Nigel Coates: David in Voxtacity
27 September — 31 October 2019
private view: Thursday 26 September, 6 — 8 pm
Betts Project presents a series of paper sculptures and watercolours by British architect Nigel Coates.
These works emerge from a theoretical environment Coates calls Voxtacity which revives the area of Vauxhall in London as a pleasure garden in the more recent tradition of the expo or the theme park.
During the mid-17th century to the mid-19th century Vauxhall Gardens was one of the leading venues for public entertainment in London. Several acres of trees and shrubs with large pavilions were designed to host crowds of people for entertainment; tightrope walkers, hot-air balloon ascents, concerts, operas, fireworks, food and drink all amounted to a new form of capitalism in the city. It was a commercialised pleasure, where the glamorous world of riches, fashion and high culture revealed its gluttonous dark side; royals partied with prostitutes, and the middle classes went to be scandalised and seduced by the abundance on display.
David in Voxtacity comprises a collection of buildings and pavilions that epitomise the historic layout of the eighteenth century gardens. The largest of these is ‘David Hotel and Night World’ (2019), exhibited here as six paper sculptures emerging from an exercise in adaptive architectural form. Each of these abstractions are a variation of Michelangelo’s iconic figure and explore how the three levels of a building can generate fluid humanistic connotations.
While these ‘models’ have a primary architectural intention, they remain sculptural in their own right. Their language of curving floors and interlocking levels turn structure into musculature. The effect of being inside these constructions would be to move constantly in and out of the body, as pathways give way to internal voids that puncture the ‘flesh’ of the building. Coates envisions the building as “a very large multi-optional nightclub – with competing dance floors, aerial walkways, communal baths, street food cabins and a lurid play zone – alongside a hotel with a wide choice of themed rooms, mini-dining theatres and a panoramic bar overlooking the river.”
A set of thirteen watercolour miniatures extend Coates’ allegories and explore the wider aspects of the project. Each painting depicts lucid encounters with carnivalesque figures such as a giant snake — transformed into a market mall — which slithers out from an existing urban farm. An enlarged tray of eggs translates as affordable housing, and upended Thames canoes accommodate ‘unaffordable homes’ with stunning views of the river.
With the increasing depletion and privatisation of public space in London, this exhibition brings light to the steady proliferation of conventional development so commonplace in the city by replacing it with an architecture that is both more human and more humane. Like its antecedent Vauxhall Gardens, Voxtacity encourages visitors to take entertainment into their own hands to disrupt contentions of economic and social order and replace them with what cities should be in the 21st century.
As well as his career as a celebrated architect, whose buildings include The Wall in Tokyo and The Hubs in Sheffield, Nigel Coates is also recognized for his interdisciplinary artistic spirit. He moves with ease between architecture, design and drawing. “All design, he says, “begins by drawing, with the pencil a lightning rod for the mind”. His exuberant, disruptive style captures space in motion.
In partnership with Doug Branson, his theories translated into building with the Caffè Bongo and over 20 other projects in Japan. Work in the UK followed with numerous shop interiors for Jasper Conran, Katharine Hamnett and Jigsaw. Museum design followed with the National Centre for Popular Music in Sheffield and the Geffrye Museum in Hoxton in 1999. From 2006 Coates established his own studio to concentrate on design and narrative ideas in architecture. Many installations ensued including Mixtacity at Tate Modern, 2007, Hypnerotosphere at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2008, and the Picaresque installation at the Triennale Design Museum, Milan in 2012.
Drawn works feature in the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the FRAC in Orléans, the Tchoban Foundation in Berlin and M+ in Hong Kong. Limited edition furniture and glass such as the Occhione, the Hypnerotosphere saddle, the Lehnstuhl armchair and Flame vase have been exhibited by design galleries throughout Europe and the US.