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In want of frugality

Untitled (2003 a nebulous, architectural installation made of Styrofoam cups by Tara Donovan, shown at Ace Gallery, Los Angeles, 2005.

Untitled (2003 a nebulous, architectural installation made of Styrofoam cups by Tara Donovan, shown at Ace Gallery, Los Angeles, 2005.

No, I have not decided to abandon all my worldly possessions. I have not completely lost my mind and I have not taken any vows of poverty. Yet. It seems highly unlikely anyhow, regardless the circumstance. But I guess I can be fickle that way.

But I do love this word – frugality – and the wondrous array of often conflicting images it stimulates. Frugal, frugally, frugalism. As opposed to affluence, capitalism... I wonder?

In the broader sense, frugality is explained as the quality of being sparing, thrifty; being economical in the use of consumable resources while avoiding waste, lavishness or extravagance. In some contexts however, it may also refer to resourcefully using already owned economic goods and services, to achieve a longer-term goal.

But what about frugality in art or architecture? Is the above description of relevance; is it applicable?

Quoting from Una guida all’architettura frugale (2010): “The idea of frugal architecture is proposed as a counter-trend: a residual architecture that is capable of making best possible use of natural and local materials, or recycling those that would otherwise become waste...

“Frugal architecture belongs to a specific site and a specific culture; it adopts systems of construction – typical or highly innovative... in order to create even nonreplicable structures... These [frugal] buildings, often realised using leftover materials and with limited resources and budgets, offer positive social effects.”

Food for thought? Sounds like the ideal scenario, especially when considering the Maltese context/built environment.

Yet, the idea of frugal art or architecture might not sound like everybody’s cup of tea. Nonetheless, it possesses its own aesthetic – one which need not trigger images of waste or decay.

Frugality in art and architecture is at the basis of an international symposium and workshop being held early next month.

Organised by Architecture Project (AP) and Abbate e Vigevano Arachitects, this three-day event was directly inspired by the Bruno Zevi Foundation’s similarly-titled symposium: Towards Frugal Architecture and Art (Rome, January 2010).

Coordinated by Alberto Miceli Farrugia, Anna Gallo, Ann Dingli and Sarah Calleja, AP’s slogan for this symposium is ‘Frugality: simply look around you’, while their inspiring programme seems to propose a quasi-architectural renaissance of sorts with the words “back to a new culture”.

“Frugal here may be said to represent a concerned architecture, one firmly rooted in the societies it is intended to serve and their needs. It represents a fresh, subtle, responsible and alternative approach to space-making and to creating new relationships between a development and its natural and social environment, explains Miceli Farrugia.

“It is the antithesis of the flamboyant, loud and showy architecture that contemporary media portrays as the acceptable and desirable face of contemporary design.”

Furthermore, Gallo explains how the subject of frugality is so vast that the conference focuses on the concerns in connection with the built environment.

However, given the right support and financial resources, AP hopes to tackle frugality from the visual art point of view in the coming year.

Frugality (in art) can even constitute a collage, assemblage or combine sculpture. A few artists who spring to mind and who firecely propogate this aesthetic – in some form or other – are David Mach, Tara Donovan, Ernesto Neto, Arman or Robert Rauchenberg.

Closer to home, we find examples in the show hosted by the MCA of Douglas White’s work (Masquerade, 2009); or Galina Triozky’s collageworks (Archaeology of the Future, 2010) shown at the National Museum of Fine Arts showcased, or even in the art of John Paul Azzopardi – a young artist who has been making excellent use of discarded ‘materials’ for his ethereal sculptures since 2004.

Frugality in art and architecture can be highly inspiring, simply because of the inherent forms of creativity associated with recycling and reuse – of materials, objects but also of thoughts and concepts.

Their greatest challenge of the upcoming symposium and workshop lies perhaps in demonstrating how concepts related to sustainability and the three Rs (reduce, recycle and reuse) which revolve around it provide aesthetically valid and relevant solutions but with far greater social and environmental value.

Gallo concludes by saying that the wish is to promote an innovative way of thinking which considers the security of available resources and the optimisation of their use; to carve out space for creativity and innovation...

“We need to understand the impact of our chosen way of life in upsetting the delicate balance of our sensitive world.”

The foreign speakers include: Cinzia Abbate (AeV partner, Italy); Sarah Wigglesworth (Sarah Wigglesworth Architects, UK); Luca Stasi (Ctrl+Z Architects, Mexico); Franco la Cecla (Italy); NinaMartinez (Nina Martinez Architects, Namibia); Elena Barthel (Rural Studio, US); Ersela Kripa and Stehpen Mueller (Agency Architecture LLC, Italy); Giuseppe Lignano (Architect Lot-Ek, US).

Towards Frugality: International Symposium and Workshop will take place at the European Parliament Office, Dar l-Ewropa, St Paul Street, Valletta from June 2 to 4. It is being organised by Architecture Project and Abbate e Vigevano Architects (Italy) with the support of the Chamber of Architects and Civil Engineers, the Association of AmericanCollege and University Programmes in Italy and Din l-Art Ħelwa.

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