PechaKucha Night: On Collaboration


The following text follows a conversation between architect, Eric Fisher, and artist, Seth Clark, two Pittsburghers, regarding how people in the future will connect to ruins in their environment.  We realized that this ruin-world could possibly be a positive place to inhabit if human beings could a) relate to what they were seeing and then b) adapt over time to inhabit it.  The project will be submitted to the Fairy Tales competition by Blank Space.


Seth: I’m an artist! I work with a variety of media, but what I am best know for are my collages based on architectural decay. After meeting Eric a few times at various shows, he reached out to me and said “Seth, let’s turn one of your paintings into something that people could walk through.” I was super excited about the idea!


Eric: And I’m an architect. I got to know Seth’s work a couple years ago when he was named Pittsburgh Emerging Artist of the Year. I’ve always really admired his compositions and the painstaking care he takes to craft his collages. And I like that his work is concerned with the effects of time on buildings, which is also a particular interest of mine.


Seth: So we’re going to give super brief backgrounds into what we do: This is me in my studio, you can see these little scraps of paper all around me that I use to collage and every little scrap is individually glue down, one piece at a time, to create my images. After that, I’ll draw and paint on top of the collage to push the depth of the work.


Seth: I also have been working three dimensionally for a few years. My sculptures fit into the same theme. This piece titled “ORB” is actually a complete sphere, about this big and it sits on top of a pedestal. You can actually see this and some other pieces of mine in the Strip right now, at The Society of Contemporary Craft.


Eric: Here is an image that depicts the sort of drawings we do at Fisher ARCHitecture. This is a computer rendering so you can see our software is really good at depicting not only form, but also mood and tone. When you combine the computer models with sketches and physical models, you get a really clear idea what a building is going to look like.


Eric: To be an architect is to collaborate. The idea for the PNC Living Wall may have been mine, but it took lots of folks to make it happen. You may not think it but the constraints formed by these partnerships actually encourage creativity by defining a context or “artistic place” where design decisions can be made.


Seth: When Eric and I got together we needed something to focus our collaboration around. Eric found this competition called “Fairy Tales” run by Blank Space in NYC. Fairy Tales invites, architects, artists, writers…. etc. to submit their own unique architectural story. All they require is a short narrative combined with 5 supporting images.


Eric: At first I was super-respectful of Seth’s work, so I created these tower cubes based on an analysis of one of my own photos that resembled one of his paintings. However, simply redistributing image fragments up in the air like oversized signs doesn’t actually reveal anything new about the ruins themselves.


Eric: In our next iteration we extruded one of the image fragments to create a floating city. My interns and I realized even as we were putting this new model together that as cool as it may look we were basically creating the image of architecture, an abstracted sound-bite, w/o thinking deeply about the true meaning of this new world…


Seth: Another direction we took was sort of analyzing how things fall apart and how does something become a ruin… This is an example of where we took a step back from the pure aesthetics in order to focus on the motion. (Our interns were SUPER helpful with this part!!)


Eric: Seth and I were both really interested to see what one of his paintings would look like if it was reconstructed in 3D space. These four images illustrate my interns’ process. We kept asking ourselves, “What are we learning about the paintings that we didn’t know before?” and “How are we relating my architecture with Seth’s work?”


Seth: Eric and I were meeting weekly for this and I when I sat down with his team and saw this for the first time I was speechless. I was thinking, What is this software? How do I have it? How do I learn it? It was the first time I had been underneath one of my paintings and the experience was just unbelievable!


Eric: It occurred to us during one of our meetings that one source of relevance for our fairy tale narrative was the news. Images of ruins have become imbued in our imagination in recent years as a result of 9/11 and of global-warming-enhanced events like Hurricane’s Katrina and Maria.


Eric: We were determined to learn more about the meaning of ruins so we started reading essays on the subject. It was while reading a Brian Dillon essay on the work of Julie Mehretu that we discovered it may be possible to reconcile these images of destruction and decay with, as Dillon writes, “the seeds of an as-of-yet-unfulfilled future”…


Seth: (Oh man, look at the shadows in that thing!) So we’re pulling together all of this inspiration and going back and forth… we’re using my original painting as a starting point and things really begin taking form! Where we land is on a narrative focused around this sacred ruin in a moment of collapse—some type of memorial that was preserved as it was falling apart.


Seth: We knew we wanted this debris scattered all around the sacred monument and were having trouble figuring out how to make it feel realistic. Maybe this mysterious object crash landed into the ground? One fun design moment we had was when I crumpled up all these little bits of paper and threw them on the ground. From there, we started visualizing our composition.


Eric: So here is where we ended up. We realized that this ruin-world could possibly be a positive place to inhabit if human beings could a) relate to what they were seeing and then b) adapt over time to inhabit it. We have created trenches where you can experience the ruins from below, boardwalks for walking next to them, and towers so you can look down on them from above.


Eric: Working on this project has been both rewarding and frustrating. On the one hand I’m really learning from Seth and his work while continuing to push my own ideas forward. On the other, projects are like magnets that constantly pull you to them; but this is a very big magnet! I want to spend much more time on the project than I can…


Seth: But on the other hand… LOOK AT HOW COOL THIS ISSS! I see my re-imagined artworks on the wall and can’t wait to build them in a physical reality!!! I try to collaborate as much as I can, within the restraints of needing to live… because in the long term it’s so healthy to work with super talented people… it always pushes you and inspires you!


Eric: Here are pics of Seth and me collaborating with our teammates, including Isidora, Shan, and Liang Fan who worked directly on this project. This process has been rewarding for me personally because it has made me feel connected to something larger than myself and the meetings have been really fun!

Seth: And I think the more we can challenge ourselves to get out of our normal day-to-day creative practices, the better. So go find people that inspire you, that you can learn from, and make amazing stuff together!

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