Danish artist Olafur Eliasson’s Cubic Structural Evolution Project is a cunningly simple work. In essence, the work comprises an enormous table piled with white Lego pieces, which the audience use to construct an ever growing, breathing, miniature cityscape. And the logistics of mounting an exhibition made from 130,000 pieces – a quarter of a tonne – of Lego are about as titanic and outlandish as you’d expect.
“We tried to get it as a loan, physically, to bring it from Queensland Art Gallery in its tens of thousands of pieces,” says Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation’s director and philanthroper Gene Sherman, “but museums have a very strict, as they should do, and structured approach to loans. One of the issues, and there are many, is that work has to be cleaned before it goes and cleaned when it comes back. What we discovered is that to polish each one of these Lego pieces, an army of people was going to be needed and it was going to cost $25, 000. Can you imagine?
“What they allowed us to do was to borrow it on a ‘notional basis’, conceptually. We didn’t actually borrow the original work – we purchased the idea. We then bought the pieces we needed, via a brickmaster in Melbourne; the only registered Lego brickmaster – did we ever know there was such a thing? Instead of costing us $25, 000, it cost us $10, 000. So we own all of this Lego, but we’re not allowed to use it beyond this project.”
Eliasson’s Cubic Structural Evolution Project tightropes the fields of architecture and art. “This is the second iteration back by popular demand. The context is Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, whose vision is visual culture. Whether its film, fashion, contemporary art or design, we’re all about visual culture. For some years, I’ve wanted to do an architecture project and this is where Eliasson comes in.”
“Architecture is a very complex and essentially spatial thing. You have to experience it by walking in and being in the space.” The difficulty in expressing this, Sherman found, is that many exhibitions about architecture “feel more like an installation…my aim is to experience an actual building in the gallery space. I struggle to find a way into architecture,” hence the idea of building something small scale within the confines of a gallery that can communicate the poetics of space. Sherman describes the energy of the The Cubic Structural Evolution Project as “just beautiful – buzzy and wonderful and airy.”
Eliasson’s project is presented in Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation’s inaugural Fugitive Structures program. Architect Andrew Burns’ Crescent House – a built structure on display in the Foundation’s garden – also straddles the unique relationship between art and architecture by iterating how the two aren’t mutually exclusive. While Crescent House is an architectural form that functions secondly as an art object, Eliasson’s project is firstly and firmly rooted in art with influences from architecture. The two works form a conversation as each other’s inverse incarnation, and they share that same sensibility of aesthetic purity.
Sherman credits the popularity of Eliasson’s work to its tactile and interactive nature. The work needs an audience’s touch to be brought to life – an unusual quality for a gallery work – and so it becomes about the people who make it. While Eliasson is known for very large-scale, dramatic installations, this one is somewhat more grounded in size, hands-on and informal. “It is actually created by the public,” says Sherman. For the last installment of this project, “people poured in here. We must have had every architecture year come in three or four times, first as a group and then individually. We had children who returned every day after school, we just saw the same kids every day. People even had birthday parties here. They were playing inside the gallery! Then we had to pull apart the structures they made at the end, it broke my heart.”
BY LAUREN CARROLL HARRIS
*Image credit: The Cubic Structural Evolution Project, 2004, Purchased 2005, Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant, Collection: Queensand Art Gallery. Copyright the artist. Photo by Edwin Chen.