N: Speaking in Different Voices

Anuradha Chatterjee, Sydney Correspondent

N is an interdisciplinary curatorial collective founded in 2010 by Sam Spurr, Adrian Lahoud, and David Burns, and recently it has been increasingly visible in leading discussions concerning the intersections between architecture and urbanism with visual and performance arts. Spurr, Lahoud, and Burns are/were academics at the University of Technology Sydney. The interdisciplinarity of the cohort is thus made possible: Spurr is a designer and theorist with interest in performance; Lahoud is an urbanist; and Burns is interested in images and installations. N is therefore interested in the links as well as the gaps between art and architecture, positioned against issues pertaining to the city. Furthermore, the curation is not of objects but of ideas and conversations that are as material as built works. They note on their website the different typologies of conversations as ‘adversarial’, ‘roundtable’, ‘radial’, ‘lecture’, ‘linear’, and ‘studio’, declaring their commitment as follows: “N’s research involves the study of the typologies of conversation and their impact on art, architecture, and design.” Hence, the projects undertaken by N have almost always involved the organization of panel discussions, roundtables, and interviews and talks with and between designers, commentators, and philosophers.

Sam Spurr, Adrian Lahoud & David Burns. Source: N website

‘How to be a Good Witness’ – the architecture section of the 2011 Prague Quadrennial – explored the productivity of the gap between linguistic practices of interpreting and translating through a range of exhibited works surrounding the concept mapping of the city. Gwangju Design Biennale ‘Networks of Surrender’ 2011 (also curated by Nicole Bearman) highlighted the potency of sharing, blurring of ideas and words as they ‘transform the image of this harbour city from generic postcard perfection to a set of multiplicitous, individual urban narratives’. INDEX Forum 2011 involved Charles Renfro of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, New York and Eva Franch I Gilabert of the Storefront for Art and Architecture. It was a round table conversation on the way cultural events can change a city. N collaborated with Kaldor Public Art Projects on a series of events to coincide with ‘The Dailies’ by Thomas Demand, which attempted to ‘capture everyday moments and objects’. N organized ‘The Doppelgänger Parlour’ and ‘The Mirror Parlour’ events, which included panel discussions, model-making workshops, architectural interventions, and film screenings. More recently, N was commissioned by the Office for Good Design in Melbourne to conduct interviews with local and international designers to explore the connection between design, happiness, community, belonging, and civic wellbeing.

Robert Beson, Outram Street, Chippendale NSW,20 January 2011, 14:40, Photography by Jack Dunbar & Tosh van Veenendaal; Source: N website

What is really interesting about N is their commitment to conversations rather than objects. As academics and architects/designers, the collaborators undertake a research-practice of a different kind. Burns notes that their ‘sister organization’ is the Office for Good Design and New York based AND AND AND. At least in Sydney, this is as yet an unrecognizable form of practice as it is not predicated by known and codified formal and curatorial strategies and outcomes. The interdisciplinary collective of Spurr, Lahoud, and Burns informs N’s interest in the notions of the untranslatable gaps between language and form, and intellectual space as a shared realm. N is also conscious of building models of engagement that involve wider disciplinary participation. This is informed by their interest in ‘dissonance’ (declared on their website and defined as ‘a simultaneous combination of tones conventionally accepted as being in a state of unrest and needing completion’). N’s involvement in the forthcoming event Audio Architecture (curated by Office for Good Design) will explore the concept of dissonance by ‘designing, installing, and exhibiting site-specific installations in Hamer Hall’.

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