thomas kelley at isu

October 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

IMG_0725Look now, indeed… Honored to have Thomas Kelley, one of last year’s Rome Prize Fellows in Architecture, come lecture this week at Iowa State.  Thomas’ work with his office, Norman Kelley, is consistently provocative, dealing with the gulf between representation and experience through illusion, allusion, irony, and intentional missteps, among others.  In our all-grad seminar on Tuesday, Kelley talked about the difference between “bad” and “wrong,” noting that the former is irredeemable, while the latter often leads us in to new territory.  Their recent project, Wrong Chairsengages viewers by introducing errors into otherwise easily recognizable Windsor chairs, giving our minds a buzz of discontinuity while we figure out what the problem is with each one.  In other work, drawing itself becomes the material for finding inherent contradictions in the way we represent space on a plane, or the way our mind jumps to regular or perfect patterns when in fact the world presents us with anything but.

Students, of course, ate this up.  But Norman Kelley’s work goes well beyond provocation–Kelley cites references in his work ranging from Aldo Rossi and Sebastian Serlio to Peter Eisenman and John Hejduk.  And these figures are mined both as raw material–student work that blew up line weights in Hejduk’s classic Wall House drawings were transformative and honorific at the same time–and as conceptual inspiration.  Kelley was careful to point out that one can slice a Serlio drawing (digitally, of course…) into pieces for a collage and at the same time engage it to uncover deeper content than lines and patterns.  Paying attention, in other words, rather than mere sampling.

At some point in Rome last year, I mentioned to Thomas that hearing him speak was like watching a street magician who, at the end when you reach into your pocket for a tip, pulls your wallet out of his sleeve and hands it back to you with a smile; the trick you were watching wasn’t, in fact, the piece de resistance, but rather the setup for the real head scratcher.  This week, it felt like the wallet was bursting full when it got handed back…Their forthcoming monograph/manifesto, eyecon, is worth looking for…

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