Chickens find a plastic home to roost


A new art exhibition is opening its doors this evening, but this is no normal art gallery. This is an ordinary house with an extraordinary interior. Emma Cullinanreports

HAVING A bathroom filled with 160 white chickens gazing up through a flat glass ceiling probably wasn’t envisaged by the owner of this Dublin house when he commissioned architects to reconfigure it. Nor could he have imagined the shelf now on his wall that has colourful PVA dripping from it.

These features are part of an art exhibition at the house this weekend. The spark for turning it into a gallery was lit when a judge of this year’s AAI (Architectural Association of Ireland) awards said the interior was like an “art installation”.

“It was never designed as an art piece,” says Maxim Laroussi, the Moroccan-born, French-raised architect who founded the practice Architecture Republic. “Each space was precisely calculated to have a function.”

The owner of this former dock-workers’ house near Fairview Park, who has lived here for many years, asked for an extension because the house felt cramped. It had a multitude of corridors, two small bedrooms, an unused parlour and a poorly built extension. But instead of adding to the structure, the architects suggested an inversion: reconfiguring the interior to free up space. Out came internal walls and the rear extension, and in went a plastic “tree”. Its “trunk” stands in the middle of the ground floor housing the kitchen, boiler, toilet and stairs while its “branches” are the upper floor, supporting a bedroom and office. An extra long “branch” extends 2m out of the back wall, bearing a bathroom.

This cantilevered plastic box was inspired by the client’s love of Eastern design: the white semi-transparent form lights up at night like a Japanese lantern.

The extensive used of polycarbonate – whose ethereal nature made it perfect for the Laban Dance Centre in London by Herzog and de Meuron – prompted one neighbour to call this the Plastic House, and the name has stuck. In Dublin, artists and architects know they have made an impact when locals give their structures quirky names.

It is that plastic tree-like structure – with internal lighting that makes it glow – which prompted architect John McLaughlin, one of the AAI assessors, to query its artistic nature. “I thought, if it looks like art to other people then I should make an event out of it,” says Laroussi, whose exhibition, Right Place, Right Space?, will tap into the debate about the link between art and architecture, and what art is.

“When art is in a gallery it has a commercial value and when it is in the street it is seen as vandalism. In the house it is none of this,” says Laroussi.

Eight artists are showing their work and many have picked up on the black and white scheme of the interior and engaged with the building, or the notion of buildings in general.

A New York-style skyline was created by artist John Graham out of white Styrofoam and a film projected on to the kitchen wall will show his towers growing and falling. It is artist David Folen who has filled the bathroom with 160 white chicks. The moulds were taken from frozen chicks sold by pet shops to feed exotic animals and are designed to “confront the viewer with the transitory nature of all life forms”.

Sharon McCarthy has created the dripping shelf, exploring the organic qualities of synthetic material. Roseanne Lynch has put a large, high-contrast black and white photograph beneath a skylight to explore her recurring themes of light, truth, perception and representation and Paul Murnaghan’s large spinning, black and white mandala (disc) will also play with people’s optical perceptions.

Gregory Dunn’s Play Stationis the culmination of two years’ work photographing lampposts which children have tied ropes around to swing on. Such homemade toys have largely been replaced, especially in city centres, by the likes of the other sort of PlayStation, but Dunn searched suburbs to find continuing examples of children’s ingenuity. Aoife Desmond has created a landscape that explores the place of plants and landscape in buildings, following Mies van der Rohe’s edict: “We must be aware not to disrupt nature with the colour of our houses and interior fittings.”

All involved are doing the show for free. “There is no need to wait for grants,” says Laroussi. “It is no good if ideas remain ideas, you need to make things happen.”

The exhibition opens tonight at 7pm at 26 Spencer Street North, East Wall, Dublin 3, and runs from 12pm-6pm tomorrow and Sunday