The most talked about and critically acclaimed exhibition right now is Sensing Spaces at The Royal Academy of Arts in London. What makes is so successful is the level of ambition to portray architecture in a completely different way than what we are used to. It is all about how we experience the space.
Seven architects were selected to fill the galleries with installations, that would have some kind of sensual impact on visitors. The architects come from all continents. In my opinion the Asian architects are far more successful in following the brief. However, the great thing is that the works could not be more different, so overall the exhibition gives a wholesome and multi-level experience.
Kengo Kuma’s dramatic installation is made of 4 mm bamboo sticks with incense creating a scent for the space. Kuma calls this Cave of smell. He has two different installations with different scents: Hinoki wood (Japanese cypress) and Tatami mat. The smell of Tatami reminds Kuma of his childhood. It is about how we associate different spaces with smells in our memory. The work creates a very intimate and warm atmosphere. Using scents can be very tricky, and in my view he has succeeded very well to find a balance – the scents are not too overpowering, yet distinctive.
Another favourite is the Chinese architect Li Xiaodong’s installation. He is mainly known for the fantastic Liyuan Library, China (2011). LI Xiaodong’s installation is a maze of series of spaces that examine what ‘being present’ in a space really means. The installation is made of twigs in a same manner than in the Liyuan Library. His aim is to literally transform the visitor to China in this way. The work is very successful in creating a feeling of getting totally lost in it.
Personally I think that the Asian architects have created spaces with the most sensual and poetic feeling compared to European, South American or African spaces, which were more pragmatic or outward, compared to Asian inward approach.
Diébédo Francis Kéré’s installation is another successful one, but in a totally different way. His goal is to get people participate and be part of creating the space, which works well in a colourful and uplifting installation.
Royal Academy’s exhibition sets the bar high for other museums. By representing architecture in a completely new way and totally transforming the galleries into art works, it takes an art exhibition into another level. Immersive approach forces visitors to change their perspective. Traditional exhibitions, with works just hanging on walls feel quite boring and conservative after this!