New Plastic Universal, 2004
solo show at Castlefield Gallery, Manchester
Ben Cove: New Plastic Universal at Castlefield Gallery, Manchester, 2004
curated by Yuen Fong Ling

Gallery Press Release

Coinciding with National Architecture Week 2004, Ben Cove was commissioned to make new work for Castlefield Gallery's main exhibition space.

For his second solo exhibition, Cove produced a body of work focused on architectural ideologies, in particular its visual languages. In postwar Europe, the language of architectural drawing, particularly that of unbuilt schemes developed rapidly in the 1950's-1970's. Groups such as Superstudio and Archigram developed imagery which had much in common with the language of advertising. They attempted to sell radical ideas to a society giddy with the promise of a brighter future driven by technology and changing attitudes as to how we live, work and socialise. Though this optimism began to wane towards the end of the 1960's, its legacy is still clear in current languages of architectural proposals. The architectural proposition or the unbuilt scheme is the rendering of often fanciful ideas based on real-world problems. For New Plastic Universal, Cove created several briefs to work with which allowed an exploration of the visual language of the proposition.

At the centre of the show was a large work entitled Pod. This was a 1:1 prototype for a self-contained gallery space suitable for audio / visual work. The design is based on Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome or 'Bucky Ball'. Fuller's solution to enclosing space is renowned for its economical use of materials, strength and its suitability for modular fabrication. The Pod was conceived as an alternative type of space for film, sound and digital works which can sit uncomfortably in traditional white cube gallery spaces. Large enough for one audience member at a time, the Pod is intended to allow maximum comfort and allow full concentration on the work it houses. The interior is fully upholstered with a reclining seat. The door can be closed to allow the viewer to be fully immersed in this environment which also provides excellent acoustics. Unlike cinemas which are specifically designed for the purpose of film viewing, gallery spaces are typically designed to house painting and sculpture and are not always conducive to digital, audio or lens-based work. The Pod is intended to be mass produced and to be sited internally or externally. The prototype is powder coated aluminium intended to function sculpturally as well as practically. A mass produced version could be made more economically from plastic in different colours and sizes; several could be connected together for more complex arrangements. Internally, the modular nature of the panels mean that different technology can easily be interchanged for different uses. For the purpose of this show, the prototype did not host a specific artwork, the focus being the concept of the Pod as realisable en-mass. Therefore a looped section of Kubrick's 2001 A Space Odyssey was shown, a film which mixes the aesthetics of imagined futuristic technology with real post-war furniture.

In addition to the Pod, a number of 2D works were produced alongside as visual manifestos for the Pod and other potential schemes to be housed in Manchester. Among these was a proposed cable-car scheme to allow airborne transition across the city. These schemes were rendered digitally combining the cut-and-paste collage technique typical of post-war architectural drawings with the flat digital drawing characteristic of 21st century digital imagery.