only legible to design insiders. John Szot then shared teasers from his multi-year film project, Architecture and the Unspeakable, which reveals stories of urban buildings through the lens of demolition and degradation.
The ensuing discussion between presenters and scholars was heavy on avant garde architectural theory. While the concepts may have been too oblique for casual museum-goers, the rapt attention of the audience demonstrated that Chicago’s design scene may be craving this caliber of live intellectual discourse. Balancing the experts’ conversation, ticker tape machines mounted above the window steadily printed a physical curtain of digital commentary from Twitter feeds from around the world.
Additional events in the exhibition promise to offer new perspectives on the work for a broader range of participants. Check out next weekend’s gallery brunch by ArtFEED to dine with young artists and designers in the midst of this compelling collection of architectural provocations. The next Chatter Chat roundtable is May 16.