New Ideas from Ancient Forms

A recently installed block pyramid provoked many questions of its audience, not least being – is it art or building materials? The answer is, both!

‘The Pyramid’ was installed in the outdoor exhibition space of Testing Grounds in Southbank for Melbourne Design Week (15 - 28 March 2018). Supported by Creative Victoria in partnership with the National Gallery of Victoria, the installation was built by the Interior Design department at Royal Institute of Melbourne University (RMIT) with the help of 140 first-year students.

On display until the end of June, the installation is comprised of 4,317 hollow concrete blocks, 90 x 390 x 190mm in dimension, supplied by Austral Masonry. The blocks are rotated so that the facade appears solid or hollow, depending on the angle.

Testing Grounds launched in November 2016 as a place of new ideas and experimentation. It hosts exhibitions, artist residences, installations and events. The diverse programming is connected by a thread of impermanence. Works at Testing Grounds are all ephemeral projects, affording its creators a freedom to push boundaries and try something that might fail. In this sense the Pyramid embodies a paradox - the temporary presence of a timeless form.

This is not the first intervention of a pyramid into an art space. Perhaps the best known is the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, designed by Chinese-American architect I.M Pei and constructed in 1984 for the gallery’s entrance courtyard. The metal and glass structure brings contemporary architecture in to a dialogue with the 18th century architecture of the Louvre. Pyramids also feature heavily in the work of American minimalist artist Sol LeWitt. His ‘Four-Sided Pyramid’, 1999, for the sculpture garden of the National Gallery of Australia, is also made out of tiers of concrete bricks, this time solid, and mortared so as to be permanent. In the formal gallery space of the National Gallery the temptation to climb or sit on the structure must be suppressed.

Taking in these references, and the historical significance of the Egyptian pyramids, makes the pyramid an inherently monumental shape. We associate it with grandeur and staying power. Testing Grounds, however, describes this concrete block pyramid as “monumental in nature yet empty of inherent meaning”. Without a prescribed meaning, The Pyramid adapts to the uses and meanings of the viewer. Testing Grounds has invited artists, designers and architects to respond to the work and comment on the pyramid’s passive, impressive presence. They will award $1,000 to the best idea for a permanent change to the pyramid that gives meaning its blank canvas.

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