Maison Domino takes its title and general schema from Le Corbusier’s exercise in illustrating his 5 Principles of Architecture. In realisation, the exhibition gently teases the bombast of that generation of reformers and rationalisers who, like Adolf Loos, declared that—for the benefit of mankind in the 20th century—‘Ornament is Crime’.
Apropos of this, Laura Aldridge and Conal McStravick’s collaborative film opens with a tracking shot of William Morris’s ‘Pomegranate’ wallpaper accompanied by the shuttering approximation of trains rolling over rails. Morris’s decorative, botanical designs, in thrall to medieval tapestry, are representative of just the type of Gothic Revivalism that Corbusier, Loos, Gropius et al wanted rid of. The undignified incontinence ascribed to any kind of decoration by modernists—‘the less civilised a people is, the more prodigal it will be with ornament and decoration’, said Loos—is translated as absent minded conservatism. Morris’s persistent popularity has less to do with inability to suppress barbaric tendencies and more to do with the coalescence of bourgeois values around Liberty’s department store, which took control of Morris’s designs in the 1940s and sold them on to discerning metropolitan liberals. The well-intentioned ineffectuality of such values bubble under the surface of the film, which aptly conveys the impression of a psychiatrist’s waiting room experienced by a delinquent in a k-hole. And in whose messy life ’isms are unimportant.
The anatomical allusions in the film’s shots of open pipes and bobbing fruit carry into McStravick’s sculptures and slide presentation. The latter scumbles hairs and fluids together in microscopic fascination with the geology of newly discovered stains, showing them like slices of agate, inert and petrified. His work is abject, humanly derelict in the face of external (architectural) ideals. Modular chicken crate cardboard units haphazardly painted and papered shamble loosely together, randomly united in their slapdash uniform of purple smears and pattern scraps. Cheap polyester crepe in heraldic black and maroon is ruched over the rickety bones of columnar structures, which linger off-kilter in the wings of Aldridge’s curtained theatre. Gold, bronze, and copper, her fabric panels constructed around circular holes are hooked and pulled to reflect radiant light around Generator’s dark, windowless gallery. Her recent story ‘Green’s’, in the CCA Glasgow’s 2HB publication, recounts a tour of La Cueva de los Verdes cave system on Lanzarote, which has been spectacularly lit to enhance the tawny colour of the rock since 1964, and an appreciable sense of that ambience, and in fact that period, pervades the exhibition.
Many of the assumptions informing the ‘applied art’ stereotype are rooted in the untutored, DIY approach of 1960s and 70s, coincidentally the time when the ideals of architectural modernism were employed in the development of sink estates. Aldridge appeals to this sensibility with naïve block prints which dress log-topped pedestals. Elsewhere, her sculptures are large, artlessly direct forms, which are by turn mammiferous and globular. Correlating to the black and white photos of Lanzarote’s basaltic surface which—decorated with strings of dried fruit and pot pourri—hang on the walls, these sculptures are calcified and cellulitic, without any sense of the undulating fleshiness associated with the shapes of female grotesquerie.
The geological seam that runs through the exhibition suggests that the artists are playing irreverently with the troglodytic conclusions of the modernist dictum of ‘truth to materials’—coated polystyrene masquerades as stone in Aldridge’s sculptures, glue as amber in McStravick’s slides. Akin to a geological timespan, creativity operates on a scale that is beyond the tactical expediencies of individuals. Maison Domino emphasises the basic creative commonalities hidden in aesthetic manifestos and offers an alternative to the continence we expect from (self) appointed arbiters of taste.
Fiona Jardine is an artist based in Glasgow