Chris Barr







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City breaks
(Nov. 2004)


City breaks
(Jan. 2005)


City breaks
(Mar. 2005)



18 Albany Rd, Basement Flat,
Bristol, BS6 5LH.
Telephone: 07968 745 781.


City Breaks
Chris Barr, Nov 2004


The habits that have come to form my practice in its constituent parts have evolved alongside various notions of the city or the ‘built environment’, which have played such an integral role in its development that I am left to consider whether art itself is not solely an urban activity? Within an urban environment that serves to consistently remind us of our own physical limitations, my work operates best somewhere in the middle ground between sculptural intervention and architectural improvement.

My research so far has included early writings by Mike Kelley such as ‘Urban Gothic’* where Kelley explores cultures in which urban decay is redesigned with a new infusion of Gothic-romantic imagery; of structures that no longer function he remarks ‘they have slipped into my territory – the realm of non-functionality, the world of aesthetics’. I have also started to look at some of the architects that have helped shape the modern day Helsinki such as Alvar Aalto, so it seems fitting perhaps that my practice should take on an architectural hunt in some way; in attempting to approach some of the questions that this exchange between two cities conjures up.

As Walter Benjamin has observed in regard to architecture, ‘buildings are appropriated in a twofold manner: by use and by perception - habit determines to a large extent even optical reception’.
Tactile appropriation evokes a physical gesture rather than a contemplative gaze in that it is accomplished not so much by attention as by habit. This idea of optical reception in relation to architecture suggests that the former also occurs much less through rapt attention than by noticing the object in an incidental fashion.
It is not uncommon for city dwellers to develop the ability to master certain tasks in a state of distraction or absent-mindedness. It is this condition of perpetual distraction that I find interesting in regards to exploring the solutions formed by habit within a built environment.

Materials often dictate their own formal solutions within this context as a result of a latent economy of sorts, but what is their emotional content? Despite the knowledge that we have invented our world this form of tactile appropriation, developed in reference to architecture can in certain circumstances acquire a canonical value. Does the neo-primitive confusion between utility and perception place certain objects within a different register of value – where experiences of every day objects and their functional origins do not necessarily erase the possibility that we might believe in them?

I am fascinated in attempting to re-create this theatrical flux between an ideal and a more disparate actuality, yet the architectural ‘hunt’ will be somewhat hapless if I do not find a clearer objective at this stage.


* First printed in the journal spectacle, published in 1985.