Successful creative collaborations are always a thrill. With BUILD three visionaries, an architect and an artist whose recent works are inextricably linked worked with an image maker to capture a multi-faceted project. Together they have created a complex narrative which is as captivating as its latest physical manifestations.
The story began with a single structure, a former WWII radar bunker on the Isle of Wight, which has now been merged into the new house that artist Lisa Traxler and her husband architect Lincoln Miles created and now call home. The buildings, which Lincoln has harmoniously connected both to each other and to the surrounding landscape, were photographed by Julian Winslow for the Sunday Times. His images, some of which are reproduced here were my introduction to what turned out to be an expansive project that, to a certain extent, is still work in progress.
Lincoln’s concept for the couple’s home, otherwise known as Bunker, was in direct response to the disused historic structure which it would stand alongside, and its unique coastal position, as well as its purpose, old and new. Lisa wove her own narrative into the construction, inside and out, referencing like Lincoln both the physical presence of the building within its natural setting and the context in which it was built. To this she added allusions to camouflage and notions of encrypted communication. These key themes were then carried forward into her most recent body of work, which first went on show during the London Design Festival in September.
Her exhibition, entitled BUILD, was launched in the showrooms of Surface Matter which also happens to be designed by Lincoln with contributions from Lisa. The key components in the show, all Lisa’s, included a series of sculptures in steel entitled ‘The Beauty Chorus’, vitreous enamel, paper and Richlite pieces. These will be on display in the Bunker itself in spring 2018. One of the ‘Beauty Chorus’ sculptures will also appear in the London Group Open Exhibition at the Cello Factory, opening on the 22nd November.
Julian, who lives near Lincoln and Lisa on the Isle of Wight, recorded the whole project in stills and then created a film, his own response to BUILD. This compelling video manages to combine the slow pace of the countryside with a busy construction site, playing – just as Lincoln and Lisa’s work does – with volume, shape, colour and movement. The result is a unique and kaleidoscopic view. Taking his cue from Lincoln’s rationale with the building – turning the cubic area of the bunker on its side to create the volume of the house – Julian split his viewpoint to create a mirrored image. He takes us on a journey which encompasses the countryside, the construction site, the buildings themselves and the people who inhabit them, all punctuated by a mix of rhythmic sounds, from birdsong to the workings of heavy machinery.
Julian sees the project as one continuum. For him the starting point was Lincoln’s vision, as the architect responsible for bringing the WW2 bunker back to life. Lisa also wove her response into the mix right from the beginning, working on areas of the bunker such as the external cladding, a sculpted stairwell for the connecting house and a vast vitreous enamel surface in the kitchen.
I asked her about her work in relation to BUILD just after the Surface Matter show opening where I met her. These were my questions:
I understand that you’d been exploring The Beauty Chorus sculptures for some time before this show. Did they originate at the same time as your first interest in the bunker or before that?
“This incarnation of interior sculptures, ‘The Beauty Chorus’, has developed and evolved over a two year period. Research at the IWM London and the Cabinet War Rooms in Whitehall into radar, encrypted code and camouflage alongside the light and shadows, angles and form of the brutalist architecture of the radar bunker itself has given depth and substance to this latest body of work.
The eight vitreous enamel and steel constructions are titled ‘The Beauty Chorus’, borrowed from the unofficial name given to the bank of contrasting coloured secret telephones linking Churchill’s underground headquarters at Whitehall to control rooms around the nation intercepting information and scrambling messages. It also honours the female pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) also known informally as the Beauty Chorus during WWII.”
You mentioned some larger scale earlier pieces – can you tell us more about those?
“Having worked with vitreous enamelled steel on a number of 2D projects, including exterior architectural cladding and panelled murals – my desire was to lift this material off the wall into the three dimensional. Immersed in a previous house build project (featured on Grand Designs 2010) proved to be the perfect catalyst and the exterior ‘Volume Sculptures’ were created as part of the autobiographical ‘Lives of Spaces’ exhibition in 2012. These vitreous enamelled steel large scale 3D sculptures (up to 3m in height) have toured from Quay Arts on the Isle of Wight to the ExCel Expo Centre in London for Grand Designs Live.”
How long did the show, focusing on the sculptures from first concept, paper maquettes onwards, take to prepare and how many incarnations did the pieces go through before emerging as they are now?
“This has been a two year project. The journey started with the first bunker visits, evolving ideas through observation, research, sketches, photographs, card and paper maquettes, then on to enamel and steel prototypes, and final pieces…. A long, multi-layered, labour intensive journey both creatively and practically.”
Do you see yourself extending these concepts, including the camouflage theme, into further projects or are you ready to step into a new space?
“I feel the concepts I have been exploring have a momentum and I would like to continue the research and really push forward to see what I can achieve. I would certainly like to scale up – I often work on a large scale and feel ready to do this with these intimate pieces.”
You have work in the Royal Watercolour Society show in Bankside – does that work connect in some way with the BUILD sculptures?
“For the RWS Autumn Exhibition, ‘Colour +Vision’ at Bankside Gallery (until 4 November 2017) I am exhibiting two sculptural paintings, ‘Observation Post’ 1 and 2, acrylic on Fabriano paper on board. These are sculptural collages that slot, fold and modulate in both two and three dimension, a close link to my enamel and steel sculptures.”
How do you view the relationship between art and design? And what happens if you add architecture into that mix?
“The boundaries are blurred, the edges layer from one to the other – collaboration is the unifying trail blazer. All aspects are relevant to connect on so many levels. Look at the London Design Festival or the Venice Biennales – art, design, fashion, architecture – all come together in an exciting mix of inclusivity. Be open to this exciting kaleidoscope.”
What about the viewer’s response to your work especially in terms of BUILD?
“So far a great reaction to ‘BUILD’ – fresh and interesting has been the overwhelming response to the little enamel and steel sculptures. It’s humbling to hear that as I try to work with integrity in my art practice and when the viewer responds with interest and questions it is a great moment.
A potentially exciting project is also in the pipeline, but I can’t divulge at the moment… And collectors who have my 2D work (paintings) are interested in adding a 3D sculptural piece to their collection which is fantastic.”
How do you feel about your work, BUILD in particular, being shown within the context of Surface Matter’s studio/office?
“Exhibiting at Surface Matter has been a fantastic opportunity to showcase my diverse art practice. The materials I work with are often associated with the industrial – enamel on steel, solid paper composite. Layering these ideas to form a cohesive narrative in ‘BUILD’ crosses the boundaries of art meeting architecture. For example the site specific installation, ‘Ascension Echo’ transforms discarded off-cuts from a solid paper composite staircase creating a splintered abstract landscape, mark making in the three dimensional. Literally taking the concept of our Bunker house build of architecture meeting art.”
How do you see Julian Winslow’s photography and film in relation to your work?
“Within the ‘Bunker’ film the displaced forms of the process of a house build are interwoven with images of my enamel and steel sculptures – fragmented compositions, each piece interacting with its neighbour.
I wrote the following piece about my sculptures, it equally applies to Julian’s ‘Bunker’ response film: ‘Playing with the notions of encrypted communication between landscape and architectural space utilising the durable material steel more commonly used in construction to investigate this decryption puzzle. The shattered composition of shape and form create interference and interruption misleading the eye and causing a sense of unease.’
As a fellow artist, Julian has a comparable understanding of my work. This is evident in his photography of it – he respects the nuances behind each mark made.
I worked with Lincoln very closely on this house build. I enjoyed the collaboration and inclusion designing the ‘Dazzle’ staircase, exterior paper composite facade and the vitreous enamelled steel kitchen work surface. All these elements were running parallel to my art practice creating the sculptures – one informing the other, therefore the ‘Bunker’ film is a snapshot of thoughts inside my head as the build was evolving.”
Listen to Julian Winslow talking about his film, Bunker:
‘Bunker Story by Julian Winslow’
View more of Lisa Traxler’s work and check details of her current and forthcoming shows on her website.
Explore Lincoln Miles’ Bunker and his other architectural projects.
Text © Emma Boden / Interview Lisa Traxler
Video © Julian Winslow
Images, please refer to captions: © Julian Winslow, Emma Boden, and Daniel Sellam with thanks to Surface Matter