In the second part of our Living in Belfast series, FCBStudios Associate Cormac Maguire recalls how art and architecture came together with the aim of provoking commentary on the current state of housing in Belfast.
Architecture as an art form is inherently constrained. It has the ability to make us emotionally connect with relatively abstract concepts of form, texture, light and colour, but at the same time requires us to balance the pragmatisms of engineering, statutory regulations and the basic laws of physics.
Art, unhindered, offers a chance to forget the rules, to cut deep, and to challenge in absurd or controversial ways, “to wash the dust of daily life off our souls” (1). All forms of art, however, including architecture, are intrinsically linked by their ability to reflect and respond to the world around us.
FCBStudios’ ‘Living in Belfast’ talk series sought to engage with the local Arts community, using the topic of housing to explore and broaden the dialogue of how we approach not only the idea of ‘home’ but the experience of living in Belfast.
To accompany the series, a bespoke piece of art was commissioned to exhibit in our recently extended office space. An open call for ideas was launched, organised in collaboration with PLACE -an independent not-for-profit organisation dedicated to promoting quality in architecture, design and planning in Northern Ireland. The brief invited commentary on the current state of housing within the city. Without preconceptions of any particular artistic medium, the task was set to provide an installation that would consider issues affecting the city both in its physical urban form and as a collective of disparate communities.
The competition was further supported by Arts & Business NI, a local organisation helping Arts bodies connect with local businesses to explore different funding sources.
The FCBStudios review team, led by Cormac Maguire, along with Sam Tyler and Theo Dales was joined by Brighdín Farren from PLACE to assess the many and varied responses. The overall standard of submissions was encouraging, with effort and thoughtful consideration evident within each proposal. The winning proposal was ‘Exclave’ by Eamon Quinn in collaboration with Caroline McCusker. Two further entries, by Toyna McMullan and Eamonn McCrory, were ‘Highly Commended’.
‘Exclave’ was assembled from a combination of industrial materials; concrete, rebar and sand - base components of construction. Such weighty ingredients were juxtaposed with very fragile human imagery, a foot delicately dipping a toe, a trophy evoking reward and aspiration. All such secondary elements were left to hang on wires or tied to rebar, suspended and precarious. As a whole, the piece suggested a balancing act; displaying the burdens of money, debt, identity and security on the one hand, while on the other, conjuring more delicate imagery of love, family, and a sense of home.
On launch night, visitors gravitated to two focal points; Exclave, which was installed within the exhibition space, and clearly, the star of the show, but also to a detailed model showing Belfast City Centre. Together, the artistic social commentary linked to, and informed, a lively debate about housing and the city - just as intended.