Solo exhibition at Solo Galerie
March 17 – May 7, 2016
11 Rue des Arquebusiers, Paris
BATARA, 2012 – ongoing
Text by Nicola Louis Markhus
Batara is a collaborative project between architect Anne Holtrop and photographer Bas Princen, which so far consists of a series of models, a full-scale pavilion and photography. The spaces of Batara are arrangements of sand-cast walls without windows, doors or roofs, only empty openings. The constructions have no apparent function or relation to typology or building style, giving an air of something prehistoric and primitive. It is as if we are looking at a disintegrating ruin bearing witness of some fundamental form of building.
The project originates in a visit to the ancient city of Petra in Jordan. The simple settlement of single-story dwellings eventually became a hub for the caravan trade between Persia, the Arab world and the Roman Empire, and a great city was carved out of the desert rock. Princen's photography of Petra display spaces that are moving between states of natural and man-made: the rugged surfaces of the mountains were cut sharply and ornamented to house tombs and temples, while today the details and surfaces are eroding away and gradually blurring the distinction.
The walls of Batara are in a similar manner created in a process of removing material, by digging away from the natural environment. Concrete or plaster is poured directly into pits of earth or sand, giving the walls a smoothness on one side and a rough, uneven surface on the other. The process and the outcome are characterized by the combination of intent/constraint and chance/the undefined, where the architecture is partly formed by the material and the natural mould itself.
In his text, Material Gesture, Holtrop points to the importance of the material properties and the unintended effect of an action with a material, as a possible new approach to making. Much like Robert Smithson's Asphalt Rundown (1969), Batara explores how the outflowing properties of concrete work together with the earth mould, with gravity and air to level and solidify. And like Smithson, Holtrop points out that the truth of a material is not found in it’s refined, ideal state, but in the “impure”, worn and lopsided state. In “A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Works”, Smithson argues that rust is the fundamental property of steel, and that our fear of inactivity, entropy, erosion and the undefined is removing us from the primary process of making contact with matter, and thereby fully understanding and interacting with the world.
In their work, both Holtrop and Princen point to examples in which architecture and the natural environment consist of the same material, making it specific to place and partly undifferentiated from its surroundings. Batara is, like many of Holtrop’s other projects, a mono-material architecture. Using a single material is a way to create a reduced architecture, which feels like a scale-model or seems unfinished. It is an architecture of suggestion and possibility, where the idea is simultaneously clear and open. The structures of Batara may be undefined in terms of their use or what they are about. Yet the reduced state allows us to focus on what this architecture actually consists of, on the qualities of the material and the interaction with it in the process of making, the sequence of spaces and connections between them. Princen’s images of the Batara models only show us fragments of the space, confusing our sense of scale and placing us inside the model. Yet even without a sense of the whole the essence is apparent, and we are invited to imagine what this possible architecture could become.
BARBAR, 2016 – ongoing
Text by Anne Holtrop
The Barbar Temple was discovered in 1954, or rather rediscovered as Captain E.L. Durand has noticed a pierced limestone block protruding from the crest of the mound in 1879. Excavations continued until 1962, by which time three superimposed temples had been investigated. The second one, is the more impressive, with a massive oval platform of ashlar blocks, and an upper terrace with a pair of enigmatic semicircular structures on top. Other features of this upper terrace were three upright subrectangular stone blocks on the south side, each with a hole through. These have been variously interpreted as tethering posts for sacrificial animals adn as votive stones anchors. To the north of the semicircular structures were two socket stones, one of which, sticking through the surface had caught Durand’s eye. (Harriet Crawford, Jane Moon)
The Barbar works consist of a floor made out of portugese pink marble, an architectural model with two rooms and photos of light casts taken by Bas Princen in Museum Fort Vechten. The three works share a formal language of forms defined by straight lines and arcs that form a loose pattern together. An unknown language that remembers the Barbar Temple. My interest in this language is its modular character with a certain set of rules, combined with something more emotional. A language in which I can ‘write’ different works that each discover its potential.
My first encounter with the possibility of this language was through the making of the Bahrain pavilion for the Expo in Milan. The pavilion is made out of 350 white concrete casted unique forms that as a puzzle fit together and form the spaces of the building and the gardens. When I saw the independent pieces at the concrete factory stacked next to each other and waiting to be transported to the building site – the strong appearance of each form drew my attention. Lateron in Museum Fort Vechten, while Bas Princen was photographing it, sunlight through the curved windows casted similar forms. Again in its isolation it had a strong appeal to me.
With the Barbar works I use the isolated forms and collages them loosely together to make a larger pattern. In the floor as a patchwork of unique forms cut out of pink marble, that form one floor and at the same can be seen as individual pieces. And in the model with two rooms as elements that in three dimensions form a collage.