Visual Arts Programme
The Concourse Installation 1999
Julie Merriman and Nicos Nicolaou
Hidden within the building of the Dun Laoghaire County Hall are miles and miles of unseen sewerage piping. The majestic columns which act as supports but also provide a sense of architectural grandeur, take their forms from the cardboard tubing used by architects and builders - again, this material is unseen. Julie Merriman and Nicos Nicolaou have decided to 'hijack the space from its daily use and redefine its identity' by foregrounding these normally invisible but absolutely essential aspects of the building's daily use. They have drawn on each of their artistic preoccupations - Merriman with the observation of buildings under construction, and Nicolaou with the aesthetic potential inherent in industrial materials - to take the bowels of the building, and reposition them in the wide, white space at its visible heart.
The Concourse floor is covered in a snaking maze of 'void forms' (the cardboard column moulds), and sewerage piping; the tubes hugging the wooden 'walls' at two opposing corners of the Concourse. It is the aesthetic of the innards brought to the surface, and as such is reminiscent of the Pompidou Centre, or other identifiable examples of PostModern architecture. Similarity with Pompidou, however, stops right there. Where the latter is gaudy and candy-coloured, making an issue of the playful shapes of the piping as a decorative device in its own right, 'Self Feed' retains truth to materials. The cardboard and piping keep their original drab shades, browns and sort-of-greys, and, in their low horizontal position, they echo the vertical columns at all four corners of the space.
This central area is immediately and radically altered as a space which people using the building would usually either walk round, or race undeedingly across, Nicolaou and Merriman have ensured that whilst the maze invites you inside, you certainly cannot walk across or through. I tried - it is possible, with some bending and weaving, to get part of the way across - but the pipes are laid in such a way as to interrupt a journey from any starting point. This device reveals the complexities which accompany the notion of a building's 'heart', or 'centre'. Whilst this is a public space, how many members of the public actually venture inside, and again how many out of these would actually pass through the centre of the building, and how many times in a given day? It is difficult to imagine a functional 'heart' of a building whose inherent structure repels the advances
of potential explorers.
Maze-like and also reminiscent of the solipsistic patterns of Celtic knotwork, 'Self Feed' is, as a pattern, entirely self-sufficient. Threading round the pillars and about the space, its aesthetic references the building itself, its design references the occupants or users of the building - making it also almost entirely self-referential. It's a continuous line of piping, which people attempt to then feed themselves through, in the same way as members of the public are 'fed' through any building. This, of course, makes a sense of boundaries immediately obvious. The installation 'finishes', as it were, at the edge of the Concourse Space - an unusual area because, having no walls, doors or real ceiling, it really is the space which comes first, which hits the visitor with its presence. So 'Self Feed' actually marks out the finitude of the Concourse Space whilst maintaining the sense that it isn't actually a 'room'.
'Self Feed' also resembles a map, an Underground tube map (or even a map constructed out of tubes). Underground in the building lurk miles and miles of these hidden pipes, which the artists have chosen to foreground. In a way it really is a map throughout the city there are people such as planners, plumbers, builders, architects - who would literally 'read' the building in a way similar to that shown by this installation. There are those who would apprehend a building in terms of its sewerage provision, in terms of its ground plans, its support structures, and so on. Yet other people would 'read' the building in terms of a landmark on the way to work or back home, and so on. In mapping the very edges of the Concourse, Nicolaou and Merriman also map the puzzling nature of such buildings as a whole - who goes in there? What goes on there? And what relationship does this building have to my life?