"Fugue in Temple Bar Minor"

Jill Stoner

Every act of building is also an act of deconstruction. The first material inventories to be taken apart included first-growth trees and virgin earth; but the process of taking something away and putting something else in place, changing the form of materials but not their essential nature, cycles through the ages in ever-evolving forms. And so one day we discover that there is a new crust that is hardly virgin—an anthropocene layer atop the lithosphere. Here we have the raw material for architects in these times, to disassemble and assemble again. Demolition is not only an ending; it is also a point of departure.

So, for the first movement in this fugue, a composition in five parts by the artist Mark Orange, we begin with the 2010 work Ref: Demolition Temple Bar Gallery & Studios, a proposal to demolish a building, and hence to begin construction of a new public space. The piece, which focuses on McCullough Mulvin Architects' landmark Temple Bar cultural building, incorporates a contractor's itemised tender for demolition, duly signed and including guarantees of all insurances and protections demanded by law. Dated 10 February 2010, this is a project frozen at the eternal threshold of beginning; here, it provides an entry point for the McCullough Mulvin Orange project, a clearing away for the works that follow, all of which have been produced by Orange in collaboration with founding director of McCullough Mulvin, Niall McCullough.

The second work in the series immediately returns us to Temple Bar Gallery & Studios. Interview with NIXLL MCXULXOUGH is an audio piece that takes the form of a short radio documentary, the artist interviewing Niall McCullough as they explore the building. Recalling a device used by Luis Buñuel in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, however, the recorded conversation is intermittently blurred by the overlay of ambient noise from the Temple Bar area and the studios building. These sounds are introduced as layers, as well as interruptions, deepening the material like audible thicknesses applied and then partially peeled away. The result is to render the traditional format of the interview—questions asked and answers given—as the contrived object that it is. What remains cannot be reduced to a single narrative or precise meaning; rather, hierarchies disappear into strata of sounds. Here is a FXCTXON without NARXATXVE. In Dublin terms, the Interview is more Beckett than Joyce.

Interview With An Architect, Encased is based on another interview with Niall McCullough, conducted during a visit to McCullough Mulvin's 'Square Root' and Dublin Dental Hospital Extension buildings on South Leinster Street. The recording has been burned to an archival CD and locked within an illuminated vitrine carefully composed into the façade of the building. As tantalizing as a novel that will never be read, like a time capsule without a date, the display has a curious future-anterior quality born of the contradiction between the near-obsolescence of CD technology and the golden disc floating in weightless anticipation. The CD appears precious. Meanwhile, its audio content remains as elusive as the square root of a negative number.

For the video work The Fountainhead, Orange has filmed Niall McCullough standing on the rooftop of McCullough Mulvin's Ussher Library building at Trinity College. Shot from below in a continuous zoom, the piece restages the final scene of Ayn Rand's infamous novel: here McCullough standing in for architect Howard Roark as the heroic figure atop his own building. But a 'backstage' view reveals the illusion—his seeming height has been boosted by a wooden box. Beyond the rooftop, we see construction cranes building buildings that will ultimately dwarf his own. Rand's novel of neoconservative individualism is here unwritten—as the video loops, we see the moment of triumph revealed as a series of takes from the cutting room floor.

Architecture & Motility is a four-channel sound piece installed in the atrium space at McCullough Mulvin's iconic Long Room Hub building on Trinity's Fellows' Square. Again, a kind of antithesis of the architect as subject, the work consists of recordings of McCullough's stomach sounds as he digests breakfast. The work reconfigures the architect in terms of his most fundamental plumbing, as though a building, in some Kafkaesque inversion, presents only its circulatory systems to the world. (Italo Calvino gets at something like this with a few of his Invisible Cities portrayals of Venice, in which a city is only pipes, or only reflections). Yet inarguably, Orange's misdirection is part of a larger mission—to question the figure of the architect as the active subject who makes things, and to contrast this notion of making with the idea of being, in which assumed hierarchies of influence are flattened. Architects become buildings; buildings become animals; animals become the city.

And so the character that comes most clearly to the surface in this collaborative work is neither Orange nor McCullough, but Dublin itself. Every city is the subject of its own design process, never quite satisfied, pursued by the wicked forces of weather, of tourism, of economic volatility, and finally, if all these threaten to settle into complacency, an underlying discontent that begets a restless work of art. Major rules, major binaries, major figures are sublimated into multiple and contingent layers, adopting traits of otherness, incompleteness and imperfection. As McCullough himself says in the Interview: "...avoiding the modern obsession with explanation, not everything is visible, not everything is clear—you have to come into (a) building to go to certain places to see certain things, which is part of the mystery of it."

Of this project, we might say that the artist and architect have collaborated in deconstructing the work of one architect (McCullough) into fragments. In contrast to the monograph, that most common homage to the opus of an architect, these works refract and disassemble both the architect and his individual buildings. The five pieces lack an intrinsic order, and in discovering them on foot, in real time, we make a new order that is here and then gone, demanding a perpetual reordering. No matter its physical topography, McCullough Mulvin Orange establishes a series of escarpments in the area of central Dublin, challenging conventional narratives of redevelopment and urbanity with a suite of minor key interventions.

And so this urban fugue begets a disassociation, a fugue state in which works of architecture forget both themselves and their author.

Jill Stoner, for thirty years a Professor of Architecture at University of California Berkeley, is currently Director of the Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. She is author of Toward A Minor Architecture (The MIT Press, 2012) and Poems for Architects (William Stout Publishers, 2001).

First published as part of a map/guide that accompanied the McCullough Mulvin Orange project, Dublin, September 2017.