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Fat: Duplicate Array

Without commissions in Thatcher’s recession-ravaged Britain, FAT first moved in conceptual art circles

First published in the AR in January 2010

Conceptual architect FAT (Fashion Architecture Taste) was one of a handful of art-chitects to emerge from Thatcher’s recession-ravaged Britain. Without commissions to build, the team moved in conceptual art circles with work that placed them closer to the laconic Brit Art scene than to their architectural compatriots. One of their most high-profile works of this era was a series of curated bus stops customized by different artists - a kind of metropolitan answer to the decorated shed. They claim that during the 1990s, they could only afford books on post-modernism, hence their gleeful skewing of a much-reviled movement, expressed through cheap and cheerful revival of vernacular styles and suburban, Venturian iconography. It’s the playful, provocative antithesis of ascetic neo-modernism.

So how does flying in the face of good taste translate to exhibiting art pieces in a Swiss gallery? At the Lucy Mackintosh Gallery, it’s intriguing to see FAT’s recent built works relegated to the sidelines as tiny models and modest-sized C-prints, while several objets d’architecture fill the space. Jet Chalet wallpaper pays homage to the Swiss chalet balcony and draws on FAT’s love of scaling up and ‘putting things in the wrong place’. Jesomite vases define the space between profiles of Mies and Marconi, although you can barely make out the profiles in the negative space and the conceptual justification looping back to Mies’ open plan and Marconi’s radio broadcast is a little contrived.

A chaise longue adorned with a tiny rural landscape is billed as a ‘new hybrid’ suggesting that ‘environment is formed from a vast range of scales’. But by the time you come to a stool with a bust of Hercules that becomes misshapen when sat on, it seems as though FAT has lost the plot - or at least strayed too far from the territory it best occupies. Its consistent goal is to jolt sensibilities while digging up and morphing locally specific cultural references and applying them to a new architectural iconography.

The smattering of images of recent buildings and suburban scenarios can only hint at what FAT is driving at in its particular vision of the built environment. The over-scaled Gothic ornament for the Sint Lucas Art Academy in Boxtel (AR March 2007) and the photograph of social housing in Islington Square belie the extent to which it has evolved a whimsical yet deft approach to what could otherwise be dull, generic redevelopments.

Although the descriptive texts accompanying the images are misleadingly dry – perhaps intentionally - the radical nature of FAT’s particular brand of identity building could pave a way to suburban futures that are nothing short of surreal. The masterplan for a park and cultural community centre in Hoogvliet Heerlijkheid on the edge of Rotterdam reveals how cut-out and re-sized references to the surrounding area create an iconography that is as droll as it could be delightful. FAT’s proposal includes an art zoo, a pet cemetery and a Hollywood style sign at the motorway for this peripheral playground. You wonder how far the clients can take the joke, but the fact is that FAT is now taking on the ‘edge spaces’ of the future.

About the exhibition

Ended 28 November, Lucy Mackintosh Gallery, Lausanne, Switzerland

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