[Steel Life]

Ideas on Being Rectangular

I am the daughter of a teacher and an architect from 1990’s Scandinavia. Basically raised by Mies and Piaget, I grew up as the youngest of four children in a house my father drew and built and my mother brought to life.

Through working and making, it has become undeniable how this physical and emotional space has conditioned my subject of inquiry. My concerns regarding notions of home and the features that define that space compel my attempts to stretch the poetic limits of texture, form and function from the mundane settings I navigate. I investigate generic design in order to better understand our basic needs. As a metal fabricator and welder from Copenhagen I quote the essential values and language of this idea in steel, looking through the lens of design and architecture from where I was brought up.

Comfort is the very essence of feeling at home. I believe most people desire to find and have comfort in living wherever they go. Clothing, daily rituals, a specific object in your pocket. I feel at home in spaces I inhabit through daily routines and the arranging of the things I have accumulated and choose to have around. Moving to Michigan from Denmark and not being able to bring a lot of personal objects has let me reconsider the knowledge I have on living. How have I learned to live?

My home is a space shaped by everyday routines and props, built on cultural assumptions, yet still geographically rooted and inherited by the next generation. The built environment structures our intimate psychological space, which bleeds into our perception and use of the built environment. I am working through staging disparate memories of places to reencounter the lived experiences they reflect.

I mainly work with structural steel which we rely on daily for shelter but now exists as a shadow of the comfort in this belief in security. I see aspects of the settings around us as surfaces. Surfaces as the staging and accommodators of our lives. And the flat plane as the most minimal gesture of vesselness; holding and caring.

When considering and outlining the built space around me, the contours are all straight lines and 90º angles — so rectilinear and efficient in its form, that I question how we inhabit and find intimacy in its echo. How am I becoming and continue to become within these frames?

The line is a gesture of separation. When lines intersect they define interior and exterior, building structure therein. The rectangular and square forms we occupy everyday define and demarcate the thresholds and our coming and going. It is an efficient form because it can be repeated, stacked, stored, and makes the best use of space; contrary to a circle, straight lines meet straight lines with sameness, flatness. It's a reliable structure from which we build houses and put things in order. The rule of the grid has a comforting predictability; it indicates stability and productivity but also conformity dictating a standard behavior. I feel conflicted about this manipulating matrix, because I am seduced by its beauty even though it also acts like a fence: restricting and excluding.

Steel shares similar characteristics with line and grid. Inherent in the material is a history of labor and efficiency in production of structures serving as support in our built world. Production of stock material and fabrication relies on the machine, but there are always human hands behind the tools, and therefore a humanness is innate in steel. It has monumental authority since we have figured out how to compartmentalize our needs into standards, and therefore this necessity is felt through the material. Monumental and authoritative, because it impacted the arrangement of cities and therefore populations, especially supported by its use in 19th-20th century architecture - including phallic power structures.

Steel fabrication has taught me the same rectilinear moves through cutting, bending, welding and assembling to a point where I do not rest if what is in front of me deviates from the grid. Muscle memory is reinforced, and there is a physical reaction to things or space that is not arranged through the same logic. I have been schooled by this material and my body and mind obeys the laws of the culture of steel fabrication.

In the beginning of the year the Metalsmithing Department was granted a large pile of steel sheets from a company in the area. I started mocking up my ideas in real scale without being concerned about expenses before purchasing the ‘right’ material in order to ‘finish’ a piece of work. As a result the physical sketches inherited more potential of becoming something, and the qualities of the slump thin sheet directed me to enhance it’s apathetic behavior. With minimal intervention in material - the bare suggestion of form or movement, I tease the imagination with the potential of becoming, or awaken memory of the familiar.

The galvannealed steel has a flat, uniform grey color: melancholic with a desolate inescapable gaze. It is a zinc coating of steel meant to protect the material from disintegrating and then annealed; to retrieve a softness and malleable quality to a product for the car industry. The steel alloy is materially in the state of being finished; it’s surface is susceptible and ready to be painted. The flat sheet is by all means vulnerable and flexible. Before it is given three dimensional structure steel will warp and give in to its own weight, but it hardens the moment it is forced into a rectilinear form. The strength and rigidity are imposed characters to steel, but there are intimate moments in the making where steel is all of the above at once. It happens in the confusion of spatiality; when the two-dimensional becomes three, and the structure becomes a surface that again will behave as such. The rectilinear becomes responsive and the restraints of our architecture disrupted.

The physical image of the details from a home interior is a site for intimacy, embodied by the weight from the stretched, bare material. The still life compresses space and time of the elusive place and the flatness distances but draws you in, off guarded. A moment is frozen and we look for clues of what's to come or what have happened; every piece has a consequence. I think of us all as parts. We bear witness marks, clues into the possibility of connection that are remnants from a history of belonging.

I build work from sheets and rods and these surfaces and lines turn into spacious drawings suggesting the form and texture from fragments of a home. A non-place informed by our desires that makes and reflects humanness, exists enclosed in a box. We carve out spaces in our physical home to accommodate specific furniture for our habitual events that facilitate each daily ritual and reassures us of being. These corners and nooks, where lines and surfaces interchange, confront us with the solitude of being an individual and houses the basis for our habitus.

Walls, floors, ceilings, doors, windows, curtains, seats, tables, tiles. Forms that adhere to the same set of parameters: rectilinear. These surfaces within our surroundings, often imperceptible during our day to day actions, speaks of the first world we get to know after being born and how we get to know ourselves within the environment we are placed in. It is the next threshold of a womb we leave and we take this spatial relationship with us when understanding our bodies with an outside world. It is a primal desire for enclosure and envelopment we carry within, from our mothers and the home, to another confined space. We always understand ourselves in relation to the next space we are in as we push against it.

I call it surfaces because this also describes how we will never know their deeper beings, and only ever encounter their use and exterior. Decoration and utility become the same layer and texture of knowledge on humanness.

I am making the surfaces, the cradles, for objects and beings. And from the imagery i build the two are present through their absence.

I want you to care. I want you to feel empathy with the steel frames and notice the poetics of the grid creating interdependent space that is sensitive to your touch.

Alberte Tranberg, 2018