Site Specific commission: dormitory house, pebbledash, concrete, mosaic tiles, pvc plumbing fixtures, Ikea stools, geological core samples from Onkalo (the worlds first permanent nuclear waste repository)
In 2012 the Zabludowicz Collection invited Rachael Champion to make a proposal for what would be her first permanent architectural sculpture, Discoverers of Onkalo, 2017. Champion chose to with an existing dormitory building on the Suvikunta/Svennas Estate, designed by Oiva Kallio in the 1960s with a remarkable vernacular architecture. The exterior staircase and balcony with seating and the unusual dimensions of the building resulted in a proposal to create a sculptural communal space. Built from cartoon like bulbous beams and populated with spider like sculptures that creep and straddle the room.
The initial proposal and research explored the structural possibilities and material references that the artist would employ but the exact outcome was left open. Rather the artist wanted to allow the process of stripping back the six small rooms that filled the original building to lead to the sculptural response she made. Working with a team of careful technicians, interior walls and floor were removed leaving only the structural beams exposed. This created a very distinct skeleton that described and outlined the linearity and height of what is an unusually tall and thin structure.
The final installation includes a long tiled table supported by three oversized central legs reaching up to the ceiling offering a surreal space for conversation and communal contemplation both of the space itself and the world outside.
At one end the floor of one of the original bedrooms in the building was left in place to create both a viewing platform and or grotto-like area, into which Champion has built seating to allow a different level of social interaction from the communal table below.
Champion’s work draws out a tension and humour between nature and manmade forms. The surface of the dominating structures are treated with hand applied processes that are often employed by municipal architects as versions of natural materials. The table is tiled with a sheets of readily available mosaic tiles, often seen in swimming pools, fountains and bathrooms around the world. The beams are hand carved from polystyrene and then pebble-dashed: a process sometimes used in the UK to cover houses. Its usage, in the main, restricted to smaller more working class houses it has the perception of being used to hide structural faults. The material is made of a cement ground with tiny chips of stone of differing grades and colours that is literally ‘dashed’ or thrown at the still wet cement. The resulting surface has none of the material properties of stone whilst being made of it. This industrial referencing of nature was something that Champion noted from her research trips to swimming pools and underground carparks in Finland, where sprayed concrete is used to coat stone as a more affordable form of material. The obvious inability to convince the viewer of the authenticity of the material creates a tension between taste, form, function and decision making.
RACHAEL CHAMPION was born in New York, USA in 1982 and currently lives and works in London, UK