Thinking through building
by Jörg Zimmermann
23 October 2012
Can you put art to use, just like that? And on top of which in everyday life, in the office? Cedric Bomford found his own answer to this question and for his own artworks, coming up with a decisive “yes” when he made his first permanent installation for an office loft space on Stuttgart’s Christophstrasse. The Canadian artist’s structures and fixtures have radically changed the atmosphere in the office world of marketing agency Dorten. Today, meetings take place in the “amphitheater” and when team members want to gain a new angle on the communications task at hand, they can simply head up to the “pulpit”.
Dorten Director Christian Schwarm describes his first meeting with Cedric Bomford in Berlin as an “absolute stroke of luck”. Together with his partner Robert Zwettler, he came across one of the scholarship holder’s works, “Das Amt”, while visiting an exhibition at Künstlerhaus Bethanien. There Bomford used copper-colored mirror panes shrouded in a metallic fog similar to those once seen on the façade of East Berlin’s parliament building, the “Palace of the Republic”, as key elements of his rather bemusing installation. Last year the structure made from found as well as reused materials was given a new home on permanent loan in the agency’s Berlin office. It immediately triggers stifling thoughts and feelings, an apparently gives material life to (state) controls and bureaucracy.
It is only the change of perspective, the immersion in the dim interior of the installation that brushes your bemusement aside for a moment, only for you to then find yourself swung right back in the other direction. From the standpoint of the person being watched, under surveillance, you suddenly find yourself in the role of the watcher. The mirror panes, which prevent any glimpse in from the outside, starkly frame the outside world. Bomford’s material collage serves to enhance your own prejudices and experiences no matter which side of the glass you stand on. It is the obvious interplay of these positions, the manipulation of the subconscious and the involuntary questioning that lends “Das Amt” such artistic force.
In winter 2010, Cedric Bomford created a permanent installation especially for Dorten’s Stuttgart office. At the turn of the year the agency’s director had the existing furniture and office hardware packed away and gave his employees a few days holiday, allowing the Canadian, who did not bring some preconceived plan with him, to set about reshaping the 400-square-meter space.
Indeed, Bomford arrived in the state capital of Baden Württemberg with a bundle of materials in tow and spent the first three weeks working in a rented workshop in the Wagenhallen cultural center. The substructure of a 20th-century wooden staircase that had fallen victim to reconstruction efforts in a Berlin hotel is just one example. Painted green and adorned with ornamentation, these beams once spent decades supporting the stairs there. Now they are a fully integrated, fixed component of an open structure that in the form of a semi-circular auditorium constitutes the center of the installation. These are the kinds of found materials that Bomford uses to give substance to his work. Specifically sought-out finds that also have a story of their own, one that sometimes reveal things that previously you could only conjecture about or imagine.
Bomford set about measuring, sawing and connecting things both in the workshop and on-site in the loft. He had been given free reign and in the end came up with setting that could not have been more fitting. “Cedric Bomford is an artist with a clear political aspect to his work,” says Christian Schwarm. His works are about the elucidation of power structures, of hierarchies, whose influence is manifested in buildings – both on a conscious and subconscious level. Christian Schwarm: “For us the artist’s approach was extremely important for purely decorative changes to the office would not have been enough. Instead we have achieved a complete overhaul of the working environment; the installation has redefined both our conduct and our very make-up.”
Before Dorten moved into the premises in 2005, the place had been home to renowned architectural firm “Behnisch & Partner”, which left behind a number of fittings that were essentially strict in terms of geometry. For example, transparent and translucent double-webbed panels, neatly positioned at the room’s edges, served to separate two or three single offices and a group room from the rest of the space. Cedric Bomford simply positioned his work among these vestiges of the past. Since he almost exclusively employs used materials or material residues that are as good as new, the result were spatial collages whereby on a visual level the existing components are seamlessly integrated into the new. Furthermore, the way in which the installation is structurally incorporated and even appears 100% functional is a result of Bomford’s intensive examination of the agency’s processes. Action replaces planning, the artist calls this conceptual framework “thinking through building”.
Several collage segments now lend structure to the surface of a good 120 square meters in the loft. The “library” is a room-in-a-room construction: The lighting concept is particularly low-key, daylight is only allowed in via a narrow passage and the mirror panes as seen in “Das Amt”. A retreat, a place for research, concentrated work or telephone conversations. The “pillar box” provides similar conditions but is not so tucked away, rather semi-public: The cylinder form is enveloped in flanged sheet metal, cut open on one side.
But it is the previously mentioned “amphitheater” that forms the nucleus of the work, the semi-circular auditorium that transforms meetings into debates and presentations into lectures. “With his installation Cedric Bomford has succeeded in permanently influencing our thoughts and actions,” comments Christian Schwarm. “Anywhere you are, you immediately sense the decisive role played by changes in perspective in our work. Our team members simply accepted that this installation was their new workplace from the very start. And our clients also understand the thrust of the installation and its effect on our work straight away.” And so, the director will never step up to the “pulpit” to hold a grand harangue and anyone who takes to this platform positioned at shoulder-height will immediately notice that statements made from above are not worth considering as a form of communication within modern working environments. It would be better to take a colleague up there and discuss the issue in semi-privacy, eye to eye. So from the outside its looks as though both have taken a seat in a whirlpool. Something you could certainly describe that as relaxed working and communicating.
Further examples of unusual working and learning environments can be found in the illustrated book “Learn for Life” from Berlin publishing house, Gestalten.
“Learn for Life – New Architecture for New Learning”
Eds.: S. Ehmann, S. Borges, & R. Klanten
Hardback, 288 pages, 24 cm x 30 cm, English
Gestalten Verlag, Berlin, 2012
The installation “Das Amt“ by Cedric Bomford was created at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in 2010, photo © Dorten
Recently, Bomford’s work has found its place as permanent loan at the Berlin offices of Agency Dorten, photo © Yvonne Vogel
A relaxed place to think and research: The “library“ is the preferred retreat in the 400-square-foot office loft, photo © Manuel Wagner
The substructure of a hotel staircase in the “auditorium“ serves the employees as external “desk”, photo © Manuel Wagner
The “auditorium“ is the center piece of the installation: Here, meetings and presentations are held, photo © Manuel Wagner
When entering the premises, the “advertising column“ directly catches the visitor’s eye: Thanks to an opening at one side, the column can be entered, photo © Manuel Wagner
In his works, Cedric Bomford is concerned with hierarchies, so called “Power Structure”: His installations aim to question well-known communication and behavioral patterns that derive from buildings and spatial constellation, photo © Manuel Wagner