The balance of chaos and structure

Marc Leschelier builds in experimental conditions. His constructed artefacts move between space and sculpture. Deliberately conceived free of any use, the work of the trained architect puts his own discipline to the test. In conversation with Jerome Becker and Matthias Moroder, he emphasises his aversion to functionalism and stresses the importance of architecture as a form of expression.

Jerome Becker: How would you describe the beginning of your own architectural practice as Marc Leschelier? 

Marc Leschelier: I could explain it from different perspectives, but I would say that there were actually two decisive moments. One is an encounter with a curator that I met in Paris. His name is Philippe-Alain Michaud, he is the head of film curation at Centre Pompidou in Paris. But before that meeting, I was listening to him speaking on the radio, and I really heard something I always wanted to hear about architecture, but it was about cinema. What’s very special about his approach is that he is building a history of cinema that is completely beyond the projection room. So, for example, he made an exhibition about flying carpets, which he understands as being part of the history of cinema: these flying images are moving images, as in any movie. He also made something about aquariums as pre-cinematographic devices. He is finding traces of cinema before it was invented. This expanded history of cinema needs to first understand what the properties of the medium are, aside from any technical considerations, and then it needs to find them in phenomena disconnected from the discipline. As he says, he reduces cinema to an assemblage of properties. His rewriting of the history of cinema really inspired me. My understanding of architecture has radically changed. This might be the starting point of what I’m doing right now, and I would say that my search for what I call pre-architecture comes from that.

The second moment was when I started my residency at Villa Medici in Rome in 2017. The visit I made of the Ruins of Caracalla AA was another shift in my understanding of architecture. There, I was facing a ruin where some perfect geometrical shapes stayed intact over time and others had been completely destroyed, revealing a strange coexistence of shapeless and geometrical elements. Geometry remains and, at the same time, seems to fall apart. There was something in this, a certain plasticity, that I wanted to work with. Something in-between the object and its destruction, the geometry and the shapeless.

A few weeks after visiting the Ruins of Caracalla, I interviewed Herman Nitsch in his castle in Prinzendorf, near Vienna. I wasn’t really prepared to see such a world. I discovered how clear and structured his work is and I immediately understood it as architecture. BB Like the Ruins of Caracalla, there was this same opposition between chaos and structure. That’s how I became passionate about Viennese Actionism: another very important subject regarding my work. Also, the question of the preliminary states in Nitsch’s performances is very important, as it became to me for architecture.

I’m jumping to something else, but this is somehow connected. Recently I became passionate about the writings of Piero Camporesi, a historian of Italian folklore, but more precisely, he is a specialist of the pre-industrial period. He describes how blurred the frontiers between different disciplines and knowledge were at that time.1 His work shows the correspondences between the fields of knowledge, from gastronomy to surgery, particularly in the Middle Ages and until the Renaissance, disciplines were more assemblages of knowledge and not closed disciplines. For this reason, communication took place between fields and this is also what happened during the avant-garde periods when filmmakers, architects, visual artists were working together. Like with Philippe-Alain Michaud, where we talked about the pre-cinema, everything comes back to a unified field, when nothing is located within a discipline. Camporesi talks about gastronomy, anatomy, medicine, art and he puts them all on the same level, which gives a sense of how things were working at that time. I think that this whole intellectual base of destroying frontiers between disciplines was the intellectual starting point of my practice. If I were a writer, this is how I would have approached the history of architecture: as an assemblage of properties.

Maybe I can mention something else too: I heard that at the beginning of his career, Hans Hollein did not want to mention sculpture, painting and architecture by their name, but he just wanted to call them under the same word: Gebilde. The background of Viennese art and architecture in the 1950s and 1960s was certainly about the destruction dissolvement of disciplines. 

Matthias Moroder: That came out of a very specific historical setting. In Vienna in the 1950s with a hegemonic functionalist and rationalist architecture, it was very much a critique and opposition on that very narrow-minded way of thinking about architecture. 

ML: It was a reaction regarding function, right? 

MM: Yes, very much, but also about rational composition. There were mainly two directions of interest: One that was, as you said, trying to destroy the distinctions between disciplines and the other one that was trying to rediscover and re-evaluate architecture – the architecture in Vienna before the caesura of the Annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, the non-dogmatic Viennese Modernism of Otto Wagner, Adolf Loos, Josef Frank… So, I think the situation in that sense is a very different one now, because there is a much wider understanding of architecture.

ML: Do you think that today architecture is very open to different understandings? 

MM: I think that there is a pretty wide notion of what architecture is or can be today compared to the 1950s. 

ML: Really? 

MM: Yes. 

ML: I see what you mean, but I started my research in reaction to a very narrow understanding of architecture. Because if you look back at the avant-garde of the 1910s and 1950s, architecture was seen as a bridge between the arts. I still think that if, in the present, we talk about an architecture without use, which gives apparently nothing to society, it seems not easy to understand it as a ready-made. So, for me the limits are really in front of us. As soon as you take away a small piece that belongs to the architecture culture, nothing works anymore and nobody understands it. Sadly, I think that we are still completely stuck in a (neo-)modernist understanding of architecture, where function is the main core. I am not talking about architects in general, because a few architects, of course, are working to expand the vocabulary. But I think as a general understanding, especially for people that are not from architectural fields, even Jacques Derrida, when he’s exchanging with Peter Eisenman, it seems impossible to think of an architecture without function. 2

MM: Aires Mateus for example taught a studio on “architecture without function” at the Accademia di Architettura in Mendrisio a few years ago. So, there is an academic discussion going on about this. 

ML: I am sure that it exists and hopefully there are architects working on those things. I’m very interested in the meaning of the 16th and 18th century architecture, and what was called architecture parlante. The fact that architecture, before being a functional object, should be a visual object: something that should tell something. Even if some architects are maybe working on this, it is still a minority, I think. Also, the problem is not about architects, it’s how the whole system is shaping architecture through laws and regulations which go in the opposite direction. The accumulation of security rules and regulations to protect everyone from getting sued makes it difficult for architects to express themselves. I don’t understand architecture as a service, but as a form of expression. I don’t want to be constantly fighting a system of regulations, it’s a loss of time. I prefer to avoid the system and to try to find a parallel path. 

JB: If your intentions are based on this critique of modernism, that you mentioned before, how would you then refer to those first reactions in the 1950s by architects like Aldo van Eyck and the Smithsons? They were explicitly criticizing this very straight functionalism, but didn’t remove function or program from their answer to it. So, there was a very different approach on how to react to modernism. Is this something that you reflect in your work? 

ML: Yes, I think, at the end, it’s the same approach. One of my favourite buildings is the Sonsbeek Pavilion in Arnhem by Aldo Van Eyck. CC I try by my own means to reach this critique with another strategy, and finally to not consider function anymore. My basic statement is actually to ignore or refuse the possibility to integrate function, because we can prove that architecture had other ends. Finally, I am very interested in the other modernisms, the ones that history has put under the bed. For example, the contemporaries of Le Corbusier: Gio Ponti, Robert Mallet-Stevens, Michel Roux-Spitz and all the forgotten ones that we’re rediscovering right now. If you look closer at their work, they were actually thinking modernism in a completely different way. At the same period of time, there were so many other modernisms that didn’t succeed to be known, because of obvious simplifications. For example, Michel Roux-Spitz was against the idea of horizontality, because for him it was not true to architecture, architecture was about accumulation of weight on a vertical line. I guess, this is not relevant enough to destroy Le Corbusier’s vision, but the story is more exciting with these people in the frame. We don’t need another book about Le Corbusier, it’s getting crazy. 

MM: You are mostly doing objects rather than spaces. Would you say that to do space in itself is opening up the possibility of function? 

ML: Yes, because there is always a function, even an empty space has a function, a potential one. It’s a misuse actually, we should say a space without use. And of course, by defining it in advance it has killed the potentiality. Building space without a specific goal is enough to tell something. It’s about the meaning of space, and the meaning of its shape. I think that Aldo Rossi explains this very well.3 When you look at the elliptic shape of the Colosseum, at the beginning, it was designed for the games, then a few centuries after, this shape was re-used to become a piazza, a few centuries after, it became housing blocks, and then uninhabited, it was falling apart, stones were stolen and it became a quarry, etc… It’s not only talking about the re-use of space, but about the ellipse as something that has the potential to host different scenarios. It’s a very important critique of the modern mantra, form follows function. The shape itself, its geometry, has its own rules and properties to allow something to happen or not. Non-defined spaces are certainly shifting something in the over-defined public and private spaces we live in, dead-end streets are illustrating this very well. 

MM: But then the step that you would have to do is to do spaces which are undefined rather than to do objects or things that are understood as sculptures.

ML: I don’t consider them as sculptures, but as architectural elements. They are part of the cosmos of architecture. When you exhibit them, you may need to isolate them and that is how the ambiguity with sculpture comes. There is a certain tension of these elements in space. It means they relate to space much more than isolated objects; they are in dialogue as if they were part of the edifice’s structure. Exhibitions enable me to test the feasibility of an architectural vocabulary that I try to build: a naked and irrational vocabulary. Then, the idea is to re-integrate them in my outdoor buildings, as these exhibitions were crash-tests. 

JB: So, we could read your works rather as prototypes… 

ML: Totally! That’s how I called them at the beginning. 

JB: Something that is not necessarily meant to stand there alone, but that is meant to be part of a bigger structure. 

ML: Yes, totally. 

JB: How would you define the quality of a space? When you think about a space that is not defined by basic functions or basic use. When is it a good space? 

ML: I would say that a good space is a space that expresses something more than being at the service of something. In that case, space can be seen as equal as painting or sculpture. The moments, where I faced something that really talks to me, were actually buildings that I could understand. Buildings that were so clear that they could be visually understood, and by that, being a vehicle for something. It’s not a clarity that looks like a clean geometry or a kind of white cube, but more something that tells me how it was built. A construction, where the forces are expressed in the final shape. A kind of organism, where you feel how it behaves. If the phenomena of tension and compression are visible in space you can understand how this space has been brought to life. A good space for me would be a space where all these traces stay visible. 

MM: What is the tension that an object in-between two states, for example, in-between geometry and shapelessness, order and chaos, etc. must have? 

ML: I think I’m searching for the moment right before the collapse. It’s the moment in which all the tensions are expressed and the shape has no choice, but to be reflection of this moment. The tension is naked, basically, it’s just energy. This very fragile moment of stability is actually the threshold before chaos, but it integrates it somehow, like a ghost, because you can feel this potentiality. 

JB: To reflect on this idea of chaos: This reference raises the question, whether your work is also about destruction? Because you mentioned the Ruins of Caracalla being very impressive to you, but, on the other hand, the work that you do is more about construction than about destruction, right? 

ML: Yes, absolutely. Until now, I didn’t use destruction as a medium. 

JB: So then, we also get to this performative part of your work. If you read it like this, you need to know how it happened. It is not something that coincidentally fell apart, but something that used to be built on purpose. 

ML: Yes, this is something to interpret in my work. Is it a ruin or a new construction? Again, it’s this balance between structure and chaos. But, if we step back, I think there are two things working at the same time: the invention of a vocabulary by the destruction of the normal practice. It’s a constructive act which tries to destroy the foundations of the discipline: how the discipline has been defined and understood. I am very much involved in construction. I’m thinking a lot of how to join the blocks together and I’m never splitting or breaking them. Many of my constructions have been destroyed and I never filmed it, because, I guess, I wasn't interested in the moment of their destruction. I am much more interested in making the form, rather than destroying it. And the only destruction that counts is the destruction of any fixed definition. 

JB: In the exhibition you did for MAGAZIN in Vienna in 2020 you presented two parts of your work at the same time. There is one part, which can be seen as design, even though it is designed spontaneously, but it’s kind of designed. There is no plan, but you develop a clear constructive system, when you assemble the concrete blocks, for example, for a column AA in the exhibition. So, there is a certain logic that is reproduced again and again, and then you start seeing a certain idea behind it. And the other part of your work is very intuitive, a non-designed part that we see, when you work with the bricks. The interesting thing at the Vienna Exhibition was that you somehow combined it, which is something that you haven’t done before. 

ML: Yes, you are right, there are performative works with totally spontaneous constructions based on protocols, as well as structural works. Structural works are expressing a constructive logic. The idea of piling up, stabilizing or just to repeating something vertically, but still with a total ignorant approach. Which means that it has been pursued in a systematic way without preconceived ideas of how it should look like. The only thing was to pursue that act and still be vertical and stable. The Exhibition at MAGAZIN was the first time I showed these two approaches next to each other. It helped me to clarify these two paths. In the future, I would be interested to find a way to make them compatible with each other in the building process. 

JB: Was it at Villa Medici where you did a participatory construction?  

ML: Yes. 

JB: You decided not to do it again afterwards, right? For what reason? Because your setting at Villa Medici reminds me a lot of a painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder BB: in the lower right corner of the scene, two protagonists are depicted playing with bricks and stacking them in a very naive and intuitive way. Are you interested in exploring naive forms of construction? Was that your aim, to start it as a participatory act, involving non-professionals? 

ML: Yes absolutely, I think construction is not technical. That’s why the idea of a participatory project is interesting, because this type of protocol allows the creation of a totally spontaneous architecture. 

JB: … to see what visitors are going to do with bricks and mortar, also if they are not into architecture or construction. And how was that experience for you? Why did you choose not to try it again? 

ML: Because something was missing to be really spontaneous. It was a group show curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Chiara Parisi and Christian Boltanski called Take me I’m yours. The idea was that the artworks were not seen as unique products, but multiples and that people could take them home, a kind of supermarket-exhibition, but the art works were for free. There were also other types of works, where people could participate and activate the work, or if it wasn’t finished, they could influence the final result. It was an attempt to transform the value of the works, to make them more accessible, but also to change the vision of an artisanal art and to insert it in large-scale production processes. I really liked the exhibition, it helped me to approach the question of the industry of architecture and mass-production. For this exhibition, I asked an Italian brick factory to manufacture half-scale bricks. In that context, I thought that it would have been interesting to build a piece of a wall or a column with the visitors without any directions or restrictions in terms of how it should look like. I didn’t want to do any moderation, therefore I thought that it was important to comfort people in acting without preliminary knowledge. That’s why I stamped the bricks with the words: “costruttori non qualificati associati” (association of non-qualified builders). It was a simple and direct message that gave the trust to the collective and the chance to build freely. I thought it was enough and that it might lead to an uninhibited piling up of bricks and mortar. But the opposite occurred, the whole set-up enabled the visitors to act like kids and play with Lego again. I was shocked and horrified to see that suddenly, people were returning to their childhood and the whole thing became totally absurd. To make a collective work, you really need to prepare everybody’s mindset. People were just doing their own thing. There was no collective consciousness to build a wall. 

JB: You would have had to show them somehow that there is the possibility of a common agency, that there is a potential of building something together, right? So, they just concentrated on the two bricks that they had in their hands? 

ML: Actually, everybody was trying to solve the problem by themselves, but without any collective consciousness, even if there was a sort of perimeter to condense the construction in the centre. I thought it has been completely clear that the only thing to do is to stack brick and mortar, but it didn’t happen. I was very disappointed by this experience, but I ultimately understood that spontaneity is a built mindset. 

MM: Was the result chaos? 

ML: I cannot say, maybe not. It looked more like a children's playground. Disorder without any systemic, raw energy. It really didn’t appear to me as something relevant. It was not even a pile, something I would have loved to see. Even if there was a mortar mixer turning constantly in the room, in a very old and dirty cave, with dramatic lights and a neo-satanic set up, people were just happy to play Lego. 

JB: Is it possible that the visitors realized your intention to abuse them as workers and as a reaction, they simply decided to boycott you? 

ML: A boycott… Yeah maybe, then I would have loved to see a stronger reaction! You can throw bricks too and that has a meaning. 

JB: To boycott is what people love to do, when they feel instrumentalized. 

ML: Maybe. I felt that what comes out of the non-qualification was a return to childhood. But it’s funny that the Bruegel painting, you just mentioned, is called “Kinderspiele”, right? 

JB: Yes. 

ML: Yes, it was a total kindergarten. Actually, I wanted to engage the visitors in order to deactivate the idea that there is an author behind. And to deactivate the making of a preconceived shape. But I don’t want to continue in that direction anymore. I understood that the act of construction, absurd or ignorant, needs an intention to be impactful. The key is to activate a protocol and to put the work into a specific frame. I trust the consistency of the idea, which can rarely happen in a collective way. But if you think about it, visitors of an exhibition are certainly not the best group to work together. On the opposite, as the exhibition was like a supermarket, it makes sense that people were acting on their own.

Marc Leschelier (1984) lives and works in Paris. His work has recently been exhibited at Sized during Frieze Ar Fair Los Angeles (2022), The SkateRoom with Michèle Lamy during Art Bruxelles (2022) and at Spazio Maiocchi in Milan (2022). In collaboration with Galerie Philippe Gravier, he built a pavilion in the prestigious Château de Vez (2022). Marc inaugurated two permanent constructions in France, in the sculpture park Piacé le Radieux (2021) and in the private property of Château du Feÿ (2019) in Burgundy. Five other ephemeral constructions have been realized during exhibitions or biennials. Marc participated in the Venice Architecture Biennale (2021) with a project commissioned by the Italian Pavilion virtual program. He also participated in the Tallinn Art Biennial (2020), opened his first solo exhibition in Vienna at MAGAZIN (2020) and exhibited the same year at the Villa Noailles in Hyères (2020).

This text is an abridged version of a conversation with Marc Leschelier on the occasion of his first solo exhibition 'Cold Cream' in early 2020 at MAGAZIN - Space for Contemporary Architecture in Vienna. For Daidalos, some passages were taken out under own title and slightly adapted by the editor. A publication with the entire conversation will be published soon by MAGAZIN

The balance of chaos and structure

7/11/2022

Marc Leschelier builds in experimental conditions. His constructed artefacts move between space and sculpture. Deliberately conceived free of any use, the work of the trained architect puts his own discipline to the test. In conversation with Jerome Becker and Matthias Moroder, he emphasises his aversion to functionalism and stresses the importance of architecture as a form of expression.

Caracalla, Rome

Nitsch's XI. Symphony

1 Piero Camporesi, Juice of Life: The Symbolic and Magic Significance of Blood, London 1995.

2 Peter Eisenman, Jacques Derrida, Chora L Works, New York 1997.

Sonsbeek Pavilion

3 Aldo Rossi, L'architettura della città, Padova 1966.

Jerome Becker: How would you describe the beginning of your own architectural practice as Marc Leschelier? 

Marc Leschelier: I could explain it from different perspectives, but I would say that there were actually two decisive moments. One is an encounter with a curator that I met in Paris. His name is Philippe-Alain Michaud, he is the head of film curation at Centre Pompidou in Paris. But before that meeting, I was listening to him speaking on the radio, and I really heard something I always wanted to hear about architecture, but it was about cinema. What’s very special about his approach is that he is building a history of cinema that is completely beyond the projection room. So, for example, he made an exhibition about flying carpets, which he understands as being part of the history of cinema: these flying images are moving images, as in any movie. He also made something about aquariums as pre-cinematographic devices. He is finding traces of cinema before it was invented. This expanded history of cinema needs to first understand what the properties of the medium are, aside from any technical considerations, and then it needs to find them in phenomena disconnected from the discipline. As he says, he reduces cinema to an assemblage of properties. His rewriting of the history of cinema really inspired me. My understanding of architecture has radically changed. This might be the starting point of what I’m doing right now, and I would say that my search for what I call pre-architecture comes from that.

The second moment was when I started my residency at Villa Medici in Rome in 2017. The visit I made of the Ruins of Caracalla was another shift in my understanding of architecture. There, I was facing a ruin where some perfect geometrical shapes stayed intact over time and others had been completely destroyed, revealing a strange coexistence of shapeless and geometrical elements. Geometry remains and, at the same time, seems to fall apart. There was something in this, a certain plasticity, that I wanted to work with. Something in-between the object and its destruction, the geometry and the shapeless.

A few weeks after visiting the Ruins of Caracalla, I interviewed Herman Nitsch in his castle in Prinzendorf, near Vienna. I wasn’t really prepared to see such a world. I discovered how clear and structured his work is and I immediately understood it as architecture. Like the Ruins of Caracalla, there was this same opposition between chaos and structure. That’s how I became passionate about Viennese Actionism: another very important subject regarding my work. Also, the question of the preliminary states in Nitsch’s performances is very important, as it became to me for architecture.

I’m jumping to something else, but this is somehow connected. Recently I became passionate about the writings of Piero Camporesi, a historian of Italian folklore, but more precisely, he is a specialist of the pre-industrial period. He describes how blurred the frontiers between different disciplines and knowledge were at that time.1 His work shows the correspondences between the fields of knowledge, from gastronomy to surgery, particularly in the Middle Ages and until the Renaissance, disciplines were more assemblages of knowledge and not closed disciplines. For this reason, communication took place between fields and this is also what happened during the avant-garde periods when filmmakers, architects, visual artists were working together. Like with Philippe-Alain Michaud, where we talked about the pre-cinema, everything comes back to a unified field, when nothing is located within a discipline. Camporesi talks about gastronomy, anatomy, medicine, art and he puts them all on the same level, which gives a sense of how things were working at that time. I think that this whole intellectual base of destroying frontiers between disciplines was the intellectual starting point of my practice. If I were a writer, this is how I would have approached the history of architecture: as an assemblage of properties.

Maybe I can mention something else too: I heard that at the beginning of his career, Hans Hollein did not want to mention sculpture, painting and architecture by their name, but he just wanted to call them under the same word: Gebilde. The background of Viennese art and architecture in the 1950s and 1960s was certainly about the destruction dissolvement of disciplines. 

Matthias Moroder: That came out of a very specific historical setting. In Vienna in the 1950s with a hegemonic functionalist and rationalist architecture, it was very much a critique and opposition on that very narrow-minded way of thinking about architecture. 

ML: It was a reaction regarding function, right? 

MM: Yes, very much, but also about rational composition. There were mainly two directions of interest: One that was, as you said, trying to destroy the distinctions between disciplines and the other one that was trying to rediscover and re-evaluate architecture – the architecture in Vienna before the caesura of the Annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, the non-dogmatic Viennese Modernism of Otto Wagner, Adolf Loos, Josef Frank… So, I think the situation in that sense is a very different one now, because there is a much wider understanding of architecture.

ML: Do you think that today architecture is very open to different understandings? 

MM: I think that there is a pretty wide notion of what architecture is or can be today compared to the 1950s. 

ML: Really? 

MM: Yes. 

ML: I see what you mean, but I started my research in reaction to a very narrow understanding of architecture. Because if you look back at the avant-garde of the 1910s and 1950s, architecture was seen as a bridge between the arts. I still think that if, in the present, we talk about an architecture without use, which gives apparently nothing to society, it seems not easy to understand it as a ready-made. So, for me the limits are really in front of us. As soon as you take away a small piece that belongs to the architecture culture, nothing works anymore and nobody understands it. Sadly, I think that we are still completely stuck in a (neo-)modernist understanding of architecture, where function is the main core. I am not talking about architects in general, because a few architects, of course, are working to expand the vocabulary. But I think as a general understanding, especially for people that are not from architectural fields, even Jacques Derrida, when he’s exchanging with Peter Eisenman, it seems impossible to think of an architecture without function. 2

MM: Aires Mateus for example taught a studio on “architecture without function” at the Accademia di Architettura in Mendrisio a few years ago. So, there is an academic discussion going on about this. 

ML: I am sure that it exists and hopefully there are architects working on those things. I’m very interested in the meaning of the 16th and 18th century architecture, and what was called architecture parlante. The fact that architecture, before being a functional object, should be a visual object: something that should tell something. Even if some architects are maybe working on this, it is still a minority, I think. Also, the problem is not about architects, it’s how the whole system is shaping architecture through laws and regulations which go in the opposite direction. The accumulation of security rules and regulations to protect everyone from getting sued makes it difficult for architects to express themselves. I don’t understand architecture as a service, but as a form of expression. I don’t want to be constantly fighting a system of regulations, it’s a loss of time. I prefer to avoid the system and to try to find a parallel path. 

JB: If your intentions are based on this critique of modernism, that you mentioned before, how would you then refer to those first reactions in the 1950s by architects like Aldo van Eyck and the Smithsons? They were explicitly criticizing this very straight functionalism, but didn’t remove function or program from their answer to it. So, there was a very different approach on how to react to modernism. Is this something that you reflect in your work? 

ML: Yes, I think, at the end, it’s the same approach. One of my favourite buildings is the Sonsbeek Pavilion in Arnhem by Aldo Van Eyck. I try by my own means to reach this critique with another strategy, and finally to not consider function anymore. My basic statement is actually to ignore or refuse the possibility to integrate function, because we can prove that architecture had other ends. Finally, I am very interested in the other modernisms, the ones that history has put under the bed. For example, the contemporaries of Le Corbusier: Gio Ponti, Robert Mallet-Stevens, Michel Roux-Spitz and all the forgotten ones that we’re rediscovering right now. If you look closer at their work, they were actually thinking modernism in a completely different way. At the same period of time, there were so many other modernisms that didn’t succeed to be known, because of obvious simplifications. For example, Michel Roux-Spitz was against the idea of horizontality, because for him it was not true to architecture, architecture was about accumulation of weight on a vertical line. I guess, this is not relevant enough to destroy Le Corbusier’s vision, but the story is more exciting with these people in the frame. We don’t need another book about Le Corbusier, it’s getting crazy. 

MM: You are mostly doing objects rather than spaces. Would you say that to do space in itself is opening up the possibility of function? 

ML: Yes, because there is always a function, even an empty space has a function, a potential one. It’s a misuse actually, we should say a space without use. And of course, by defining it in advance it has killed the potentiality. Building space without a specific goal is enough to tell something. It’s about the meaning of space, and the meaning of its shape. I think that Aldo Rossi explains this very well.3 When you look at the elliptic shape of the Colosseum, at the beginning, it was designed for the games, then a few centuries after, this shape was re-used to become a piazza, a few centuries after, it became housing blocks, and then uninhabited, it was falling apart, stones were stolen and it became a quarry, etc… It’s not only talking about the re-use of space, but about the ellipse as something that has the potential to host different scenarios. It’s a very important critique of the modern mantra, form follows function. The shape itself, its geometry, has its own rules and properties to allow something to happen or not. Non-defined spaces are certainly shifting something in the over-defined public and private spaces we live in, dead-end streets are illustrating this very well. 

MM: But then the step that you would have to do is to do spaces which are undefined rather than to do objects or things that are understood as sculptures.

ML: I don’t consider them as sculptures, but as architectural elements. They are part of the cosmos of architecture. When you exhibit them, you may need to isolate them and that is how the ambiguity with sculpture comes. There is a certain tension of these elements in space. It means they relate to space much more than isolated objects; they are in dialogue as if they were part of the edifice’s structure. Exhibitions enable me to test the feasibility of an architectural vocabulary that I try to build: a naked and irrational vocabulary. Then, the idea is to re-integrate them in my outdoor buildings, as these exhibitions were crash-tests. 

Prototype II, Cinder blocks - Mortar, 2019 – photo: Jeremy Guillory
Prototype II, Cinder blocks - Mortar, 2019 – © Marc Leschelier
Prototype V, Metal - Cinder blocks - Glue - Concrete textile, 2022 – © Marc Leschelier
Prototype V, Metal - Cinder blocks - Glue - Concrete textile, 2022 – © Marc Leschelier
Newtons on Car Jacks, Clay blocks -Mortar - Car jacks, 2021 – © Marc Leschelier
Newtons on Car Jacks, Clay blocks -Mortar - Car jacks, 2021 – © Marc Leschelier
Worksite III, Concrete blocks - Glue, 2019 – © Marc Leschelier
Worksite III, Concrete blocks - Glue, 2019 – © Marc Leschelier
Spillways, Cement blocks - Mortar - Plaster - Bricks, 2020 – © Marc Leschelier
Spillways, Cement blocks - Mortar - Plaster - Bricks, 2020 – © Marc Leschelier
Aprons with Spillers, Metal - Cinder blocks - Mortar, 2021 – © Marc Leschelier
Aprons with Spillers, Metal - Cinder blocks - Mortar, 2021 – © Marc Leschelier
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Prototype II, Cinder blocks - Mortar, 2019 – photo: Jeremy Guillory

Spine Column

Kinderspiele

JB: So, we could read your works rather as prototypes… 

ML: Totally! That’s how I called them at the beginning. 

JB: Something that is not necessarily meant to stand there alone, but that is meant to be part of a bigger structure. 

ML: Yes, totally. 

JB: How would you define the quality of a space? When you think about a space that is not defined by basic functions or basic use. When is it a good space? 

ML: I would say that a good space is a space that expresses something more than being at the service of something. In that case, space can be seen as equal as painting or sculpture. The moments, where I faced something that really talks to me, were actually buildings that I could understand. Buildings that were so clear that they could be visually understood, and by that, being a vehicle for something. It’s not a clarity that looks like a clean geometry or a kind of white cube, but more something that tells me how it was built. A construction, where the forces are expressed in the final shape. A kind of organism, where you feel how it behaves. If the phenomena of tension and compression are visible in space you can understand how this space has been brought to life. A good space for me would be a space where all these traces stay visible. 

MM: What is the tension that an object in-between two states, for example, in-between geometry and shapelessness, order and chaos, etc. must have? 

ML: I think I’m searching for the moment right before the collapse. It’s the moment in which all the tensions are expressed and the shape has no choice, but to be reflection of this moment. The tension is naked, basically, it’s just energy. This very fragile moment of stability is actually the threshold before chaos, but it integrates it somehow, like a ghost, because you can feel this potentiality. 

JB: To reflect on this idea of chaos: This reference raises the question, whether your work is also about destruction? Because you mentioned the Ruins of Caracalla being very impressive to you, but, on the other hand, the work that you do is more about construction than about destruction, right? 

ML: Yes, absolutely. Until now, I didn’t use destruction as a medium. 

JB: So then, we also get to this performative part of your work. If you read it like this, you need to know how it happened. It is not something that coincidentally fell apart, but something that used to be built on purpose. 

ML: Yes, this is something to interpret in my work. Is it a ruin or a new construction? Again, it’s this balance between structure and chaos. But, if we step back, I think there are two things working at the same time: the invention of a vocabulary by the destruction of the normal practice. It’s a constructive act which tries to destroy the foundations of the discipline: how the discipline has been defined and understood. I am very much involved in construction. I’m thinking a lot of how to join the blocks together and I’m never splitting or breaking them. Many of my constructions have been destroyed and I never filmed it, because, I guess, I wasn't interested in the moment of their destruction. I am much more interested in making the form, rather than destroying it. And the only destruction that counts is the destruction of any fixed definition. 

JB: In the exhibition you did for MAGAZIN in Vienna in 2020 you presented two parts of your work at the same time. There is one part, which can be seen as design, even though it is designed spontaneously, but it’s kind of designed. There is no plan, but you develop a clear constructive system, when you assemble the concrete blocks, for example, for a column in the exhibition. So, there is a certain logic that is reproduced again and again, and then you start seeing a certain idea behind it. And the other part of your work is very intuitive, a non-designed part that we see, when you work with the bricks. The interesting thing at the Vienna Exhibition was that you somehow combined it, which is something that you haven’t done before. 

ML: Yes, you are right, there are performative works with totally spontaneous constructions based on protocols, as well as structural works. Structural works are expressing a constructive logic. The idea of piling up, stabilizing or just to repeating something vertically, but still with a total ignorant approach. Which means that it has been pursued in a systematic way without preconceived ideas of how it should look like. The only thing was to pursue that act and still be vertical and stable. The Exhibition at MAGAZIN was the first time I showed these two approaches next to each other. It helped me to clarify these two paths. In the future, I would be interested to find a way to make them compatible with each other in the building process. 

JB: Was it at Villa Medici where you did a participatory construction?  

ML: Yes. 

JB: You decided not to do it again afterwards, right? For what reason? Because your setting at Villa Medici reminds me a lot of a painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder : in the lower right corner of the scene, two protagonists are depicted playing with bricks and stacking them in a very naive and intuitive way. Are you interested in exploring naive forms of construction? Was that your aim, to start it as a participatory act, involving non-professionals? 

ML: Yes absolutely, I think construction is not technical. That’s why the idea of a participatory project is interesting, because this type of protocol allows the creation of a totally spontaneous architecture. 

JB: … to see what visitors are going to do with bricks and mortar, also if they are not into architecture or construction. And how was that experience for you? Why did you choose not to try it again? 

ML: Because something was missing to be really spontaneous. It was a group show curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Chiara Parisi and Christian Boltanski called Take me I’m yours. The idea was that the artworks were not seen as unique products, but multiples and that people could take them home, a kind of supermarket-exhibition, but the art works were for free. There were also other types of works, where people could participate and activate the work, or if it wasn’t finished, they could influence the final result. It was an attempt to transform the value of the works, to make them more accessible, but also to change the vision of an artisanal art and to insert it in large-scale production processes. I really liked the exhibition, it helped me to approach the question of the industry of architecture and mass-production. For this exhibition, I asked an Italian brick factory to manufacture half-scale bricks. In that context, I thought that it would have been interesting to build a piece of a wall or a column with the visitors without any directions or restrictions in terms of how it should look like. I didn’t want to do any moderation, therefore I thought that it was important to comfort people in acting without preliminary knowledge. That’s why I stamped the bricks with the words: “costruttori non qualificati associati” (association of non-qualified builders). It was a simple and direct message that gave the trust to the collective and the chance to build freely. I thought it was enough and that it might lead to an uninhibited piling up of bricks and mortar. But the opposite occurred, the whole set-up enabled the visitors to act like kids and play with Lego again. I was shocked and horrified to see that suddenly, people were returning to their childhood and the whole thing became totally absurd. To make a collective work, you really need to prepare everybody’s mindset. People were just doing their own thing. There was no collective consciousness to build a wall. 

JB: You would have had to show them somehow that there is the possibility of a common agency, that there is a potential of building something together, right? So, they just concentrated on the two bricks that they had in their hands? 

ML: Actually, everybody was trying to solve the problem by themselves, but without any collective consciousness, even if there was a sort of perimeter to condense the construction in the centre. I thought it has been completely clear that the only thing to do is to stack brick and mortar, but it didn’t happen. I was very disappointed by this experience, but I ultimately understood that spontaneity is a built mindset. 

MM: Was the result chaos? 

ML: I cannot say, maybe not. It looked more like a children's playground. Disorder without any systemic, raw energy. It really didn’t appear to me as something relevant. It was not even a pile, something I would have loved to see. Even if there was a mortar mixer turning constantly in the room, in a very old and dirty cave, with dramatic lights and a neo-satanic set up, people were just happy to play Lego. 

JB: Is it possible that the visitors realized your intention to abuse them as workers and as a reaction, they simply decided to boycott you? 

ML: A boycott… Yeah maybe, then I would have loved to see a stronger reaction! You can throw bricks too and that has a meaning. 

JB: To boycott is what people love to do, when they feel instrumentalized. 

ML: Maybe. I felt that what comes out of the non-qualification was a return to childhood. But it’s funny that the Bruegel painting, you just mentioned, is called “Kinderspiele”, right? 

JB: Yes. 

ML: Yes, it was a total kindergarten. Actually, I wanted to engage the visitors in order to deactivate the idea that there is an author behind. And to deactivate the making of a preconceived shape. But I don’t want to continue in that direction anymore. I understood that the act of construction, absurd or ignorant, needs an intention to be impactful. The key is to activate a protocol and to put the work into a specific frame. I trust the consistency of the idea, which can rarely happen in a collective way. But if you think about it, visitors of an exhibition are certainly not the best group to work together. On the opposite, as the exhibition was like a supermarket, it makes sense that people were acting on their own.

Marc Leschelier (1984) lives and works in Paris. His work has recently been exhibited at Sized during Frieze Ar Fair Los Angeles (2022), The SkateRoom with Michèle Lamy during Art Bruxelles (2022) and at Spazio Maiocchi in Milan (2022). In collaboration with Galerie Philippe Gravier, he built a pavilion in the prestigious Château de Vez (2022). Marc inaugurated two permanent constructions in France, in the sculpture park Piacé le Radieux (2021) and in the private property of Château du Feÿ (2019) in Burgundy. Five other ephemeral constructions have been realized during exhibitions or biennials. Marc participated in the Venice Architecture Biennale (2021) with a project commissioned by the Italian Pavilion virtual program. He also participated in the Tallinn Art Biennial (2020), opened his first solo exhibition in Vienna at MAGAZIN (2020) and exhibited the same year at the Villa Noailles in Hyères (2020).

This text is an abridged version of a conversation with Marc Leschelier on the occasion of his first solo exhibition 'Cold Cream' in early 2020 at MAGAZIN - Space for Contemporary Architecture in Vienna. For Daidalos, some passages were taken out under own title and slightly adapted by the editor. A publication with the entire conversation will be published soon by MAGAZIN

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