IN BETWEEN REALITY AND IMAGINATION,
SNARKITECTURE'S EXHIBITION IN WASHINGTON
Photographies by Noah Kalina
This summer, the National Building Museum presents Fun House by Snarkitecture, the latest project of its annual Summer Block Party series. The interactive exhibition Fun House is the first, extensive retrospective of the prolific activities of the New York-based studio, founded in 2008 by Alex Mustonen and Daniel Arsham, and joined by partner Benjamin Porto in 2014. Snarkitecture’s signature style operates on the edge between architecture and art, while playfully exploring not only the nature of materials but also the reinterpretation of everyday objects and environments.
To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the studio, the National Building Museum will host a not-so-typical suburban house extending over the entirety of the historic Great Hall. In the “front yard”, situated in the west court, a custom recreation of the iconic A Memorial Bowing (2012) will welcome visitors into the space recreating the title of the show. Curated by Italy-based Maria Cristina Didero, the heart of the exhibition will be presented within a Snarkitecture-designed house, a white freestanding structure that recalls and re-imagines the idea of the traditional home. The anthological show includes a sequence of interactive rooms featuring well-known Snarkitecture environments and objects, as well as new concepts developed for the Museum.
Everything seems familiar but it is not. Snarkitecture creates a house which is actually not a house. Instead of the classical door, visitors will enter the prefabricated building through an excavated hole in the wall, a tribute to the Dig (2011) a project first executed in New York in 2011. As there is not a specific path to follow, guests are free to wander within the house and discover the various the rooms that convey the ten-year story of Snarkitecture, while underlining the studio’s peculiar, yet accessible way of reinterpreting the built environment. At the end of this sensorial journey “guests” exit the house towards the east court, or “backyard,” greeted by Playhouse (2017) and a kidney-shaped pool filled with hundreds of thousands of recyclable plastic balls, reminiscent of The BEACH initially commissioned by the same institution in 2015 for Snarkitecture’s first project in the capital of the United States - and currently touring worldwide.
ExtraValextra had met Alex Mustonen, one of the founders of the practice which has rethought the Valextra store in Via Manzoni, in Milan, last year.
EV: What the most important feeling you would like the viewer to experience when facing your work and entering Fun House?
AM: The work is not specifically prescribing associated emotions to it, but it is an invitation to explore and discover our work, in this case specifically a house, an unknown house. When you walk in, you are not sure what to find there.
EV: So for Fun House, which projects were the most difficult to put up?
AM: The most difficult projects are probably the ones that are not still put up! (smile). Possibly the ones that are completely recreated such as Dig, which requires a lot of material and physical work, or Marble Run as it is a very complex object. These projects were recreated from scratches. It was a challenge to recreate them all and also to adapt them to this new environment.
EV: Most of you works revolve around white, what do you think is the biggest strength of this color?
AM: I think it creates contrasts, most of the things in the everyday world have colors, patterns, or texture. When you walk in the Fun House, also people appear in contrast. People stand out in a certain way, it is striking. It is very different to see this house when is empty or when there is people interacting with it, creating an environment that it is totally transformative.
EV: What does it evoke to you?
AM: To me it evokes simplicity, that’s it.
EV: If you could design your next public project anywhere in the world, including historical landmarks, where would you like it to be?
AM: I still want to do this project in the central square of Duomo we were thinking about some time ago. There are many unrealized projects that are looking for a space to be put up to. We would also like to do a huge project in Time Square…
EV: What will be the future of architecture? And what about art?
AM: I hope there will be a future! For architecture it’s a public one, we need to maintain and increase the interest in public infrastructures that are accessible and used by anyone. Art and culture will always have a future, they will exist forever and for any civilization.
EV: Snarkitecture operates at the edge between art and architecture: what does it mean to be involved in both and is there an aspect stronger than the other?
AM: To be involved in both is an advantage for us, as there is a lot of flexibility, it is some sort of partnership, this idea of coming from both ends. We can design and conceptualize from both sides; that’s why we cannot be seen only as artists or only as architects, there are more meanings. Some meanings don’t belong to any of the two fields.
EV: How can fashion fit in the equation?
AM: I think that also in fashion there is a clearly architecturally driven influence. We are not fashion designers, we just collaborated a few times with fashion brands and it was important for us. One of the fashion commissions we did was in the field of architecture, such as a store or a collection of clothes. We also like to work on a retails shop and on fashion shows.
EV: In the age of social media, how important is it to also creates "Instagram-worthy designs"?
AM: I think that it’s very important for a lot of people, not for me personally, but I reckon it is a creative practice.
EV: How valuable is the use of social media for this industry?
AM: It is important of course; in terms of sharing what we do, inviting people to know what we do, and so being accessible. You can live on the other side of the world, but you have access to this information. It is not important where you are but what you can see. Drawing people into the conversation, open up to a wider audience, it is relevant and engaging.
American duo Snarkitecture is formed by Alex Mustonen and Daniel Arsham, ‘archi-artists’ whose installations mix reality and imagination. Focusing on the color white, their works have appeared in the world’s most important museums and in collaborations with international fashion brands, such as the Valextra annual boutique makeover in Milan. www.snarkitecture.com