Rodney LaTourelle: The Stepped Form

19 September 2015 – 24 April 2016

Rodney LaTourelle: The Stepped Form (2014)

September 19, 2015 – April 10, 2016

Rodney LaTourelle is a Winnipeg artist and architect now based in Berlin. His works investigate the complex relationships between light, colour, space and the body using site-specific interventions. In this installation, The Stepped Form, LaTourelle explores the ways in which institutional structures are constructive of social relationships and meaning.  This encompasses the often subtle—at times nearly invisible—means by which the built environment influences the ways we interact with each other, and the world around us. In the wake of heightened global security concerns, the built environment is increasingly controlled and controlling—utilizing means of design in lieu of overt forms such as policing—and public space is subsumed by private space or new forms of “private-public” space.

The Stepped Form installation reflects on institutional common spaces typical of colleges and universities that were built in Canada in the 1960s and 1970s. This latter period of architectural modernity is instructive and complex. It featured opposed dynamic forms of austere, architectural Brutalism, alongside seemingly contradictory utopian notions of cultural revolution. Social movements of this time included the self-realization and gatherings that were a part of late ‘60s North America. Today these architectural forms still dot our university campuses, echoing these concerns and aspirations.

Multiple use of The Stepped Form is encouraged: from casual meetings and classes, to performances, and discussion groups. The modules can be reconfigured by gallery staff in a variety of ways, and will appear in staged and multiple forms throughout the course of this exhibition.

In today’s increasingly privatized and digitized world, the habitual “public space” for interaction seems to favour disembodied online interactions over ourphysical bodies together in space. TheStepped Form’s proposed temporary, mutable and participatory structure aims to provide a renewed focus on everyday public life, asking questions of how public space could once again be used as a platform for radical change.

The Stepped Form responds to the ambitious multi-purpose spaces that were usually conceived as voids, characteristically interrupted by level changes and “stepped” elements that proliferated universities and other public spaces across Canada in the 1960s and ‘70s. One need not look further for an example than the University of Regina’s remarkable Administration-Humanities Building from 1973, designed by Holliday-Scott and Paine, and still in use today.

The stepped form in early twentieth century architecture that LaTourelle is referencing forty years later can be interpreted as a ‘cultural-revolutionary’ idea intended for students and public to organize informally and to think for themselves. In some cases, the wider dimension of the steps was intended to provoke a meditative use—a slowing down or leisure space. However, the limitation of the idea then was that this informal use was situated within an architecture based on a kind of prescriptive “form follows function”—which has since been both fetishized for its reliance on monumental form, and discredited for its prescriptive and inflexible nature.

LaTourelle addresses this contradiction in The Stepped Form project by “mapping” the steps with colour and pattern, in which the functional intention is transformed by a lyrical frame that both changes the feeling of the space and charges it with a tension that combines media and architecture, or reveals architecture as media. The flexibility of the modules further counteracts the intractable, static nature of monumental architecture.

LaTourelle was artist-in-residence at Calgary’s Alberta College of Art & Design’s Illingworth Kerr Gallery (IKG) in spring 2014. He worked with IKG staff and ACAD students to create this large-scale sculptural installation specifically for the College’s 1970s-era Main Mall.

 Image: Rodney LaTourelle, The Stepped Form, 2013, Installation at ACAD.