Green, red, white and blue pipes running through the glass and metal body of the building; a red tubular escalator winding up the façade. Both organic and industrial, the architecture of the Centre Pompidou has become an icon, and the museum one of the first to be identified by its form over its content. Thus the delicate Tree Huts that Tadashi Kawamata spreads throughout the building paradoxically appear as provocatively intrusive. The improbable fragility of these wooden structures, grafted by the Japanese sculptor on the façade and inside the Forum, both disturb and delight the gaze. A seemingly discreet gesture in its scale and materials, the installation reinvents and revives the architecture it invests, while questioning its function, its context and its status.
This is not the first monument to be temporarily disrupted by Kawamata. In 1989, he superbly connected two neo-classicist buildings on Colonial Tavern Park in Toronto with an imposing yet aerial volley of woodcuts gushing out to enrobe their Corinthian pillars. During the 2008 FIAC in Paris, he perched his Huts in the trees of the Tuileries gardens, where they interacted with the Louvre Palace silhouette in the background. Although the artist states that his projects are neither political nor social critiques, the visual contrast they provoke induces a reflection on the legitimizing quality of architecture and on urban planning and environmental issues — most evidently when he built a Favela in Houston in 1991.
In his video interview for the current Centre Pompidou show, Kawamata prefers to talk about an invitation to imagination, a nostalgic attempt to reactivate the purposeless processes of children’s constructions. No surprise then that his Carton Workshop took over the Galerie des Enfants to the great pleasure of the youngest visitors of the Centre Pompidou. The children are invited to collaborate with art students in the construction of cardboard pieces of architectures that change every month between May and August: from landscape to city to village to labyrinth to tower of Babel. Each time the same materials will be recycled, re-used and transformed, a characteristic aspect of Kawamata’s practice. All his works are ephemeral, only the sketches, materials and traces remain, hence the six cabinets, “closets of [his] memory,” which display films by Gilles Coudert that document his projects over the last twenty years.
There is indeed a performative quality in Kawamata’s work. Works in progress that are meant to disappear, most of his installations are to be activated or transformed by the audience. Although the Tree Huts remain out of reach and use, their radical visual and poetic impact invokes the same homo ludens fantasies as his practicable environments, and thus allows both a physical and mental re-appropriation of the building. Kawamata compares his interventions to ‘natural phenomena’: at the Centre Pompidou, like mistletoe, they beautifully re-emphasize the aesthetic, functional and symbolical features of an architecture that threatened to disappear behind its aura.