This conversation is expanding with Mathew Emmett. Emmett is an architect who disrupts the original use and perception of buildings. Drawing upon intermedia disciplines spanning video, electronic sound and digital performance, Emmett infects architectural spaces with an altered sense of reality. Addressing both destructive and redemptive themes in society today, his work reveals multilayered references to the continual study of the Isenheim Altarpiece. Emmett collaborates with Kraftwerk co-founder Eberhard Kranemann, Candoco Dance Company founder Adam Benjamin, Node electronics composer Dave Bessell, cyberspace architect Neil Spiller and architectural theorist Charles Jencks.
In June 2016, at the Tate Modern London, Emmett performed Sender/Receiver at the opening of the Blavatnik Building. Emmett has a Doctorate in situated cognition and architecture, studied at the Architectural Association, Bartlett School of Architecture, Central St. Martins and in 2007 studied space music under Karlheinz Stockhausen, Kürten.
In February 2022, Museo dell’Arte Classica Emmett performed St Sebastian: Plague Memory at The Contemplative Edge. Il Mondo Nuovo the parallel project of the Bruno Lisi exhibition.
Images from St Sebastian: Plague Memory Museo dell’Arte Classica, Rome, all photos taken by Gabriel Mizzoni
Camilla Boemio (CB): We are experiencing an urgent climate crisis and a resource challenges. You consider space as psychoactive, can you tell me more about the physical boundaries of architecture?
Mathew Emmett (ME): I use the theory of psychoactive architecture to challenge the physical boundaries of Cartesian dualism. By considering architecture as psychoactive in nature, that is stimulating a range of psychological, behavioural and temporal responses, I situate architecture as an effector system within a performative framework that recognises the co-evolution of communicative situations. This implies that the demarcation between physical architectural space and the cognitive disciplines are dissolved across a transactional environment charged with agent and environmental conditions.
CB: Can you introduce your hybrid practice through architecture and art?
ME: As architecture and the built environment develop from static vernacular traditions to a state where buildings and intelligent environments are advanced within sophisticated, research-led practice, my work considers new forms of operational design practices that do not appear in the manuals of architecture. By evolving notational ordination methodologies and transdisciplinary practice, my work focuses on the negotiation of 3-Dimensional space through the attenuation and deformation of cognitive space. Such a reflexive architectural practice necessitates a dynamical model to explore these hyper-spatial dimensions, whereabouts I architecturally reinterpret the biological evolution theory of intentional Niche Construction (Odling-Smee, Laland & Feldman 2003) as psychoactive space. This expanded architectural practice re-frames architecture within a hybrid of cognitive science, semiotics and spatial practice.
CB: However, we are on the edge of inventing, modifying, optimizing or reducing a construction based on an architectural idea that is aware of the big no (the rejection?) to experimentation on the building site. How can we seriously recalibrate and reformulate our construction standards in the face of the acute climate crisis?
ME: My project SHAME addresses carbon literacy directly in the form of an AV protest. Performed live at the Oxo Tower Wharf (London in 2020), the work confronts us with the human impact on the natural landscape to reveal the continued toll humans inflict on the planet. As part of the apocalyptic narrative SHAME presents a series of terminal landscapes in order to present a critical visual image on the way that economic relationships influence our invasive exploration of the world’s diminishing resources. The video shows oil fields, deforestation, genocide in the Amazon rainforest, toxic waste sites and forests ravaged with fire and flooding. To accompany the video, I composed an unnerving soundscape to underline what faces us in the future. By continually foregrounding climate crisis, we can bring climate and ecological destruction to the forefront of all our decisions.
CB: We need a practice and a morphology that “resolve the conflict”. What do you think?
ME: We all share a deep responsibility to be aware of, and to proactively respond to climate change. In terms of a practice, my work explores architectural design as an ecological system. By expanding design-thinking methods through ecological thinking that is transdisciplinary and integrative, we can learn how to transform people’s lives through interconnected systems that are more sustainable, responsive and resilient.
CB: What culture of risk can and must be established in the service of responsible architectural production and how can we make a living from it?
ME The risk of not addressing these socio-ecological concerns, coupled with the continued pursuit of outdated modes of production is one of the greatest challenges we face today. My work is intentionally disruptive and inclusively immersive, I want to bring about a greater sense of awareness to these fundamental concerns – to shift agendas, to create transformative situations for the benefit of society and the environment on the whole. I believe that architecture and the arts, coupled with creativity and imagination can champion these environmental challenges by moving towards a culture of production that emulates natural systems (such as coral reefs) that can lead to highly innovative systems that minimise the use of materials and energy – shifting society to a progressive non-extractive culture that does not exploit the planet or each other.
Portrait of Camilla Boemio made by Gabriele Mizzoni
Camilla Boemio is an art writer and curator who has curated projects around the world, from Los Angeles to Odessa, Ukraine. She is a member of AICA (International Association of Arts Critics). Her recent curatorial projects include: her role as associate curator at Pera + Flora + Fauna. The Story of Indigenousness and Ownership of History, an official Collateral Event at 59th International Art Exhibition: La Biennale di Venezia (2022); Jérôme Chazeix The coat of hipness (materiali velati) in Altaroma2020 agenda at Label201 (2020); Marina Moreno: Dance as sculpture in space supported by Arts Council England (2019-2020); The Contemplative Edge. Il Mondo Nuovo. a performative Parallel Event with artists Mathew Emmett and Greig Burgoyne at Museo dell’Arte Classica, in Rome (2022). In 2016, she was the curator of Diminished Capacity the first Nigerian Pavilion at the 15th International Architecture Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia; and in 2013 she was the co-associate curator of Portable Nation. Disappearance as work in Progress – Approaches to Ecological Romanticism, the Maldives Pavilion at 55th International Art Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia. In 2018, she took part in the VVM at Tate Liverpool.