Over the next few days we will be introducing you in turn to our six resident artists and architects who will be exhibiting in the March Mostra, opening Friday 17 March. The first awardee in focus is Morgan Gostwyck-Lewis, this year’s Scholars’ Prize in Architecture Winner, who here discusses the project he is working on for the Mostra.
Morgan Gostwyck-Lewis investigates the relationship between architectural ornamentation and figurative representation in Etruscan art. His research focuses on the elements that connect them, through the use of photography, writing and paint. Lewis is an architect whose projects have primarily been for the arts and education sector, and whose research has focused on the representation of landscape.
First of all, can you summarise your project?
I’ve been looking at architectural painting and ornamentation in a set of early Etruscan tombs (8-6th C BC). The Etruscans are an iron-age culture transforming into a quite sophisticated, quite internationally embedded urban culture, getting the hang of making cities, writing and new forms of art with a lot of important iconographic development. They retained a lot of iron age conceptions, and they’re making these rooms which are quite interesting because they conflate a number of different architectural features, and they are relatively early in the classical tradition, so that’s also interesting. I don’t think you could claim that they are the origin of specific architectural ideas, they certainly get things like decent columns and four cornered rooms from more-established cultures, but they are using them in a way that I think is quite telling of where and how those architectural motifs originally emerged and certainly how they can be deployed, and that’s quite useful for an architect to think about [as] these can be quite difficult things to articulate and subjects to get a handle on. So, in the set of tombs that I am looking at I have focused on a particular architectural motif which is a figurative horizon line that then becomes something that we may describe as something more ornamental. The project is really research about this process more than it is a project about making a piece.
Why the interest in Etruscans? Where did the inspiration for this project come from?
I’m not particularly interested in the Etruscans as a topic in themselves. I guess I found the rooms they were making just inherently appealing and I had a hunch they were doing quite strange things, and I still feel they’re doing quite a lot of strange things that I haven’t really got in to – this movement between what is figurative and what is repeated as a pattern and how that relates to the way it’s arranged spatially is quite complex. They’re very loose with their boundaries – for example a sea motif that very quickly becomes a setting for a real sea scene – and that is quite unusual, to jump back and forth so fluidly like that and to do it so seemingly effortlessly. And I presume that that’s because they were in a culture that was being forged incredibly quickly.
Is this the first time you’ve done a project like this? Are you used to producing work for mostre and is the process at the BSR very different?
I have made stuff for a mostra before as a student – this is quite a big part of architectural education. Usually you’re making miniaturised versions of a hypothetical building and therefore you are concerned about how it looks as a piece, but really it’s a model and you almost want to avoid thinking about it too much as a piece, because you can then fall in love with it to the detriment of what you’re modelling, which is perhaps a kind of endemic problem more widely found in society in fact, but here, if you know the end point is a mostra, you want whatever you make to read as a thing in itself. As a way of doing research, that might strike one as odd, because perhaps one might think the natural outcome of a research project like this would be a paper. But it’s nice because it means that I get a studio and the opportunity to address the material aspect of topics. and most of all because you are forced to do things in a different way.
Do you know which space you’re going to have in the gallery?
Yes, I really needed to think about the space and know what the dimensions would be before I could start making the installation – I couldn’t just make something and put it in there.
Has doing this project given rise to new ideas? Have you thought of new projects to pursue beyond the BSR?
Yes, in terms of my analysis of this topic I feel like I’m just starting. Even in looking at a specific topic, such as a particular motif in a limited number of Etruscan tombs, I feel, there is obviously a huge amount more that could be done. In terms of transforming it into something instrumental, I think it’s always interesting to think about the origins of the architectural motifs as a way of treating space and it will somehow feed in to later work. I think perhaps I had a broader interest in the interior use of colour before I arrived which has remained latent in looking a specific moments in the tomb during the time I have been here, but it would be great to revisit that in the context of what I have been looking at. The point is that colour is always spatial, so perhaps this research is one way into rethinking that topic. I think that’s something I would really like to do next.
Have you had the chance to speak to our resident Etruscan expert, [Director] Christopher Smith, about your topic?
Yes, we had a great meeting. He was very good to talk to about it. I think because he has a brilliant overview of the field and although he is not an artist himself, he has a good sense of what art is for and how art works, so I think he tried to understand where I was coming from and where an architect could play a role.
Has your time at the BSR changed the way that you work or approach a project?
I think the BSR has great resources; the library is fantastic, and you can visit all the relevant sites. I think it would be impossible for me to do this kind of research in London. So in that sense, that is great. In terms of changing the way I work, it’s possibly too early to tell. Three months is a short time and it’s quite difficult to know if any momentum can be sustained from this project. Maybe it will. What’s really nice here is that you get the chance to talk to a lot of people who work in other fields and so that might feed in to future work.
Morgan’s work will be exhibited alongside the five resident artists in the March Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Saturday 18 March until Saturday 25 March 2017, closed Sundays.
Interview conducted by Ellie Johnson