(art)n: Re-Imagining Architecture

As we enter a new Millennium, a plethora of possibilities exist to transform how we engage each other in the world. In the mid-1980s, Ellen Sandor, (art)n and collaborators started working toward ways architects could contemplate ideas in a three-dimensional space—the virtual realm, with PHSColograms. One of the first efforts included a sculpture based on the façade of the Getty Tomb in Graceland Cemetery in Chicago that featured architectural details from Louis Sullivan's Auditorium Theater and Pilgrim Baptist Church along with portraits of mathematical abstractions to describe the evolution that was taking place as "information as ornament." This pivotal work blended the organic with the virtual into a physical reality that celebrated timelessness with the eternal as found in natural phenomena, while paying homage to Louis Sullivan's motto "form ever follows function."

In 1994, Sandor and (art)n created another important work with Philippe Paul Froesch to actualize one of Antonio Gaudi's illusory drawings for a proposal to build the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. Gaudi's work was never built, but continues some of the ideas expressed by Sullivan in his unique creation of architectural spaces for metaphysical experiences, accentuated by organic principles. Additional work in this direction included the reconstruction of a barracks in Auschwitz for Steven Spielberg's Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, based on a series of drawings from a survivor that shows the structure at different times of day. This haunting triptych garnered a commissioned series for A Living Memorial to the Holocaust-Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, in which artifacts from the museum's collection were represented as PHSColograms that tell the story of Jewish life before, during and after the Holocaust, surrounding an ancient Torah to symbolize renewal. An interactive Virtual Reality experience was later produced to explore the barracks in this series.

Additional works during this time included a model for the MATIF Stock Exchange in Paris, in the permanent collection of Musée Carnavalet in Paris; a virtual exploration of the restoration of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome; and a unique sculpture created with TJ McLeish that won an honorable mention from the Graham Foundation for its Townhouse Revisited competition. The four-sided PHSCologram sculpture depicts interactive gestures in new forms of architecture that blend physical spaces with the virtual, offering a blueprint for ways people may think, create, live, and work in the future.

(art)n has continued to explore these directions with recent works inspired by un-built concepts including The Mile High skyscraper designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and Crystal Chapel by Bruce Goff. Some architectural drawings are never built for various reasons: some are meant to be uninterrupted concepts that continue the life and work of an architectural idea; some projects evolve into other plans and locations; and in other cases are funding related. While not every project may be built, ideas can be explored in virtual spaces as PHSColograms and in virtual environments that support additional ways to extend them without physical boundaries.

Recent commissions include works for SmithBucklin and Murphy/Jahn Architects that dramatically reveal the Magnificent Mile at night and Millennium Park by day, paired with a deconstruction of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion that shows Frank Gehry's work in motion, as if pulling pixels, bound within the space and time of this epoch. Complementing these pieces are a reconstructed vision of Wright's Robie House and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House, whose styles migrated across the country and abroad, making Chicago an International place to birth new ideas and reinvent American history. Both structures bring nature indoors, one with masonry, the other with light.

Wright was the first to speak about the art and craft of the machine in Chicago, anticipating a modernized future for art and design with architecture that flourished under the New Bauhaus, led by Mies and László Moholy-Nagy at IIT. These two movements united Eastern and Western cultures with distinctive views of nature in an industrialized world. Farnsworth House in particular is a classic, modern example of a glass house that utilizes the material to reveal the transparent artifice between the man-made world and the natural world, which has continued to evolve into the digital life we are living today. Future Perfect, produced with Claudia Hart is a culmination of these ideas that deconstructs the representation of women in art history with the advent of new media that includes a reclining Kiki of Montparnasse paired with Ilse Bing's Self-Portrait.

Excerpt from Concepts of Construction: (art)n new work and retrospective, Zhou B Art Center, October 24 - December 12, 2009

PHSColograms (pronounced skol-o-grams) is a new media acronym for photography, holography, sculpture and computer graphics. A number of rendered views of a virtual scene are digitally interleaved, in which the first line of every image is combined with the corresponding first line, and so forth until a recombined single image is made. This blurring of images into a single piece is attached to a line screen, a black piece of film with corresponding clear lines that is afixed to a piece of plexiglass, and allows a viewer to interpret the digital photograph as a three-dimensional sculptural object when backlit. The PHSCologram process is patented and was licensed by Picker International and 3M.

(art)n was formed by Ellen Sandor with her peers from the School of the Art Institute in 1983. Sandor's works with (art)n and collaborators are in the permanent collection of The Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Smithsonian Institution, International Center of Photography, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma and others.