Christian Kliegel visited by Nicholas Brown

Christian Kliegel

I think it’s important first to address your studio environment, which represents a significant shift in your practice. Could you explain your current situation with respect to your program of study, group-oriented work and intellectual environment?

I am currently in first year, second semester in a three and a half year Masters degree program of Architecture at the University of British Columbia. The first year seems a bit like foundation year did in art school. We get a crash course in Architecture History starting with classical architecture in Rome, introductory courses in Building Technology and Structures, and intros to mind-numbingly difficult Digital Drawing Programs. By far the most important class is a fairly extensive studio course with month-long projects regarding simple programmatic issues in a building site or inhabitation of structures or buildings. The focus is on form making and trying to find approaches that are conceptually congruent with one’s intent; a design that is developed. The starting point of each design does not matter as much as learning along the way and constantly editing and recognizing and realizing the important parts, not unlike an art making process. Most of these assignments are individually based even though we are being assured of the collaborative nature of the profession. I guess it is easier to find your own real interests of inquiry if you are left on your own at the beginning, which is fine.

Christian Kliegel I think the second year is focused more on team projects to simulate real life situations. And then it’s thesis time where it is just the individual again. The way the studio itself is set up allows for a great dissemination of ideas. The studio consists of one large room with a communal kitchen and seating area with students hanging out pretty much 24 hours, so it’s always easy to share ideas and talk about projects in an open, inviting intellectual environment. I was really surprised that despite the immense stress and intense workload, there is no real sense of competition in the studio, as opposed to what I felt to be the case in art school. People are genuinely helpful with technical issues and are not afraid to actually discuss their projects in terms of strengths and weaknesses, which I felt was not the case at art school either. The notion of peer criticism that is insightful and helpful in developing ideas is actually a constructive part of the learning process in this program. Every Friday, the whole architecture department gets two kegs of beer and gets drunk together. A different class sets a theme each time and hosts the rest of the students and faculty. This tradition is called “Good Times”. This is also a constructive part of the learning process.

Christian Kliegel Your studio is situated in an academic milieu, and you are immersed in a new discipline. How does this bear on your practice as an artist? Does the new context of the architectural program effectively subsume or incorporate your artistic practice, or do you see them as discrete components of a larger path?

I like the academic milieu. I wish I could be a student for the rest of my life. I mean, I want to do my own work and set my own parameters, which is entirely possible as a student, both in art and architecture. I love the fact that when you are a student, you are given all this time to devote to your work. No distractions. As an artist it is nearly impossible to get by without some other job, which sucks the creative energy out you. It was my art practice that drew me to architecture school, which at the time I was naïve about. My art practice started moving into a certain direction that was very much informed by spatial consideration, as well as an increased interest in the viewer and his/her involvement in the space. Context and site specificity is also very important to me as an artist. The installations and sculptures started to become (or at least I hope they did) a part of the space rather than compete with it in some hierarchical contest. The work relies on the space and needs to be adapted each time. I think a good example for that was the piece Production Postings at the CAG that was changed according to the setting of the window context of the gallery. It acted as a continuous building wrap and the façade as a whole, rather than the individual windows as framing devises.

Christian Kliegel I am still trying to figure out the relationship between my art practice and architecture practice. When I started school I saw all these similarities between the professions that are slowly getting to be overshadowed by an increasing number of differences that I am becoming aware of. Take Anthony Vidler, the great Architecture theorist, who wrote in ‘Diagrams of Diagrams’ that an architectural drawing can under no circumstance allow for misreading, which separates it from art. The Spanish architect Raphael Moneo, wrote that buildings have to be set free into the world to be changed by the user. The architect is not allowed to claim authorship and has to distance himself from his work, unlike an artist. A unifying aspect of both worlds, I think, is the idea that both artist and architect are generalists. An artist has to be open to everything and invite it in and process it in some form, which will inevitably find its way into the work. An architect operates on the same plane.

Christian Kliegel

Personally, this is something that I will have to reconcile at some point in the future. I can still see just enough overlaps that allow me to be optimistic that it is possible to do both. If you look at someone like Olafur Eliasson or Anish Kapoor who exist mainly in an art context but are still part of contemporary architecture discourse due to there utilization of scale, material, space and a deliberate phenomenological effect on the viewer which, for good or bad, is inherent in most interesting architecture. Vito Acconci went the other way. From the experiments on a public scale through performances he started a firm that explores similar themes through public architecture. So, I think there is hope.

Christian Kliegel

If we can back up for a moment, I wanted to ask you about an approach that seems to govern your earlier work. In the past, you’ve put together shows “on the fly”, producing work onsite at exhibition spaces as opposed to in the gallery. Your exhibition at the Balmoral Gallery, where you collected detritus at the side of the highway on your trip from Vancouver to the gallery in LA, is indicative of this process. I’m curious as to how such an approach stands in relation to your current program/process.

My approach to art making is one that depends on circumstance. It was always somewhat difficult to just make a work without a reason for it. Usually an exhibition would provide that reason. I will mess around a lot and make small sculptures or take photos or something like that all the time but when it comes to big things or more developed works, I usually need some sort of catalyst to get me going. School operates on a similar idea. The big difference now is, that in architecture I can’t waffle (wrong word?) so much anymore. I think it is easier, sometimes necessary for the subject of an artwork to make something that literally takes almost no time. It can be an informed, conceptually rigorous artwork, but the product itself looks like it was made in 5 minutes. This is impossible in architecture school.

Christian Kliegel Christian Kliegel Every project needs to be accompanied by documentation and sets of complex drawings and diagrams detailing aspects of the design. Models need to be made for every iteration of every stage of the design process: concept models, sketch models, finished models.
Christian Kliegel Christian Kliegel These all take time. The notion of ‘working through’ a problem becomes really apparent when making different models or drawings for a design to see what works and what doesn’t work. In art, I always found it to be more of an internal thing, where I could just think about a problem for a while, make some sketches and then it would all come together in the gallery, site-specifically. This would usually happen during the install week leading up to the opening. Being an artist does help the design process. There are elements I can translate into the architecture world.

One thing we talked about recently is the subject of constraints — materials, assignments, institutions that narrow the scope and set of choices in which to work, etc. It occurs to me that this might relate to your “on the fly” approach to previous work, in which the materials and spaces you’re presented with would seem to govern the degree of choices you have at your disposal. Could you comment on the kinds of projects you’ve been given with respect to this question of constraints?

I think it is very interesting to work within a set of boundaries and try to move as freely as possible within them. What’s great about art is that everything is possible and legit if it fits into the framework one sets for oneself. Often times the simpler an idea or a subject gets communicated the better it can be. Simplicity is also effective and complex, but a complex idea can quickly become complicated when overworked. The same holds true for architecture. It is increasingly difficult to make something the simpler it becomes. The most interesting architecture does that really well without any complicated pretense. One thing I became really fascinated with over the last semester is the idea that a set operation or a rule that is entirely made up will dictate the outcome of the work. A simple algorithm that is being applied to every element of the design, totally consequential. That is a very simple idea which predetermines the outcome in a way, a constraint that is imposed on me by me. To make it work and to find the right operations that fit the problem is the struggle.

Images