As Drawing Room opens in its first, permanent home after twenty years of nomadic activity, UNBUILD: a site of possibility considers the impact of buildings on our bodies, our minds, our memories and our dreams. The selected artists use expanded forms of drawing to explore how the built environment represents our dreams and aspirations, cultural and physical displacement and the inequities of our patriarchal society.
UNBUILD: a site of possibility takes place within and beyond Drawing Room’s physical building as we begin to ask what our new home might offer artists, visitors and the communities that surround it. The richly varied work of Jessie Brennan, Ian Kiaer, Tanoa Sasraku, Emily Speed and Do Ho Suh proposes a range of physical, emotional and political responses to buildings, as places and ideas, that offer us several paths to explore.
For many, the lockdowns of the Covid-19 pandemic meant our relationships with the spaces we inhabit became more heightened than ever. A Tower to Say Goodbye by Tanoa Sasraku was made over the course of several months in which she occupied a disused postal sorting office, separated from her partner by the pandemic. Constructed from layers of paper that are stitched together, coated in soft pink pastel dust and distressed through the act of tearing, this ‘thickened’ drawing is a manifestation of the physical and psychological effect of spending so much time in isolation and in one building.
Buildings can feel like an extension of ourselves, a second skin. In Emily Speed’s new commission titled Fossa, the distinction between body and building is lost; a leg becomes structural support and fingers emerge from the tightly woven innards to clutch the structure’s own edges, barely holding things together. By making this link with the body explicit, her work draws attention to the fact that buildings are manifestations of the people and societies that construct them – capitalism, patriarchy and our colonial past are embodied in the fabric of London’s shifting skyline.
Our new building is part of that conversation, particularly regarding the social effects of urban redevelopment that leads to relocation and the loss of buildings that anchor communities. Working with delicate materials that contrast with the solidity of architecture, Do Ho Suh’s work explores themes of relocation and absence through the concept of home. It is informed by his experience of migration, of remembering the buildings of his past – emotions and memories shared by many the world over. The entwined and meandering lines that distinguish his drawings in thread and ink seem to represent a visual mapping of movement through touch.
As well as evoking memories of the past, buildings also propose future ways of thinking and dwelling. In a new commission that responds to our gallery space, Ian Kiaer makes reference to the approaches and theories of architects he admires, who have remained critically resistant to dominant ideologies while proposing alternative models for negotiating spaces. His installation will include salvaged materials that come with their own life, as well as models of buildings made from concrete and cardboard. Together these fragments bring attention to the often-unseen relationships between material things, reminding us of how physical objects speak to things imagined, thought, dreamt and touched.
As we think about the possibilities our new building might offer, Jessie Brennan’s commission over the course of several months will engage with people living nearby to facilitate the exchange of local knowledge and personal experiences. This will help shape what our building might mean in the future to those in our southeast London neighbourhood and beyond. Drawing Room’s mission is to champion the unlimited potential of drawing to help us understand ourselves, each other and our evolving world. Brennan’s work, alongside the other artists in UNBUILD: a site of possibility, will raise questions about how our new home can become the environment for that to happen. The conversations between our audiences and the artwork on show aim to reveal drawing’s capacity for experimentation, invention and the imagining of endless possibilities.