REFLECTIONS ON BEN KELLY SPEAKING & THE RCA: 4.2.15
With one eye on publicity he wanted to express his (in)difference and found himself in the company of others who did the same as part of the punk generation. But the ‘photo kid’ was not particularly politically motivated, more a dissatisfied irreverent, northern art school kid who wanted to make a different mark in the London scene by experimentally splicing interiors with art practice.
The cultural context, art and spatial inspirations were superbly explained as narratives linking the Mertzbau, Warhol’s Silver Factory, Donald Judd, Maison du Verre, Duchamp, Isocon flats, Le Corbusier, Adolf Loos, Pop Art, Biba, (John Whelan, & Inscape by Casson) with the practice that followed.
In response the ‘photo kid’ made artful spare (️d&ad winning) memorable graphics that later translated into spaces with similar qualities – urban, vibrant and resonant. These in turn became the spatial expression of the zeitgeist and all the more evocative because of their direct links back to the cd covers he designed and of course the music. It’s not possible to see those Manchester interiors without hearing the music. 25 years later the commemorative Hacienda styled trainers still make you hum and gesticulate.
But the context or engineering of those spaces was not explained. The control of the whole (pioneering brand) experience, with the interior expressed as an extension of the image, expressed forcefully through the use of (often hovering) self finished materials and colour, added to the choreography of the urban experience. New pieces of hard edged colourful ‘cool’ set into under explored atmospheric dark streets, transforming forgotten spaces into pioneering venues for drinking, dancing or working out… All creative and spatial moves were explicitly controlled and formed an important part of the design process resulting in these particular interiors kickstarting the local regeneration (in Manchester and Glasgow) that followed and having a value, in this respect, that others designs, with differing attitudes, could not have.
Spatial and material engineering comes to the fore. Use of reflection, manipulating views through the use of iconography, mirrors, changing levels are somewhat reminiscent of Loos’s use of the “raumplan” to carve up horizontal space and use of mirror to create powerful spatial illusions. Hovering structural I beams, extending into the space with industrial connections, make visually explicit the elements of the interior and their ‘conversation’ with the host building, expressing the idea that these elements are suitable for use in more convivial settings, mirroring the actions of Chareau at the Maison de Verre. Predominantly rectangular and diagonally geometries and elements cut through by a singular curve, usually expressed in the furniture, communicate ‘comfort’ as expressed by Le Corbusier’s chaise in Villa Savoye or the curved bar at Isokon flats in Highgate.
There is a coolness associated with this material and iconographic spare approach that works in bars, nightclubs, gyms and museums. I’m not sure the language works at Halfords or in office environments or hotels. In the former there is less power or surprize, it is the language of the industrial shed being used in an industrial shed. In the later, perhaps there is not enough comfort (visual, material and acoustic) or intimacy ?
Perhaps the attitude that expresses the form, looses its edge and vitality in more commercial and anodyne contexts? I remember the installation at Mipin certainly being poignant, colourful, artful and rich kinda developer wallpaper …. but it was embedded with the memorial to Tony Wilson …. a quiet nod to the fact that behind every great new city space or venture there has to be a specific idea, desperation, creative kick or vision that drives the form……