Deconstructing Reality | Gordon Matta-Clark


Conical Intersect 2. From “Conical Intersect” París, France [1975]

“A simple cut or series of cuts acts as a powerful drawing device able to redefine spatial situations and structural components”.
-Gordon Matta-Clark

The work of Gordon Matta-Clark has been deeply documented in several museums and architecture centres, the way his work changed the meaning and scope of sculpture through architectural interventions has been an undeniable influence in architects and students. He worked mostly with ephemeral interventions on buildings through cuts and extractions on floors, walls and other structures, somehow showing the possibilities of descontructing reality by transforming our consciousness and the way we perceive our world.

When thinking about the power of representation as means of architectural thinking, the way that Matta-Clark transformed real buildings into scale models 1:1 by cutting its abandoned structures is at least, provocative, because he was reverting the process of our lineal way of thinking. As Louise Désy and Gwendolyn Owens points, he was clearly interested in the built environment with all its complexity and contradictions, not just in the buildings that he could artfully cut apart. This contradictions can also be understood as a kind of architectural dissidence, when practising what he called “Anarchitecture”.

Conical Intersect 6. From “Conical Intersect” París, France [1975]

Jean Baudrillard wrote on Symbolic Exchange and Death:

“The end of the spectacle brings with it the collapse of reality into hyperrealism, the meticulous reduplication of the real, preferably through another reproductive medium such as advertising or photography. Through reproduction from one medium into another the real becomes volatile, it becomes the allegory of death, but it also draws strength from its own destruction, becoming the real for its own sake, a fetichism of the lost object which is no longer the object of representation, but the ecstasy of the degeneration and its own ritual extermination: the hyperreal.”

The strength of Baudrillard quote lies in the human capacity of transform reality into hyperrealism. In the same way that Lebbeus Woods wonders “To what extent is destruction necessary for creation?”, when looking at Matta-Clark “building cuts” we can recognize a similar question, a need to demonstrate an alternative attitude to buildings. Darío Corbeira sumarizes this attitude at his book ¿Construir… o deconstruir? Textos sobre Gordon Matta-Clark

Matta-Clark’s architectural gestures had the potential to be statements against certain social conditions. While many architects felt that they could make a contribution to society through the structures they built, Matta-Clark felt that he himself could not alter the environment or make any significant change. His idea of Anarchitecture called for an anarchistic approach to architecture, marked physically by a process of destructuring, rather than by the creation of structure. It was thus his choice to focus on existing structures in neglected areas, to use the city’s abandoned buildings within which to execute his work.

Using his building cuts as his leitmotif, Matta-Clark tried to open a breach in the American capitalist system of the decade of the 1970s by inviting people to think about concepts such as private property, speculation, privacy, poverty, abandonment or isolation.


Circus 2. From “Circus-Caribbean Orange”, Chicago [1978]

At this point it’s also interesting to talk about entropy and this concept makes us think also on the work of Robert Smithson. While working with ruins, both of them contemplated new models of utopian design focusing in their state of deterioration, an state that can be irreversible as Smithson tried to demonstrate with his Map of Broken Clear Glass, because there’s no way you can really piece it back together again. On the exhibition Modernism as a Ruin. An Archaeology of the Present their work has been described with this words:

Smithson and Matta-Clark became deeply involved in the entropic ruinous state as proof of fleetingness. Nonetheless, Smithson also described the state of postindustrial architecture with the concept of reversed ruins, buildings which “rise into ruin before they are built”.

Matta-Clark’s work focused on a process which deals with the increase of entropy. “His cuttings stopped just short of realizing the potential entropy contained within a building; the cuts explored and displayed the structure, but did not allow the structure to pass beyond the point of irreversibility”, as Andreas Papadakis described it, a situation where the structure is shaken, but does not collapse. It is just pushed to the point where it becomes unsettling.


Map of Broken Clear Glass. Robert Smithson


Office Baroque, 5th Floor looking down. Anvers, Belgium [1977]

If the work of Matta-Clark is an object to be destroyed, as has been said, maybe we can talk here about some kind of violence implicit on his works. The 1960s cultural anxiety about temporality has driven artist and architects to ironize about time and space, and this cuts try to be a representation to expand the limits of what scares us most, a vision that can be found in the ruins and voids of this Anarchitecture. A sort of feeling captured at this part of Jorge Luis Borges’ poem “Limits”:

“If there is a limit to all things and a measure
And a last time and nothing more and forgetfulness,
Who will tell us to whom in this house
We without knowing it have said farewell?”

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Recommended reading:

[1] The Interruptive Spaces of Gordon Matta-Clark by Eleni Axioti
[2] Gordon Matta-Clark at the Museum of Modern Art
[3] The Gordon Matta-Clark Archive at the Canadian Centre for Architecture by Louise Désy and Gwendolyn Owens

*All images courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Barcelona. MACBA


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