LOT-EK, the architect-artist duo so cleverly adept at showing how ideas can be rendered solid and functional while still retaining their status as immaterial abstractions, are demonstrating their creative agility at Alden Projects through Sunday. Since 1993, when they first appeared on the New York scene, the Italy-, and U.S.-educated architects Ada Tolla and Giuseppe Lignano have actively been turning materials, objects, and ideas inside out and upside down. They have converted standard 40-foot shipping containers into offices, bedrooms, and studios (most notably outside the Whitney Museum (now the Met Breuer), and in institutions and homes throughout the world. Early on, they “renovated” a Chelsea townhouse by disassembling its appliances, drawers, and storage facilities, putting all of their innards on full view. Economical and engaging, such “upcycling,” as they call it, is not only environmentally sound, it is also fun and inspiring, like child’s play, but not.
Their work not only shows things we’d never expect; it also teaches us how to construct with what we have and to imagine on our own terms. In this show, titled “THIS SIDE UP,” framed with upwardly pointing directional arrows, LOT-EK reveals something else—their art, which is ultimately one and the same as their architecture and design—that is, it’s both the thing and the idea of it. Like a blueprint.
Included here are cut-out corrugated-cardboard boxes, still bearing their shipping and other labels, that have been flattened out, cut into, collaged, and sometimes mounted on wood. Nevertheless, they are at once coherent and cubistic, implying depth and even motion. The show could have been called The Art of Containment.
Works such as Stacked #1 and Flattened #1 (both 2016), for example, from a series titled “Foldables” (2016), represent containers (boxes) that are incapable of containing, but which express the way ideas can be store and adapted.
Also in the exhibition is Urbanscan Atlas (2016), a diaristic compilation–an almost foot-tall photographic collection of LOT-EK’s complete image archive. There are photos of manholes, street signs, industrial containers, and the like, gathered over some 20 years.
LOT-EK has essentially been speaking in one language across a wide variety of materials, showing its breadth and infinite variability. Their artistic renderings suggest a map of the mind, of the built and raw street universe, and of time and place.
As in that storied children’s book The Berenstain Bears, Tolla and Lignano are committed to explaining and confounding inside, outside, and upside down. What could be more in line with our current world?