Paravent Crates housing documentation of Jonathan Baldock's performance

Paravent Crates
Dingle Price – Price & Gore Architects

In early 2013 Primary invited us to be involved in the development of their newly conceived public programme. We were tasked with developing and presenting a range of ideas for how the two hall spaces in the old school building could be economically inhabited, adapted, and upgraded for a diversity of arts events. Primary co-founder, now Programme Curator, Niki Russell had already drafted an initial version of the 2014-15 programme, and one specific strand of that programme which required our input was Paravent – a series of ‘in conversation’ events between diverse arts organisations who would present and discuss their projects and methodologies.

Paravent, we learnt, is the French name for folding screens typically used as room dividers and to provide privacy, often with pictorial or decorative coverings (we understand they originated in China around 200AD, before wider popularity in Asia and then Europe from the middle ages). Russell’s request was for some sort of reconfigurable structure that could be used to mediate the exhibits and presentations of the two participating organisations. We drew up a range of options, and then developed the selected idea into what became the ‘Paravent Crates’, which are now installed as part of the programme infrastructure of Project Space 1.

In essence, the design is very simple – the first idea was the translation of the leaves of a folding screen into shelves on castors. Later we exchanged the solid back of each shelf unit for a pair of doors, providing another layer of configuration and interactivity. We imagined each crate as a potential wunderkammer; shelves stacked with artefacts and door leaves stapled with images or acting as projection screens. We thought about Marcel Duchamp’s works with doors and windows, and the composition of the shelving began to rhyme with the tall sash windows of the old school building, while the scale and proportion of the crates became door-like, and with doors being scaled in relation to the human figure, the crates themselves started to take on a figure like quality.

As well as meeting the specific requirements of the Paravent brief, it was essential that the crates would also support a range of other programmed events, and as yet unimagined activities. We tested arrangements of the crates within the space, and varied the number of units. The final design can be configured to create an enclosing room; to stretch completely across the width of the project space to create a lobby or control access; or to form a variety of stage-like backdrops. The crates are configured into two four-crate screens, but can be easily uncoupled to stand alone, perhaps arrayed as a stone circle. We like to think you could take one for a dance, gently gliding across the gallery on its castors.

Of course, it is not for us to define how the crates will be used, we are pleased to see the curators, artists, and public are constantly deploying them for new causes. We are reminded of the eighteenth century house, now museum, of architect John Soane – a great collector of arts and antiquities. The myriad shelves and leaved display walls were constantly in a state of flux as the owner used the house as a narrative device for developing theories and scripting lectures. Suitably for an old school building, it seems something similar is going on at Primary.

John Soane Museum, Picture Room


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