C3 Contemporary Art Space


Location: Abbotsford Convent, Abbotsford VIC

Function: Art installation/entry point

Architect: Folk Architects

Bricklayer: Mogford & Glenn Bricklaying

Photography: John Gollings, Vivian Cooper Smith

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A new installation greets visitors to a Melbourne gallery

The first use of fired clay bricks is lost in time but is thought to be somewhere in the Indus Valley of south Asia over 5000 years ago. Builders and architects have long understood and appreciated the flexibility of these handy little blocks. However, the art world has made surprisingly little of brick’s modularity and aesthetics. An installation which doubles as an arrival point in c3 Contemporary Art Space at Melbourne’s Abbotsford Convent may be challenging that.

The inherent qualities of brickwork – colour, texture, pattern and form – have long been celebrated in buildings. Examples abound across time and continents: the ancient glazed relief brickwork from what is now south-western Iran, the domes of Hagia Sophia and the Duomo in Florence, the twisted chimneys of Hampton Court Palace, through to the extraordinary polychromaticism of the entrance hall in Behrens’ 1924 Hoechst Technical Administration Building.

More contemporary and closer-to- home, there are many examples of the use of brick as more than just a simple structural element: Lyons Mornington Centre (texture and pattern), Gehry’s UTS Business School (form) and the literal shout-out from Oof! architecture’s funky Hello House in inner Melbourne are just some. (You can view these projects at designplace.com.au.)

Melbourne University architectural academic Dr Derham Groves has long been a champion of the artistic potential of brickwork. In 2000 he curated The Brick Show, a series of freestanding brick walls displaying brick-built graphics. This was followed in 2003 by Not Brick Chimneys, another temporary outdoor installation featuring chimney- like structures. These installations were constructed by bricklaying apprentices. Groves’ interests are summarised in his book Out of the Ordinary: Popular Art, Architecture and Design, available through Amazon.

Putting aside the phenomenally successful The Art of the Brick featuring Lego® blocks, brick (fired clay, that is) is a material that has been little used by artists outside the building context, typically as relief sculptures in brick walls. Perhaps the most famous (or notorious) example of brick in art is Equivalent VIII (1966) by Carl Andre, a double-layer, six-by- ten assembly of bricks now displayed at London’s Tate Gallery. A recent installation by the 2016 Turner Prize nominee Anthea Hamilton, titled ‘Project for Door (After Gaetano Pesce)’ (2015), shows a pair of hands clutching buttocks smashing through a brick wall. She preceded this with ‘Brick Suit’ (2013), albeit in cloth rather than brickwork, although Moschino also used this motif in 1997.

Which brings us to the c3 Contemporary Art Space installation that combines form, function, texture and pattern in brickwork.

The design is the work of Christie Petsinis. As well as being half of Folk Architects (with co-founder Tim Wilson) she sits on c3’s board. The gallery is located at the Abbotsford Convent, a rambling 6.5 ha, inner-city site with 11 historic buildings that are home to over 100 studios, galleries, cafes, a radio station, school, and abundant gardens. “It is an honour to participate and contribute to the Convent’s ongoing transformation into a community and arts precinct,” says Christie.

The brickwork is the first stage in a new front-of- house for the three gallery spaces located in the basement of the iconic Convent building. The galleries are an immersive brick experience, with barrel-vaulted brick arches, and brick flooring and walling laid in a stretcher bond.

The installation/arrival point comprises three intersecting concave and circular forms that combine to house and conceal c3’s entry functions and front-of- house. They were constructed by Brad Mogford of Mogford & Glenn Bricklaying using Bowral Bricks Chillingham White dry-pressed units.

Brad’s team – including Zain Bin Rahim, Lloyd Walmsley and apprentice Kaz Paxman – bedded the bricks in a construction adhesive rather than a conventional sand-cement mortar. This gave adequate strength in a thin, effectively invisible, bed. The tightest radius achieved was about 600mm.

The brickwork is treated differently in each of the installation’s components. The initial concave section housing the reception is laid as 15 courses of one-third- bond stretchers, the central drum is laid as 12 courses of headers on edge, while the final concave section comprises four courses of soldiers, that is, laid on end. Each brick is slightly spaced from its neighbours – between 25 and 35 mm depending on the bond — so no cutting was required.

The construction took three days with between two and four of the bricklaying team on site each day. Although the set-out was straightforward – “We just chalked it out on the floor,” Brad Mogford tells us – the actual laying took considerably more time than a conventional wall. “It basically required patience,” he says.

“The forms and materiality expressed in the installation celebrate and highlight the distinctive architectural elements of the existing space,” Christie says. Why brick and why these bricks, we asked? “The new installation was considerate of and influenced by the materiality and historic architectural context, yet representing the material to fit within the contemporary exhibition space,” she explains. “As a sculptural object composed of radiating bricks, the textured matt finish of the installation’s material selection, Bowral Bricks’ Chillingham White, is subdued and non-reflective and doesn’t compete with the art.

“The white brick installation contrasts with the old red brickwork, and its varying brick arrangements and patterning creates textures over the surfaces that play with light and shadow giving the material another dimension.”

This is not Folk Architects’ first foray into brickwork. “We love brick!” Christie says enthusiastically. She goes on to describe it as “a versatile material that provides spaces with warmth and texture and can be used to create sculptural forms, and patterns that can play with light.”

The Folk team – Christie Petsinis, Tim Wilson, James Carter and Salem Nasser – are involved in a wide range of projects from educational and urban design/public interventions, to larger scale commercial, hospitality and residential work.

The bricks for the project were donated by Brickworks Building Products as part of its support for local artists and the community. Christie thanked Brickworks’ Natalie Colussa at The Brick Studio “who supported the project and inspired us when we first enquired about using their products, and then introduced us to Moggy [Brad Mogford].”

Further development of the new front-of- house awaits funding. It will extend the current installation to create an arrival point that integrates seating and responds to the formal gardens and buildings of the Abbotsford Convent in what Christie Petsinis says will be “a playful intervention into the Gallery’s existing fabric.”

c3 Gallery is open Wednesday to Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm at the Abbotsford Convent, 1 St Heliers Street, Abbotsford VIC or go to http://www.c3artspace.com.au.

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