Morten Straede
The Belly of the Architect


For this purpose I have decided to split this contribution, addressing the concept of “crossover”, in two parts. The first is a purely linguistic exploration, where I shall outline some of the implications of words and their significance in the cross-discipline collaboration, implied by this very word. The second part will be a study of certain projects with crossover characteristics that I have participated in.

The reason for splitting this presentation in two has nothing to do with preference, but is for the sake of a method, in which I can clarify certain elements of the collaboration held in this word.

I would like to start by introducing the most important moral in this contribution, so my aim becomes clear to all.



Architect Stourley Cracklite is the star of Peter Greenaway’s early 1980’ies film “The Belly of an Architect”. For me this man is an image of the great European-based architect, feet firmly planted in modernism and a head drowning in a crazy cocktail of art and business. Throughout the film Cracklite is attempting to obtain a physical relationship to architecture – even in such a trite manner as to press great masterpieces of architectural history against his cancer-ridden belly – as his wife’s affair in the Vittorio-Emanuele monument in Rome is coolly witnessed by phallic plaster-casts of buildings.

The film depicts a lot of tragedy – but from this comedy arises, as he furiously insists that art has a physical and a conceptual effect on the individual as well as on overall society. For Cracklite the story ends badly. The cancer eats him up and finally he jumps out of a window in the Vittorio-Emanuel monument and is crushed, not on the ground, but on the roof of a car.The closing sequence of the film is a tombstone on the spot where sculptors and architects are able to meet - their identity as artists.

As we no longer are able to meet on this shared platform of the arts, we must meet in the crossover instead.


The Avant-garde

We still discuss Art and architecture by implementing old fashioned tools fetched from the Avant-garde at the turn of the previous century. The concept of the Avant-garde was taken from military discourse, who operated with an avant- and an –arriéregarde, a front and back line.

As we persist on living under banners of high-modernism, it is quite evident we must continue to understand the concepts we are apply to art and architecture, were derived from military terminologies.

The subject of this contribution: Crossover indicates the opening of one or another boarder. The word also implies dynamic action. But this action is not as permanent as had the expression been “occupation” instead.

We are still dealing with military strategic metaphors. And quite appropriately “crossover” resembles the strategies armies enforce in modern conflict zones. Modern combat is not about gaining control over an area through occupation, as in old fashioned wars, but it is about gaining power, by controlling areas that cross over from one to another. Take the conflict in the Middle-East. Crossover-control does not provide peace but it provides stability, as long as it is consistent. If no one is proclaimed winner, can one ideology prevail? Not likely, as the ideologies dissolve and become replaced by continuous action. This is why the war in Iraq is impossible to end. If we transfer this back to the artistic/ architectural field (I confess; a slightly crude gesture) this indicates that “crossover” covers concepts void of ideology but possessing functional practises.


The Collaboration

After saying this rather critical statement, I’d like to stress that there are many good reasons for entering collaborations, and borrowing from other disciplines can be fruitful. There are also a number of reasons that this particular concept currently has great importance. I will touch upon both points in the following. In architecture and sculpting a large movement can be found towards a greater openness in artistic strategies and other forms of knowledge surrounding both fields. This movement has been in progress over the past ten years. And as a movement it has provided a great deal of new material to both fields of work, reaching from the strategic to the practical levels.

Crossover in itself is nothing new. History has many times witnessed movements with similar subject and ambitions. These include; Wiener Werkstätte, Bauhaus, the Situationists, various art movements of the 70’ies, or current movements where artistic groups focus on the social space, and on a certain kind of politicisation. Art dissolving into life, which is one of the greatest modernist dogmas.

Logically there must be at least two parties to make any sense of a crossover and to supply the work with dynamic. To validate a crossover the outset must be collaboration. This doesn’t however require both parties to soften the boundaries of their professions to ease the process. The word itself has a border to be crossed. It is possible to view certain movements in architecture as well as sculpturing as an increasing focus on the ethos of collaboration.The motivations behind this focus are varied and depend on perspectives.

From the architect’s point of view it can be the need to move towards other realms of knowledge. It can be out of necessity, because production methods no longer permit the architect to be the auteur. Other fields of expertise can be invited to contribute with missing options and knowledge, thus to provides him with the option to present an artistic argument. Or it can be in order to sharpening the “artistic content” in a project, because a very distinct collaboration challenges the artistic perspectives in each participating profession.

From a sculptor’s point of view, the interest for crossover collaborations can originate in the continuous desire of art to directly influence society’s content – to escape the ivory tower, and partake in direct negotiations with his surroundings. This shady notion might possibly be the individual artist’s ambition to influence things with his ideology. To paraphrase Egon Fridell’s claim in his art history from the 1930ies: “Art is constantly converging in ideology”.


The Public Sculpture

The artistic status of art and architecture has changed radically over the years. Ever since 1989, as the Berlin wall fell and western capitalism “won” the battle of world order, the West gave up any duty to define its content and establish an identity through ideology.The decades following 1989 art displayed plenty of scepticism towards the effect of aesthetics –the realm of art itself – on the era’s greater changes in the social sphere.

From the sculpting point of view, the previously mentioned opening up to other areas of society is an expression of a general distrusts in the methods of the profession, in particular a distrust of the social effects of artworks implementing these methods. Over the past ten years the aesthetics of the artworks have shifted towards a more socially modulated and frameless practice, in coherence with a gradual dismantling of the political activism recognised in the last century up to the 1970ies. The reason for this is evident. It became paramount for art to reach into the core of social debate. It was apparently necessary to adjust the artistic expression to achieve this objective. During the 1990ies the political activism became replaced by a softer “victim mentality”. Evidently utopian ideals of alternatives to current social structures only seemed to survive in art’s dress-code; in its aesthetics. Utopia and the belief in another social structure were replaced by an intensely personalised, almost private, view of the world. In accordance with this world order behaviour and existing artworks, were to display the pressure forced upon the individual by powers in society. Next step had to be civil disobedience in order to evoke societal change. Ironically; by renouncing aesthetics, the 90ies generation fell into an aesthetic trap, because the form in which most of these manifestations were publically presented, were blatantly stolen from the 1970ies’ activism.

Crossovers between art and society accessible in the 1990ies were dominated by stagings of local ethical issues, each time within a frame, making you an outsider to: Art and its institutions. This started as a grass-root practice and was related to horizontal structures and popular activists that overturned the regimes of Eastern Europe, turning social activism into their brand, and swiftly becoming swept up by art institutions as a new art form.


The Public Architecture

The shifts in the interaction between architecture and society are parallel to the ones seen in sculpting, even though architecture approaches them from a different perspective. A strictly artistic argumentation for architecture lost its status in the same period, because it doesn’t use dialogue as its fundamental outset. Artistic arguments were replaced with consumer participation, democratic rules and general political fear of taking responsibility. The strengths of all these soft values combined are expected to be released though dialogue or what we might call social massaging. This is blatantly evident in the use of a vast number of computer-simulations within architectural projects. These simulations were devised not only because technology provided, but also because all the projects were directed at ordinary people, i.e. people with no professional insight, whether they be contractors or a specific community. The hunger for work obliged everyone to jumped on the bandwagon, and concealed professionalism behind a veil of picture painting – as simulations or as the current trend: collages.Thus art and architecture present similar responses to modern demands on joint decision-making and shared insight. Both have, to a certain degree, been forced to sacrifice their internal professionalism in order to provide the unqualified direct assess to their projects.

Somehow a movement away from the architect’s belly is taking place within architecture, back to Greenaway, to be found in the specific, authoritative artwork derived from a physical and conceptual way of dealing with the world. This movement is advancing towards sculpting. Possibly this movement, that already exists in sculpting, has taken place in an attempt to rediscover the body in concepts and in the creation of space.But oddly enough; sculpting (at least in the fashionable sense) has concurrently moved away from a material and tactile use of concepts and understanding towards an intellectualisation of the expression. Often producing work by applying other media than ones traditionally used in the art-form. Only now; not only as a premise of the work but the aim in itself. In a few years we have travelled from the belly of an architect to the head of an artist – without becoming much wiser.

This movement has made crossover collaborations possible – maybe even made them a necessity. It is obvious that an artistic field that penetrates its artistic potential must apply scheme and endeavours. Even if this happens to satisfy citizens, consumers, power and money and a lot of other interests. Because we live in the era of the late Avant-garde. Thus innovation is still formed by crossing the limits of what is possible. On the other hand, achieving a genuine crossing over is very difficult to accomplish, in particular if you must ensure that every layman and politician feel comfortable in the entire process. As a sculptor it makes good sense to welcome the challenge of crossover work, introduced by architects reflecting our times. Currently there is a lot of discussion in sculptural discourse about the “publicness” of our work.

This is a kind of public possession that is very influenced by something we could call temporary situations. Previously in this presentation I have hinted at the background for this public situationalism. For me there exists another, far more radical, approach to the public. I will return to this at the end of this presentation.


Neo-rationalism and language

It is possible to view the transformation in these two professions as an expression of something other and far more political: In conjunction with the obvious de-politicisation of social life, we have witnessed an advancement of neo-rationalism. A movement that cherishes fact, realism and action. Architecture actually has a term for this, called, neo-rationalist architecture, and described as “fact-mining”, to provide a foundation for the work.

The basis of this neo-rationalism is text. Writing.Text has gained immense influence also in visual art-forms, this contradicting the prophecies of the digital era that foresaw new crossovers of text, image, animations, video, biology and many others. Seeing as each form could be digitalised it was supposed that they would be used on equal terms. Yet the work became increasingly text-based.

It is possible to say that regarding people; the physical representation of text is conversation – negotiation, and it is printed matter, when it comes to presentation. With this in mind, it isn’t surprising that we increasingly see artists, architects, curators, art historians and others use text as the base of the physical form – the photocopy, network, conversation. But text has one great flaw – it is regional. Since the Tower of Babel every language has been an expression of individual, local insights and living conditions, and translation has always standardised both the regional text and the receiving language. The same principals fundamentally apply to conversation. For the sake of conversation the dominant language will demand an adjustment of regional expressions. Or insists on an absolute surrender of the regional language. For instance, if conversation is to take place on an adequate level, the participants in a project are forced to master other languages as well as their own. And nothing indicates that we are getting closer to mastering this skill. Regarding spoken language UN circles already have established bodies, employed to save certain languages from extinction, because this extinction will result in the loss of crucial knowledge.

Maybe this textual brotherhood only exists on the surface. Beneath the mumbling of texts the differences are still so great that conversations will end up in Babylonic turmoil, whilst ruling power structures proceed untouched. Something indicates this might take place regarding the architectural crossovers in public space. This possibly also applies to the political sphere too. Under any circumstances it is remarkable that almost all architectural competitions require, architects aside, teams consisting of; citizens, sculptors, sociologists, advertising people, modern dancers, horse whispers etc. - all to ensure an adequately nuanced approach to the project. This indicates a change in the architect’s role. From being an auteur, the creator of a spatial expression, to being a facilitator. This demonstrates distrust in the architect as a professional. Speaking in film terms it would mean giving the director the role of the producer. Regardless of the competition’s celebration of professions, the results are always assessed only on basis of the architecture. Meaning; in order to renew its vocabulary, the crossover must convey of a strong sense of language, a strong rational ability and posses the right to use other languages and knowledge. In this case this strong sense of rationality belongs to architecture.


The Socially preoccupied art

The relationship of art and the public is in some ways divided. One part is concerned with the public sphere from a power critical point of view. The strategy previously mentioned is to undermine power structures, including the artistic power, that consists of transferring the artwork to the public and thereby exercising power over them.

The ambition is to talk directly to the individual about his/ her social and aesthetic situation and even providing tools to change this situation. For instance, there is Christine Hill’s Second-hand clothes shop, a radio and TV project by SUPERFLEX, and a number of projects ranging from embroidered cushions on Glasgow park benches to chill-out rooms in private corporations. All these projects share in common a theoretical approach that appears to be the concept of the weak artwork (named by Elmgreen and Dragstedt as “Powerless Structures”). Implying a work of art that is able to open up a normally closed situation, by not inflicting its views upon the individual. Usually these works are identified by possessing a time limit. This means that the piece is only active and present for a limited timeframe. The idea being that; after the piece is physically removed, it continues to live in the altered and more capable social behaviour of the participants. This is where I find the greatest weakness of the concept: As a society we have become used to an endless modification of almost all parameters of our existence.



It is an expression of extreme petit-bourgeois understanding to believe that conversation, or the text, is the basis of all co-existence, society and connection. An implied demand for conformity lies beneath this rational crossover between the intentions, dreams and phobias of many people. And the real power structures become concealed under friendly language and inclusive behaviour. Everything becomes acceptable, as long as it is rational and functional and doesn’t exercise power over others. Sensible conversation, good suggestions everyone can agree upon, social behaviour that makes room for everyone – all expected to stay reasonable. But utopia has gone. It is replaced by a mumbling of many local, ethically good intentions. What happened to the dynamics that were meant to provoke change? Radical artistic approaches no longer pose erratically to form a counteraction to our stagnated and wasted culture. Seeing as art is surrounded by a society that has adopted the Avant-garde erratic behaviour, producing erratic art can no longer be seen as a strategy for criticism.


The Permanence

Another way art can relate to the concept of the public sphere is by providing the opposite. For me, permanence has become a way of radically intervening with society and work, and its meaning and disguise. The final chapter in this tale of crossovers is; time. Time with a capital T. As previously mentioned, in the political world conflicts never end. Over time they are patrolled and monitored. The presence of time is therefore an essential element in art. Contrary to political reality, permanent artworks are able to keep crossover situations alive and present disturbing dynamics, without imposing final conclusions. An example of this is Peter Eisenmann’s “Denkmal für Die ermordeten Juden” (Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe) just south of Brandenburger Tor in Berlin.

The social interaction related to this permanent artwork was very extensive. During the erection and lifetime of this piece it included legislation, public hearings, fire regulations, disability access, maintenance planning, engineer calculations, political determination, financing and media attention. And all these crossovers taking place in connection with the surrounding, not always understanding, society. In a time when we can buy something new every day, when business colleagues can be called “over-experienced”, insisting on a meaningful space that is not intended to be occupied for long periods of time becomes the most radical shattering of this feeble mumbling, that possible has grassroots ideals, but due to its mumbling ensures that nothing radical will happen.



I am of the conviction that art – whether sculpture or architecture – is in itself a crossover. It has two sides that mutually influence and define each other. Art is exemplary and singular at the same time. It contains abstract principals, making it possible to address the most abstract and overall concepts and undertakings. On the other hand it needs to be utterly tangible in its execution and existence. The executed artwork is uncontrollable and radically open in contrast to the trails of references and conversational understanding left behind by the text. Whether it is a building, a square or a sculpture, the executed artwork has the power to journey to another place. In the best cases without closing or occupying the situation.

This is the birth of the crossover. The crossover that takes place directly and democratically between the artwork and the individual, and possibly ends in the Avant-garde demands expressed by Rilke: Du muss dein Leben ändern. (You must change your life)


MS 2008