Transgressing Boundaries


Collaborative initiatives between artists and architects repeatedly prepared the ground for outstanding achievements with a lasting impact on discourse. From the Viennese Secession movement to the Dutch de Stijl group in the early part of the 20th century to land art projects or associations such as Archizoom and Superstudio, the seamless amalgamation between art, design, and architecture has triggered mutual advancement and intense moments of cohesion between the two fields.

The artist Florian Graf—initially trained as an architect—takes advantage of this productive intersection. As a closer look at his work reveals, he adopts space as a tool to explore the interrelation between social, political, and cultural forces with the built environment. Projects such as Presumptions (2008), U(r)agency (2009), or The Folly of De-Fence (2010) indicate how he aims to exhaust the possibilities and limitations of artistic and architectural practice. 

For example, using photo-realistic montages—a technique of representation that was perfected by vanguard architects and artists at the beginning of the twentieth century—Graf rearranges existing building fragments to surprising, utopian conditions. The resulting group of hovering objects not only overrides the laws of gravity, but also confronts the viewer with questions of rootedness, migration, and identity in a globalized world. 

In another installation, Graf advises (real) customers in his Fantastic Ground real estate agency, paradoxically nested in a shopping mall in the socially conflicted town of Cumbernauld, a failed exemplar of modernist architecture and town planning principles just outside of Glasgow. The promotion of leasable missile launch pads, ruins, abandoned infrastructures, and fortress-like mini towers in crime areas, appears to be a hoax at first glance, but is in fact a critical reflection of architecture and its socio-economic implications by means of artistic production. Irony is a rhetorical device that Graf masters and smartly deploys in a number of his installations and films, and particularly memorable in a provocative installation that inverts a typical garden fence—the embodiment of paranoia and suburban sprawl—into a welcoming gate.

While the built environment offers Florian Graf a laboratory for his explorations, the making of art enables him to resist the factual forces of the built realm, to override physical laws, and to radically shift scales. This collision of art and architecture creates an inner dialogue between both disciplines that is a frequently underestimated opportunity for reciprocal consolidation. It is simultaneously the moment of strongest friction and the place containing the highest potential to transgress the boundaries of both disciplines.

Reto Geiser is Lecturer in Architectural Criticism at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich. A founding principal of the collaborative design practice MG&Co., he is developing spatial strategies in a range of scales from the book to the house. In 2008, he curated the exhibition "Explorations: Teaching, Design, Research," Switzerland’s official contribution to the 11th Venice Architecture Biennale.