★Neil Spiller : Surrealism

☆Lecture 3!

  • Date: 25/01/12
  • Lecturer: Neil Spiller
  • Topic: Surrealism

The third lecture was given by Neil Spiller; someone who specialises in three areas which include architecture, writing and artwork. We come to know him as Dean of the School of Architecture, Design & Construction at The University of Greenwich.

He is also a director of the group called ‘AVATAR’, standing for ‘Advanced Virtual and Technological Architecture Research’. The AVATAR Laboratory was founded in September 2004 at the location Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London.

Avatar is predominantly interested in research concerning the impact of advanced technology on architectural design. It also adheres to discussion on issues such as philosophy, aesthetics and cybernetics.

Before I proceed with my recap on the lecture, I would like to provide my thoughts regarding Neil and his talk about Surrealism. I have previously mentioned before that I have a passion for Surrealism; one of many artists I admire is no one other than Salvador Dali. Therefore I was unsurprisingly very excited for this talk. Interestingly enough, the lecture was not what I had been expecting. If I were to use only one word to convey this, it would undoubtly be ‘fascinating’, to be precise.

I am not sure what others thought of the lecture, but I was immediately captured by Neil’s drawings which appeared to be a somewhat complex series of interlinking architecture of a sort. Knowing him as a ‘Surrealist’ may have ensured that we were prepared for slightly unusual things, but what amazed me the most was when Neil revealed that every single one of these intricate drawings belonged to an island-one which only existed inside his mind.

Isn’t that how most Surrealists are meant to be, I have asked myself this rhetorical question. Defining Surrealism: ‘A style of art and literature stressing the subconscious or nonrational significance of imagery arrived at by automatism or the exploitation of chance effects, unexpected juxtapositions’. 1

I would not deceive to say that I understood every word Neil spoke. Frequently, during this one hour-or-so talk, I’d admit I was a little lost-only to be jerked back into attention when I was familiar with a topic or recognised an artist. This is the predominant aspect to why I love Surrealism, a bizarre world which caresses oneself and brings into a dreamy state. To me, it is reminiscent of a dream or a distant memory, where everything and everyone appears to be out of focus and distorted. You try to sharpen the aspects but sometimes we have no control, it just slips out of your grasp.

Neil Spiller, without further speculating, is a man to be admired for his work. While he spoke I discovered myself imagining him encased in a bright bubble, disconnecting from the rest of us. While some of us sat there with expressions on our faces depicting slight confusion, he floated above with a ray of colours; oblivious and in his own world.

I admire the way he (very similiar to lecturer Vaughan Oliver) combines his two passions, while Neil opts for fusing his love for Surrealism and architecture- Vaughan’s work is centralised on music and graphic design. I remember Vaughan mentioning, ‘the best of both worlds’, this phrase which has stuck to my mind ever since.

The lecture revolved around the discussion of Neil’s ongoing project which he named ‘Communicating Vessels’ featuring his work of architectural drawings (approximately 250 drawings he mused). His imaginary world sums up reflective nature of space, architectural space and technological space with influence from his favourite philosopher ‘Zodiac Mindwarp’ and many others such as Marcel Duchamp, Giovanni Bellini and Dali.

A project situated on an island, two miles outside Cantebury where he grew up, a mythical island. Neil described it as kind of ‘psycho-geographical’ centre, stating that ‘the island in my story is what constitutes me perhaps’. Neil’s island he considers as a memory theatre, a series of points and things that remind him of his story and its relationship to the history of art and history of architecture.

‘Little soft machinery’ is a common phrase mentioned in the lecture, essentially a testicle which is attached to a bladder, would occasionally discharge ‘holy gasoline’. Neil also states that Little Soft machinery holds the ethics of biotechnology, it talks to him about the powers of biotechnology. Therefore he wanted to create something contemporary from those ethical issues. When the bladder is too full it would erupt, similar to the ‘Dee Stools’ which are formed around the island edge. these are boxes with bicycle seats which spray grease into the river when sat on/ pressured.

Zodiac Mindwarp tells us that Homer gasoline powers everything, It powers desire, it powers most of the objects on the island. I suppose this part where Neil went into detail about his island was where I was somewhat lost, although I couldn’t quite make sense of the image, I replaced it with my own. Inside my mind I saw bicycle seats with mannequin dolls sitting on the bicycle seats, bouncing up and down like a seesaw.

Neil showed us a sculpture in the island which essentially explores some ‘Daliness motifs’. Present in his sculpture is the image of unmistakeably, a loaf of bread. This expanding  bread has significant meaning; in Dali’s view, depicted in his paintings, bread symbolised ‘stupidity’. The bread has a simple subassumption architecture. Consequently, everytime I see bread I would think about stupidity in reference to comsuming bread.

Salvador Dali, bread=stupidity

There was a photograph by Dora Maar, 1936 which captured my attention.  She named it ‘Pere Ubu’, an image of rather solemn looking ‘armadillo’, as I discovered what it was called later on. To me it looked like a very cute yet sad looking baby elephant with huge claws. This seemed to garner mixed emotions, maybe because of the contrast of the light & darkness. Dora Maar gives this photograph authentic historic and even feminist credibility, which is why I like it.

Dora Maar, ‘Pere Ubu’, 1936

I’ll finish off with a quote from Neil Spiller:

I agree.


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