By common consent the grid as a structure came to dominate if not characterise modern art as a whole: in architecture, rational planning and the Bauhaus, in painting the various European abstract schools and groups c1920-1940; and more besides. And yet few will have failed to notice that the modernist grid, and with it the straight line, have given way in recent architecture and art to various other organising principles that may even announce a changed attitude, not just to modernism but to history, ethics and value more generally. The loss of confidence in ‘linear’ narratives is one obvious symptom. The supplanting of Euclidean models of the plane and Newtonian models of the universe are others. Clearly there is more at stake in the dialogue of grid and anti-grid than merely a choice between formats. Against Grids extends an already rich debate about structure, experience and cognition in the contemporary world.
We are familiar from recent architecture with the emergence, first of asymmetry and polycentrism in deconstructionist design, of hybrid systems and computer-assisted modelling, and of so-called ‘organic’ and cell-like structures in other areas of urban work. In recent painting, anti-grids have emerged from a somewhat different quarter – not merely from a disenchantment with modernist models but from a diffuse awareness of the special geometries of turbulence (water flows, weather patterns) and phenomena such as human and animal swarming (fish shoals, bird flocks, human crowding and contagion) that seem hard to capture visually and yet appear to exemplify special regularities and values of their own. For artists and scientists alike, attention has increasingly been trained upon inherently complex processes whose descriptive mathematics is still only partly clear. The result is that experiments to gauge self-similarity, scale-invariancy and complex organisational patterning have given rise to visualisations very different from those favoured by Greek mathematicians or their modernist successors. Meanwhile, a paradox haunts the dialogue of grid and anti-grid, namely the fact that the contemporary paintings remain resolutely rectangular in their construction and resolutely flat as surfaces to be marked. It is from within this dialectic above all that the salient impulses within much contemporary painting have come.
The RIBA Milk and Sugar Gallery in central Liverpool is well-suited to an exhibition of artists whose work has shown awareness of these issues and who would be interested to contribute to the interfaces between art, architecture, science and aesthetics. Such an exhibition would help to extend the main historical and conceptual agendas of the Baroque conference. Against Grids will be presented with an accompanying text to focus discussion of the critical questions raised by their work.