Out of the Box: Gordon Matta-Clark
Selections by Yann Chateigné, Hila Peleg, and Kitty Scott
The 2019–2020 Out of the Box exhibition series is dedicated to the works of trained architect and conceptual artist Gordon Matta-Clark, whose writings, photographs, films, correspondence, and select artworks were produced between 1969 and 1978 and donated to the CCA by the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark in 2011.
Structured as a study in three acts, this series invites three guest curators from different curatorial backgrounds to explore Gordon Matta-Clark’s critical practice within the architectural scene of the time.
ln his roughly ten years of active practice in the 1960s and 1970s, artist Gordon Matta-Clark produced a series of actions in New York and abroad that marked several tipping points between the aesthetics and politics of space. His active critique of architecture—radically redefining the foundations of sculpture, and extending the field of performance—and his building splittings and cuts, are all spatial interventions that formed the vocabulary of an “anarchitectural” practice of “unbuilding.”
The format of Matta-Clark’s work—often collaborative, political, temporal, and occurring in non-institutionalized sites—helped foster his image as a romantic (anti)hero working in the ruins of modernity. However, this singular image has overshadowed the historical and theoretical dimensions of a complex artistic practice rich with multiple references, whose conceptual creativity is grounded in the critical importance of language. The poetic dimension of the artist’s texts and the titles of his works reflect a physical comprehension of the language of the city and its architectural syntax: an understanding nourished by a wide range of reading which served as a source of influence, appropriation, and subversion.
I take Matta-Clark’s personal library as a point of departure that sheds light on lesser-known aspects of the artist’s practice. His material thinking, which sometimes stemmed from unexpected sources, brings together divergent areas of interest while still following particular lines of thought. Criss-crossing the histories of architecture, magic, cognitive science, network theory, anthropology, and ecology, the book collection allows us to explore the hidden aspects of Matta-Clark’s continuous research process, the findings of which challenged architectural thinking. This process is also reflected in Matta-Clark’s considerable writing practice (notes, letters, statements) and his constant flux of visual investigations (photographs, drawings, sketches, film extracts).
I wish to focus on what underpins his projects, rather than on the documentation of finished works. In a way, this reverses the logic of how Matta-Clark’s work has most often been presented: instead of focusing on the remnants of his ephemeral interventions, I foreground his research; rather than reifying his collaborative process, I highlight the physical, psychological, and conceptual processes behind the work.
In short, instead of simply thinking of Gordon Matta-Clark’s archive as a set of clues pointing to a lost past, Material Thinking considers the artist’s oeuvre as a collection of active fragments whose particular alchemy contains a number of vectors that point to the future.
Gordon Matta-Clark considered architecture to be dynamic by nature—part of a larger social and political system conditioned by constantly shifting economic, cultural, and environmental factors. His sharp observation of the conflicts and contradictions taking place in the wake of widespread deindustrialization and so-called urban renewal—particularly in the context of 1970s New York and Paris—fuelled his critical artistic response.
Matta-Clark’s most iconic body of work is a series of meticulous and monumental incisions into abandoned and derelict buildings, through which he exposed their inherent identity, linking them to both their immediate surroundings and the larger social structures and economic systems in which they were embedded. These “building cuts,” as they have come to be known, demonstrate the potential of individuals and groups to establish alternative self-determined spaces, structures, and systems.
Statements written by Matta-Clark reveal that the building cuts were initially conceived of as live experiences—as performances rather than objects. This ephemeral approach meant that few would have the opportunity to experience the works in their intended format, as they were all either boarded up or demolished shortly after their completion. Matta-Clark therefore devised an elaborate documentary practice to represent the different phases and dimensions of these works as a means to convey the extreme physical action and energy involved in the transformation and subsequent demolition of each building. He and his collaborators used the various film formats available at the time to capture the complexity of the completed forms, which had no single vantage point. They passed the camera along from one person to another to create “all-around” images and multiply perspectives of the work.
Rough Cuts and Outtakes presents the content of rare original film reels and videos, including rough cuts, outtakes, and working edits from the CCA’s Gordon Matta-Clark Collection, many of which are being screened in public for the first time. This “discarded” footage is assembled to provide a broader perspective on the spatial and social context of three building cuts and one communal project realized by Matta-Clark in the 1970s—Splitting (1974), Day’s End (1975), Conical Intersect (1975), and Food (1971) including extensive views of the surrounding environments, statements made by Matta-Clark on the project sites, and encounters with people observing the projects as they unfolded. lt also reveals much about the filmmaking process itself—working edits show experimentation with non-linear narrative structure, creating a “free sequence of parts,” while original uncut reels communicate a sense of “real time” taken for each project.
As a documentarist, Matta-Clark was committed not only to keeping a comprehensive record of his own artistic projects, but also, and with great intensity, to the critical observation, interpretation, and representation of social and urban realities in all their complexity.
Gordon Matta-Clark’s work as an artist who engaged with art, architecture, and performance has been thoroughly documented and described. Yet few people are aware of the vast trove of travel photographs stored within the CCA’s Gordon Matta-Clark Collection, which were taken by the artist as he circumnavigated the globe. Line of Flight marks the first time that a large quantity of this material has been digitized and put on display. While these photographs document Matta-Clark’s touristic journeys across various countries and continents, they also reveal a reflection—and perhaps an informal type of research—related to his artistic practice. The themes catalyzing Matta-Clark’s activation of the urban context—such as sociability, architectural ruins, food, collectivism, and exchange—were clear points of interest in most places he went.
ln 1969, Matta-Clark began working as an artist in SoHo. For the next nine years, until the end of his brief life, he travelled extensively, often with a camera in hand. His journeys were sometimes short, taking him on forays to lesser-known parts of New York, into neighbourhoods yet to be valorized by the art world, and to nearby states like New Jersey; others took him further afield, with trips to Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, and various historic sites in the Southwest such as Santa Fe, Canyon de Chelly, and Chaco Canyon. ln the Caribbean, he visited Haiti and Jamaica. He toured through Mexico, visiting the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, and further into Latin America, stopping in Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru, and Chile. As his career developed, he went to Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom for various projects.
Matta-Clark photographed these diverse places using a wide variety of analog film formats, resulting in a collection comprised of slides, black and white prints, negatives, contact sheets, and colour prints. These images—often appearing as quick snapshots taken on the move—resemble a form of note-taking analogous to Matta-Clark’s many sketchbooks and art cards. Similar subjects recur across photographs taken in different locations, ranging from modes of transport to natural disasters and collective experiences. Accordingly, this exhibition presents a digitized subset of these photographs in a thematically arranged panorama, allowing the viewer to be immersed in a study of Matta-Clark’s interpretation of space, and the many references found during his travels that undoubtedly influenced his enduring critique of architecture.