Guggenheim
Introduction

Life Forms 304, 2003
Iron, plywood, wood, adhesive tape and wall paint
Dimensions of the structure: 360 x 315 x 340 cm
Overall dimensions specific to site
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

I chose gallery 304 [of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao] because its curved walls echo the general structure of the building. These walls are not abstract; in fact they echo the building’s final expression. Pello Irazu [1]

To Pello Irazu (Andoain, 1963), sculpture as an expressive form is very broad, as it allows the use of many formats and materials, in addition to including graphic elements, such as drawing and mural painting, and architectonic elements, such as walls and space. Life Forms 304 is an installation created specifically for the collection of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. It has three parts: a mural, a sculpture and the space of the room in the Museum, which brings together the two other parts. Irazu sees this space as an important part of the work. As a matter of fact, the title of the work, Life Forms 304, is taken from the space it was designed for: gallery 304, located on the third floor of the Museum. In 2001 a version of this work had been installed in the Moisés Pérez de Albéniz Gallery in Pamplona, and the artist then adapted the piece when it was acquired by the Museum in 2003. He considered a number of spaces in order to select the most suitable one, and in the end chose gallery 304 for its curved walls. He liked the idea that they reflected the outer skin of the building and the anatomy of the Museum. For the exhibition, the work has been moved to a different space that has been adapted to mimic the walls of gallery 304. Irazu is involved in the design of his exhibitions, as he cares deeply about the placement of the works within space and about how the various elements relate to one another, as well as to the architecture and to the viewer.

A sculpture rises up in the middle of the room. From head on it looks like a shelter, or a small house, but upon closer inspection, the viewer can see how unstable it is. [2] When seen from the side, its many angles, strains and forces become apparent and give us the impression that the construction is in precarious yet careful balance. The artist has deconstructed a domestic space, and transformed it into something uninhabitable. What’s more, the combination of iron, wood, plywood and colored elements transgresses and defies the logic of the installation and its architectonic principle. [3]

The drawings along the curved wall of the room are reminiscent of a wooded landscape, with trees and shade that seem to mirror or continue the structure in the center of the room. The artist has also run a broken blue line along the wall that functions as a kind of horizon in a landscape that guides the viewer’s gaze and invites him/her to move throughout the space in order to observe all of the elements of the work. Irazu’s idea was to create a piece that the spectator would not perceive as an isolated object, but as a kind of mini-architecture.[4]

Questions

Look at Life Forms 304 and describe the work in as much detail as possible. What do you see? If you were to explain the work to a friend, how would you do that? What would you emphasize?

This work is an installation made up of several parts: the wall painting, the sculpture in the center of the space and the room that contains both and operates as an integral part of the piece. What relationship can you find among these three parts? To Irazu, the room is an essential part of the work; why do you think he believes that? How would our perception change if the sculpture were in a different space?

The viewer can walk around this installation and look up close at its various components. Why do you think the artist wants us to walk through and around the work?

Now look at the structure in the middle of the room. What does it remind you of? Although it looks quite stable from a distance, the central structure is very unsteady and yet maintains a careful, fragile balance. Why would an artist be interested in building a structure that is apparently strong, but fragile all the same? Can you identify the materials that make up the piece? Where might you find these materials?

If you could add sound to the structure, what would you hear as you walk around it? If you were to give it a function other than as a work of art, what would you use it for?

The title of the installation, Life Forms, may refer either to living organisms or to forms of life. Why do you think Irazu chose this title? What does it add to your understanding of the work? How would you name this work?

Look at the wall painting. What do the drawings in black suggest to you? Why do you think Irazu painted the band in blue? Why do you think he placed it in that height? How would your perception of the work change if this band were painted in a different color? What color would you have used?

 

Activities

Create your own installation

The number in the title of the work, Life Forms 304, refers to the space it was designed for: gallery 304 of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Irazu looked all over the Museum to decide where to place this work. Go through your school, and think about where you would like to create a work like Irazu’s. Take photographs of the space from different angles with a digital camera. Then, print these photographs and use them as background to design your installation. Remember to draw it from various angles so that people who see the design can understand the idea. The same activity can be done digitally: upload the images to a computer and into a simple image editing software program, such as Microsoft Office Paint, or a more sophisticated one like Adobe Photoshop. Choose several photographs to create a digital collage, and draw your work on them.

Write a short play

Imagine that Irazu’s installation is a stage and write a scene that could be set there. Start by describing the characters and then think about the development of the scene. What might happen in that space? Describe the situation and define the action to then act it out in front of your class. If you have imagined various characters, you can ask your classmates to help you recreate the scene on a stage.

Group debate

Watch the video of Pello Irazu explaining how this work came up and why he chose gallery 304: https://vimeo.com/49451948. Then, form groups in order to debate the problems you think the artist might have encountered in deciding on this particular space. Compare the ideas of both groups.

Vocabulary

Installation: a work of art that creates an experience in a specific setting. Each part is related to the other and to the space in which it is placed. The viewer is often able to interact with the work and walk through it.

Notes

[1] Audio-guide of the exhibition Pello Irazu. Panorama.
[2] http://www.plataformadeartecontemporaneo.com/pac/arquitectura-habitada-en-el-museo-guggenheim-bilbao/
[3] https://www.guggenheim-bilbao.eus/en/works/life-forms-304/
[4] Interview with Pello Irazu: https://pelloirazu.guggenheim-bilbao.eus/en/did-you-know-that

Links:

Biography

https://www.guggenheim-bilbao.eus/en/artists/pello-irazu-2/bio/
https://www.guggenheim-bilbao.eus/en/works/life-forms-304/
https://vimeo.com/49451948
http://www.galeriampa.com/?p=539&lang=en