Left: Alois Kronschlaeger, Carbon Steel Structure, 2016, 44 by 24 by 24 inches; right: detail.
To create his Carbon Steel Structure, Alois Kronschlaeger first arranged and welded together groups of three by four-inch tubular carbon steel units, building separate layers or planes. These layers were then stacked on top of one another on alternating axes to create pockets of negative space that echo the distinctive hollowness of each individual unit―a practice that undoes the calculated logic of the hermetic brick wall, traditionally free of interspaces. The layers are not welded to each other, and so they can be stacked and re-stacked indefinitely in the original order in which they were placed or according to another whim altogether.
When thinking of a title for the work, which was shown as part of Cristin Tierney Gallery’s booth at ZONA MACO in February 2016, Kronschlaeger eschewed words like “tower” or “totem”―the former is restricted to ascensional growth, while the latter serves primarily as an object of idolatry. Neither truly encapsulated the idea of a construction that contracts and expands in space, nor evoked the importance of the unique, singular unit. The artist decided on “structure,” a term that does not favor growth in any one direction but rather opens up the possibility of horizontal and vertical evolution. The word stems from the Latin struere―to heap together; arrange.
Various views of the carbon steel modular units used in Kronschlaeger’s Carbon Steel Structure.
Carbon Steel Structure preceded, and yet is strikingly reminiscent of, the 2016 Serpentine Pavilion designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). The architects stacked pultruded fibreglass frames to build a wall that, in their own words, “unzips.” Rather than using multiple walls to create a structure with a finite number of exterior sides, BIG employs a single, forking wall to demarcate the space. Both the Pavilion architects and Kronschlaeger, however, thought to leverage the process of stacking―the basic building methodology―to accomplish a surface that varies in translucency as the viewer shifts positions. In their Architect’s Statement, BIG describes the Pavilion: “…free-form yet rigorous; modular yet sculptural; both transparent and opaque; both solid box and blob.” The Pavilion and Carbon Steel Structure function much like screens, allowing various amounts of light to filter through as the hollow units reveal glimpses of the world on the other side.
2016 Serpentine Pavilion, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). (Serpentine Galleries).
Detail of BIG’s Serpentine Pavilion (photo by the architect).
The action of “unzipping” is unique to the Pavilion, but Kronschlaeger’s Structure also expands in horizontal space, though with a different impulse. The modular units are not arranged according the regular, visually apprehensible logic of the Pavilion, where each fiberglass frame is stacked on its widest, horizontal side a minutely calculated distance from the other. Instead, some of the interlaced units that make up Kronschlaeger’s piece stand on a vertical axis, jutting out more or less than the units that surround it so that the Structure expands in select places, to varying degrees, and contracts in others. In a further gesture of complexity, the artist has alternated the outward-facing sides of each unit so that one sees the hollow and the solid faces in the same line of vision. This practice takes full advantage of the singular unit (and evinces Kronschlaeger’s fascination with this element.) As they scan the structure, the viewer’s perspective is either tunneled—when they look through a tubular unit—or blocked, interrupted by the sudden opacity of a smooth carbon steel surface. The net effect of this interplay is that the structure presents itself as simultaneously penetrable and impenetrable by the gaze of the spectator.
BIG’s Serpentine Pavilion. (Serpentine Galleries)
The tradition of stacking has been integral to Kronschlaeger’s production for a very long time. In The Architectural Impulse, curator Warren James described the artist’s process: “the repetitive and rigid structural module—every cell exactly like every other cell—is made supple and yields to endless variations.” Prior to creating Carbon Steel Structure, the artist experimented with concrete pavement blocks in a similar format. These exercises yielded the Celosía configurations, such as the one pictured below; a similar desire to create separate units that are stackable, and thus infinitely re-configurable, is patent in the artist’s heaped grids for his site-specific installation at the Bruce Museum, Grid structure #1.
Details of Alois Kronschlaeger’s Carbon Steel Structure can be accessed at Cristin Tierney’s Artsy profile: https://www.artsy.net/artwork/alois-kronschlaeger-untitled-29 .
Alois Kronschlaeger, Celosía configuration #2, concrete pavement bricks, 2016.