Yunhee Min & Peter Tolkin: Red Carpet in C

“Music is liquid architecture; Architecture is frozen music.”--Johann Wolfgang von Goethe “A structure of pure color, free of substrate, floating in the space, traveling in the air as music, reverberating and blooming in the classical atrium.”—Peter Tolkin

Background If music is primarily a medium of time, it is usually played in a space, within architecture. Architecture, considered primarily a medium of space, embodies time, both in the internal activities of its inhabitants and also, as Goethe noted, in its seeming permanence.

Both music and architecture rely on notational systems as means to mediate between conceptualization of ideas and actualization of forms. Musical notation is a visual system used to represent aurally perceived sound (composition) through written symbols. In architecture, the medium of drawings is used to notate the intentions of the architect. For both mediums, a system of notation allows for representation of the form to be translated by others; to be played in the case of music or to be built from architectural drawings by a group of people with specific skills in the case of architecture.

Within contemporary art, architecture, and music, notation has become increasingly important as a way to relate complex ideas as well as a way to utilize and incorporate emerging technologies within and across respective mediums and disciplines. In addition, the forms of notation have had to transform and adapt to realize such contemporary works. Often referred to as graphic notation these forms of visualizing music have enhanced the interface between visual arts, architecture and music and have been seen as a work of art in itself with the ability to visually transmit musical ideas, textures, and feelings. Perhaps the musical scores most related to ”Red Carpet in C” are those of Iannis Xenakis, a composer who worked as an architect with Le Corbusier and whose parabolic compositions can be directly understood in relation to architectural forms and shapes. An example of this is the Philips Pavilion, See graphic notations below.

Performance “Red Carpet in C” proposes to take the translation of music beyond notation into three-dimensional architectural form. This project will stage an “architectural performance,” transforming a classical, Renaissance revival atrium of the Culver Center of the Arts from a static space into a visually and musically dynamic space.

One of the central questions raised by ”Red Carpet in C” is the status of performance. Typically architecture plays a background role – a stage on which the performance is played out - rather than being understood as performative in itself. This is perhaps most true in classical architecture with its strict proportional rules and emphasis on solidity that centrally locates the viewer (the subject) within the space. “Red Carpet in C” is designed to question this background relationship to performance, to blur the traditional boundaries of space (container) and performance (event).

The large undulating fabric form of “Red Carpet in C” will span from the entry area to the entire length of the gallery space (approx. 100’-120’) at the width of approximately 16 feet. It is both an object to be viewed and space to be inhabited. The piece begins with a gesture at the entry and asks those entering the building to engage with it physically by walking on it. Positioned toward the series of glass doors at the front of the building, the piece interfaces with the pedestrian mall of Main Street, offering an invitation to enter. Initially placed as a floor covering, the piece announces its physicality as well as its desire to be both functional in the architectural sense, and aesthetically as art object. It recedes back into the atrium gallery and curves upwards vertically, eschewing traditional distance between art object and viewer. The piece asks to be touched.

Digital rendering studies As the piece moves from horizontal to vertical with its parabolic forms, it surges from floor to ceiling. As soft architecture within an existing structure, “Red Carpet in C” can be viewed within the tradition of illusionistic ceiling painting and construction that reaches back to the Renaissance period. A continuous surface of catenary and parabolic arches redefines the space of the atrium. The surface that began as a pedestrian covering at the entry transforms the atrium spatially through volume, tonally through color, and acoustically through its absorbency.

The ceiling, as device separate from a roof structure, has a long history in the development of architecture and art. It is with the Renaissance period that the ceiling began to take on its increasing independence as a visual space of illusion and projection. Today, the ceiling is often a place to conceal the pragmatic components of the building such as HVAC equipment and air ducts where the “space frame” truss structure was installed at the Culver on the bay. Covering the ornamental coffered ceiling with glass, “Red Carpet in C” suggests a second, decorative ceiling projected into the space and hung from the frame truss structure.

Color/Tonality & Materiality Color and tone have a great effect on how we experience and hear music in a physical space. In this respect, they are important aspects of the “Red Carpet in C” installation. Experimental composers, such as Morton Feldman, have looked to the visual arts and specifically abstract painting as source and reference to their musical composition. Feldman’s works such as “Rothko’s Chapel,” “Patterns in a Chromatic Field,” and “For Philip Guston,” were composed to produce a kind of musical equivalence for painting. In many ways, color is to painting what tone is to music. ”Red Carpet in C” explores the perceptual and physiological characteristics of color, and accordingly the color will be used emotively in response to the curvature of the form to further the musical experience of the space.

The material and the surface of the form will be a soft fabric responsive to sound through acoustic absorbency. Working with a structural consultant, Min and Tolkin will develop a method for producing the shapes that are a combination of catenary curves that work with gravity and parabolic shapes that need structural self-support. Research will determine the best method for constructing and generating the curves. This involves advanced computer modeling for the form generation as well as for analyzing the structure. Various types of fabric from canvas, the traditional support for painting, to industrial felt, to other more high-tech materials will be considered in order to develop a layered system of fabric that has internal structural properties allowing the form to lift and drop in ways that appear to defy gravity. In addition, Min and Tolkin will work closely with an acoustical engineer to determine the material to make the space “musical.” Tempering the current live and reverberant acoustics of the atrium at the Culver Center will be part of the musical transformation of the space.

About the Artists Yunhee Min is an artist whose work ranges from painting, sculpture site projects. She has been exhibiting both nationally and internationally for past 20 years. During this time she has had 31 solo exhibitions and site projects in galleries, museums and non-commercial institutions. In addition she had 2 two-person exhibitions as well as 41 group exhibitions in Los Angeles, New York, San Antonio, Berlin, Amsterdam as well as Seoul Korea. She has received COLA (City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs) Individual Artist Grant in 1999 as well as KAFA (Korea America Foundation for the Arts) Individual Artist Grant in 1996. In 2003, she was Artist in Residence at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco that culminated in a site project. In 2006, she was nominated for Herb Alpert award and received Ucross Residency Prize and in 2009, she spent a month in Jeju Museum of Contemporary Art in South Korea as the Artist in residence. More recently, she was nominated for the Guggenheim Fellowship and awarded a residency for Silvershed at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York in 2013. She is a founder of Silvershed, an artist-run project space in New York City.

Peter Tolkin is an architect and photographer and is the founding principal of Peter Tolkin Architecture. Established in 2000, the practice deliberately engages social, economic, environmental and/or political concerns as opportunities for authentic cultural expression. Throughout his formal education with renowned American artists Allan Sekula and Lewis Baltz, and subsequent practice as a documentary photographer, Peter Tolkin’s instinctive curiosity was focused on the contingencies that impact the conditions of contemporary culture. This seminal exploration provided the conceptual kernel for an architectural practice that interprets contextual narratives. Architectural Record named Peter as one of the ten emerging international architects for its “Design Vanguard” issue. His work has been recognized with numerous AIA awards and has been published nationally and internationally in publications such as: The New York Times, Architectural Record, Dwell, Domus, Abitare, Frame. His photographic work – including projects such as “Airline Food,” “Wexner’s Center” – has been exhibited widely and published in a variety of publications and journals.

Red Carpet in C, Entry view