Sounds and lights animate the “machine for living”

By | Art & Design
Villa Savoye, Poissy, France. Jean-Christophe Ballot, oeuvre de Le Corbusier © FLC | Adagp © CMN, Paris

Les Heures Claires (The bright Hours) was the former name of the Villa Savoye in Poissy, France designed by Le Corbusier in the late 1920s. The modern functional building became the icon of Modern Architecture and its image and design, which appeared in the famous  Exhibition 15 – Modern Architecture – International Exhibition at MoMA in 1932, marked a chapter in the history of architecture, even more than the building itself.  Le Corbusier designed the detached house in the countryside in the north-west of Paris following the five principles for an “architecture nouvelle”, which he laid out as essential characteristic of modern architecture, and which also granted the house the definition of “machine for living”.

After more than eighty years since its construction, this symbol of the modern era has become a national monument and is currently the object of a series of exhibitions launched by Lab’Bel, the artistic laboratory of the Bel Group. The Light Hours, the upcoming show from the series opening tomorrow, has been realised in partnership with the Centre des Monuments Nationaux, which sees an installation signed by Haroon Mirza reshaping the space of the house.

The Light Hours - Haroon Mirza / Villa Savoye, 2014, Photo © Martin Argyroglo

The Light Hours – Haroon Mirza / Villa Savoye, 2014, Photo © Martin Argyroglo

The British artist, who often works with site-specific installations, studied fine arts and became famous at home and abroad for his installation art mainly based on a combination of sound, lighting and ready-mades. Merging different art fields and media, his work associates sensorial experience, conceptual approach, and viewers’ interactions and reactions with the architectural space and the “acoustic-visual architecture” of the work itself.

For the Villa Savoye and the Lab’Bel project (aimed at re-defining the public image of the building), Mirza has been inspired by both the name The Bright Hours and the concepts behind the building design to realise a multimedia installation which uses solar panels to source energy that will produce sounds and light.

The Light Hours - Haroon Mirza / Villa Savoye, 2014, Photo © Martin Argyroglo

The Light Hours – Haroon Mirza / Villa Savoye, 2014,
Photo © Martin Argyroglo

In Vers Une Architecture (1923, first English translation: Towards a New Architecture, 1927) Le Corbusier defined architecture as “the masterly, correct and magnificent play of masses brought together in light”, and certainly the Villa Savoye is among the projects  in which the architect better expressed the concept. In a recent interview with one of the curators of the show, Silvia Guerra, Haroon Mirza explained how this aspect of the building was taken as a provocative starting point for his installation: For the first time I will be using solar panels to power my work. This means I propose that the light in the house determines the functionality of the work.” In addition, before starting his project, the artist entered the building blindfold to let the acoustic experience help him to construct an image of the space and light; the latter then works as a powerful means of creative construction, even if its visual presence was, in the first place, denied by the spatial experience only perceived through sound.  The visual experience of space (including the famous concept of the “promenade architecturale”) is substituted by the architecture of sound, built up from the solar (light) energy. In several ways Mirza’s installation criticises the modern architecture hypocritical aspect of being functional (as the “machine for living”) while at the same time, relying so much on aesthetic and visual experience. Therefore, the artist paraphrases the modern paradigm; he literally produces form from function shaping sounds from solar energy.

Mirza also highlights the use of the architectural space as ready-made; this way architecture becomes subordinated to the artwork rather than vice-versa. In other words, if Duchamp’s everyday objects become works of art entering the gallery space, on the contrary here is the architectural space that is manipulated and turns into the material for the work of art. Inverting this dialectic between space and artwork the artist completely re-defines the architecture, which is re-contextualised and can be seen and read as a different entity; more than just its container, the space becomes the matter embedded in the art project.

How is the installation going to change the historical and aesthetic features of the Villa Savoye?

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