Curator Interview: Andrew Borg Wirth
Interviewed by Ann Dingli
Portrait of Andrew Borg Wirth.
Andrew Borg Wirth is an architect and curator with an interdisciplinary practice across the fields of narrative, research, design and theatre. His practice combines collaborative work with architecture, fashion and design studios, public cultural organisations and individual cultural practitioners across a variety of projects, alongside the development of bespoke interior, furniture and product design. Andrew graduated from an M (Arch.) Architectural Design from the University of Malta in 2017, and in 2021 concluded an MA in Culture, Criticism and Curations from Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts in London. Andrew’s research interests lie at the intersection between cultural and architectural discourse, dealing with nostalgia, public space, memory and trauma. Andrew received the 2022 Best Curatorial Practice Award from ARTZ ID (Malta) and the 2018 Galizia Award for Best Student Dissertation by Kamra tal-Periti (Maltese Chamber of Architects). He speaks to Ann Dingli about his curation for Experiments in Entropy.
Ann Dingli (AD): You talk about limitations of the architectural studio on practice development. Can you be more specific? What are the barriers you are thinking of? And if entropy is related to the disorder or disarray in systems, then do you define the studio space as the paradigm of order in architectural practice?
Andrew Borg Wirth (ABW): We have assembled the project in a way that is driven by each exhibitor’s individual reactions to the theme and personal experiences, but bound by a collective aspiration to be critical. Rather than considering the limitations of the architectural studio, we have focused on the liberating potentials of exhibiting within a contemporary art gallery: scale, medium, subject matter and process. By limitations, we refer to the idea of client, budget, policy and the other factors within which the exhibiting group work on the daily.
In relation to entropy, I think what we are interested in talking about is the multiplicity of the architectural practice and therefore the different ways in which ‘the architect’ starts to perform, amongst them, through its nature as an agent of politics. Most studios that I have encountered don’t have an ordered or limiting nature to them, but actually encourage a generation like ours to push the boundaries of what defines the profession. Even in the compilation of this project we have found support from many studios towards the aim that we set for it. So more than speaking of the limitations of the architectural studio, we seek to talk about the potentialities of what lies beyond it. How further can we extend our impact beyond what society considers is our role to play?
The starting point of this collective experiment, Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, stood at the periphery of what defined art practice. It renegotiated the notion of the landscape and survives as a reminder of a collective condition we are subjected to; one of disruption and change. I want to consider architectural practice as a place that affords this same kind of rhetoric; where the complexification of our role and the tendency towards chaos is not a hindrance but a defining nature of what we are called to do, and how we do it.
Installation view of Vessels by Suzi Mifsud (2022).
AD: The show follows a curatorial process that you describe as "shared", where the idea of provocation appears to be central to the exhibition's outcomes or prompts. The architects exhibiting were brought together on the basis of their shared architectural education - which is a recurring format in both the world of architecture and art, think Archigram, the YBAs, etc. But how fertile do you suppose the ground for provocation is when the group shares a fairly similar formative context? Is what you might be looking to provoke that very context itself?
ABW: I think the context we met in might have been shared and similar, but the way we have spent the time since that period has created an immensely diverse group whose formation has afforded considerable breadth. It actually works as an opportunity to ‘check in’, a while after we first assembled - to compare where each of us stand and how this has a bearing on our individual and collective progression. I guess the provocation is towards how much of that energy and activity we had when we first assembled still persists. In this way, it is entropic in and of itself, in that we started with a burst of energy and are now displaying the place we are at, ten years down the line. Some have struck relationships, others have left the country, and the exhibition is a space by which to communicate this diversity; of practices and of personal paths.
AD: Can you describe what you mean by "positionality" in architecture? I am curious to understand if this relates to identity, or stylistic trajectories, or both, or none?
ABW: More than discussing styles, I like to consider contemporary practice to be governed by methods or approaches. When I discuss the idea of a ‘position’ I am trying to conceive how aware one is of the political residue of things they do, say, and think — how this continues to form their own methods or approaches, but also how this relates to their contribution to the industry and the political sphere.
I am motivated to push and persist on what the role of the architect is in society, and to find ways of acknowledging the multiplicity of our practice. In my case, this emerges as a position which I choose to take. I wanted this exhibition to be about finding this position; about debating it in the run up to the project and embedding it within the making that each individual has embarked on.
Detail from Matthew Scerri, Synthetics 3/3 (2022). Image by Michaele Zammit.
AD: You talk about the group's aspirational contrasts between present day scenarios and the time you shared ten years ago as architecture students. Aspirational to what exactly? The profession? The local built environment? The world? Again, it smarts to me of an individualistic framing; so can you talk a bit more about what you believe the persona, or power, of the architect as 'author' should be today?
ABW: We are talking about a time which was formative for each of us. Entering university, you have preconceived ideas of what it is to work in architecture, and how this is going to materialise eventually. You don’t often look back on that when you are immersed in the daily grind of work. So this was designed as a space in which to do that.
There is so much that architects are the authors of, and the exhibiting group has dissected ways to explore this. At university we were eager to question the ways we could eventually intervene within urbanity, creating space for experimentation and emergence and enabling tools for societal productivity. We were interested in masterplans and visions, strategies and values, and used these as defining parameters for the practice we would eventually have.
We were invested in the idea of a slower way to progress, and a practice which is immersed in documentation and empathy far more than short-term growth and commerce. We acknowledged our influence on heritage, not through a series of rules that glorify the old, but rather through systems of fluid tools which help us define the most democratic ‘now’, which is worth inheriting.
The exhibition is set up to revisit several of those conversations; to unpack what and how has materialised since, and how each architect feels about things now that they operate within quite different circumstances.
Installation view of EXPERIMENTS IN ENTROPY featuring Postcards of Progress by Lucia Calleja (2022).
AD: Can you discuss some of the interpretations of entropy in the show?
ABW: The show has come together in quite a multi-mediatic way, occupying space with installations and artworks that are diverse. The exhibiting group has been curious about entropy in different ways. There are media works, a soundscape, installations, flat works, design experimentation and found objects, creating a curatorial experience that is once diverse but also quite personal, depending on the way each exhibitor felt best expressed.
I would say the most prevalent thread is the idea that entropy presents processes of simultaneous construction and demolition. Through material studies and performative interventions, there will be several artworks that investigate this idea.
Simultaneously there are investigations into heritage as a process subjected to entropy, and therefore other works are looking into the semantic and aesthetic experience of this as a starting point.
There are works that are also quite introspective, looking at the individual’s role as an architect and how this permeates as we are subjected to external forces with time. These works lay bare certain internal conflicts which only seem to accelerate when spoken about in the context of entropy. These have felt quite important because the whole group has been insistent on creating an experience that still manages to feel quite personal.
Image featuring Jean Ebejer, Edifice (2022). Image by Michaele Zammit.
AD: The link back to education comes in through the Masters design workshop you are running in parallel with the exhibition. How have priorities shifted in architecture education in the past decade, and what do you think your students will be looking to disintegrate in ten years' time, in their own proposals for entropy?
ABW: I think architecture school is a fascinating, exciting space of immense potential. Devising this workshop at the faculty introduces you to the minds and hands which will be forging our world quite soon, so again, my priority is in emphasising the potential that each of the students have to be political in their practice.
More than looking for what will disintegrate, the workshop is built around the refusal of aspirations towards something which is future-proof — an idea which is also explored within the artworks in the exhibition. This is about the acknowledgment of the systems we are subjected to, and the opportunity that lies in designing for it. Another curiosity which is present in both the exhibition and also the workshop, is on the line between the man-made and the natural. In the research process, both groups presented the idea that so much of what we consider natural today, is actually the result of an ‘artificial intervention’ — the man-made. This opens ideas around landscape, ecosystems and societal structures for debate in what has been a really interesting time for me, and I hope for them.
Ultimately the workshop is a very short glimpse in the students’ route towards architectural education. It is a ten-week period invested in theory and ideas. I remain eager to see what will transpire in the rest of their time at the faculty. I guess it is clear that it was a particularly formative period which I look back to with particular fondness.