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The new building of Central Saint Martins, London
Why Central Saint Martins doesn’t smell like an art school?
You feel you are better than this corridor [old building]…
In the new building you want to hide (Louise Wilson)
In this day and age, new hierarchies of aesthetics are intervening with the process of creation. A birth of the new order, where visual appearance of a creative space is prioritized almost above the art piece itself. Art space designed and commissioned by academy, by galleries, by artists to recreate and reintroduce a sharp, clean image of what we will perceive as the space where art resides.
In 2011, Stanton Williams Architects and UAL (University of the Arts London) introduced the new CSM building in Granary Square near King’s Cross. The sharp and up-to-date interior tells an interesting story about art spaces today and the people who end up occupying them. The new space, an ambitious and generously budgeted (allegedly
£ 200,000,000) project, presents the image of the art school of our time, where fine art is studied and contemporary art (or artists) are made.
Business art is the step that comes after art (Andy Warhol)
The new space, enriched with all the right elements of contemporary architecture and interior design – rough, stripped down materials, with strong influences of brutalism and modernist architecture, interacts (and at the same time contradicts) with the poor, old image of the studio space, where ply wood comes as cheap and handy solution to transform and recreate a space between four concrete walls, where concrete is cast in layers over layers to cover the damages of time, paint, chemical and any other side-effect to do with the process of creation and experimentation. These crucial elements are being cynically appropriated, detached from any aspect of functionality in order to create a clean image of modernity that reinforces the idea of exclusivity, in which everyone in the building is probably in the right place to be.
This deconstruction of the artist‘s studio space forms a new structure that celebrates the aesthetic language of transformation without allowing space for the chance of that transformation to occur. CSM is a finished product that does not need retouching. The concrete, glass, and wood are creating a cold, oppressive space, a subtle oppressor that imposes stagnation.
The previous spaces used by CSM were not built within a purpose to become art schools or art spaces, much like a lot of other art schools, the circumstantial encounter between a purpose and an existing space creates a certain energy that allows exchange, adaptation and experimentation in order to create an essence of creation under the understanding of mutuality and balance, where expectation and space-function do not play a lead role.
In the new campus, CSM executives believe that by concentrating all academic facilities under one roof, they will contribute to a sense of community in the college, that once was spread in five different locations. Following this perspective, CSM’s new image and aesthetic embodies ideas of progression and movement, it does so in full correspondence with a capitalist environment, without questioning or criticizing it. CSM wants to be the superstore, the shopping centre, the all-in-one. Is the new CSM here to show us how the art world strives to grow inwards and never expand sideways? Is the luxury of accessibility more dominant than the privilege of exposure? Does inspiration come from a library or a classroom, or can it be found in the infinite spaces that are in between two buildings in a city?
Walking into Central Saint Martins raises the initial question: “Why does it not smell like an art school?” The new, sterile super-space, powered with the smart aesthetic of “work in progress,” exchange or cooperation comes before the work itself, before the idea, before the blank canvas has been bleached to it‘s core, or, in fact, it was born in the brightest of white. Where does art and art education meet this space, a space that greets its first year students with the sense of “you have arrived,” as if the work is done before it even started, a working space for young professionals, of art. Just by doing so, the new space blocks movement and possibility, the studio turned gallery turned business.
After art comes business art, what comes after art education?
On the contrary, when we think about creation, we mostly use the tools of nostalgia. We look “back” on a romantic vision of attics or basements, of dust and paint and dirt and sweat, and struggle. How does contemporary art smell? In a time where new languages start to take form, with relational aesthetics and discussion around artwork that cannot turn to commodity, can’t be reified, materialized. How does performance art smell? What paint fumes will come out of an art piece so dynamic it only exists between the space and the observer? What is happening in the corridors of the new, clean, designed art school, and how will it affect the future of the art world?
Stanton Williams Architects „UAL Campus for Central Saint Martins at King’s Cross“, 2011, www.stantonwilliams.com