A non-profit organization dedicated to experimental design, creative exchange, and promoting contemporary architecture for an interdisciplinary world.

Defining an Architecture Residency Program at SUPERFRONT

Category : Essay Jan 31st, 2010

This first annual exhibit of the Architects-in-Residence program at SUPERFRONT presents a certain danger to its participants.

For a professional or pre-professional architect to accept the title Architect-in-Residence implies work outside the realm of architectural offices, outside the business of the built environment. Does working on isolated projects within a gallery imply the abandonment of the field of architecture? And if one abandons the field now, in the midst of its greatest crisis in recent memory, can one ever return?

For the emerging artist with experience in architecture, the title Architect-in-Residence presents equal cause for concern. The domain of the Architect risks contaminating an entire body of existing conceptual artwork that investigates issues of space and urban environments. What if the title of Architect-in-Residence, nonetheless temporary,
is projected backwards onto works that already circulate as art objects in the world of art galleries, biennals, and individual art collections?

Of course, there is also the general anxiety that the terms Residence and Architect continue to evoke in this moment of stalled economic recovery, as terms significantly implicated in the boom and bust of the last decade.


It is within this scope of investigation and experimentation that SUPERFRONT presents the work of Francisca Benitez and Pawel Niedzwiecki in MAKING SPACE, the inaugural exhibit of the SUPERFRONT Architects-in-Residence program. Benitez and Niedzwiecki are not so much participating in the Residency as they are defending themselves against it, defining the Residency as a negotiated territory through their practices.

For both Benitez and Niedzwiecki, site specificity and environment provide significant themes for investigation. Benitez, Architect-in-Residence 2009, has been a New York based artist since 1998. A Masters of Fine Arts graduate of Hunter College CUNY and architecture graduate of Universidad de Chile, her work investigates and comments on the ways individuals, groups and society inhabit space.

Where Benitez’s work operates at the level of the the public and the urban, Niedzwiecki
explores the dynamics of local specificity in the realm of the embodied and personal life of the individual. Holding both a Masters of Architecture and Bachelor degree from the Savannah College of Art and Design, Niedzwiecki, Architect-in-Residence 2009, explores
work with found objects and the production of affect through craft.


As Architects-in-Residence, both practitioners have responded to SUPERFRONT’s spatial identity at the gallery’s storefront location in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Whether at the scale of the physical walls of the gallery or at the larger scale of central Brooklyn, the Architects-in-Residence present work in dialog with the gallery’s location on Atlantic Avenue.

The title of the exhibit, MAKING SPACE, alludes to the physical production that both practices share. As much of contemporary architectural experimentation occurs in the realm of the digital (computing space, ordering space, animating space), MAKING SPACE presents a surprisingly physical and hands-on selection of works. Both Architects-in-Residence work in physical media, where materiality can both record information and elude reproducibility.


For her residency at SUPERFRONT, Benitez has explored the relationship between her art practice, which often produces conceptual investigations of urban space, and her teaching work in community centers in Brooklyn public housing. The two practices are related in their concern for the political dimensions of space (and not only public space, as Benitez notes that public housing is by defintion not public space). Alongside her own series of graphite rubbings of built surfaces, Benitez exhibits pieces made by or in conjunction with residents of public housing, through her work with senior citizens and youth in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) community centers in Brooklyn.

Produced in collaboration with Bushwick-Hylan Senior Center participant Santa Teresita Colón, Rancho mi Sueño (“My Dream Ranch”, 20″ x 20″ x 30″ dimensions variable, 2009) can be read as an overlay of multiple architectural typologies. Constructed primarily of popsicle sticks and commercial doll-house objects, the object operates as a form of outsider architecture. Layering the program of food production onto a scale that evokes the density of a Brooklyn rowhouse, El rancho de mis sueños presents a latent architectural manifesto belied by its rough production and irreverence for accurate scale.

Benitez exhibits a sub-set of her Property Line series, presenting graphite rubbings from urban surfaces in Brooklyn that were made as part of a larger series before her residency at SUPERFRONT. Property Line, Cadman Plaza West and Pierrepont St., Brooklyn, New York (Graphite floor rubbing on paper, 18″ x 24″, 2008) documents a sidewalk located just a block from Brooklyn’s Borough Hall. The graphic rubbing records the text embedded in the sidewalk “PRIVATE PROPERTY/ PASSAGE PERMITTED/ ONLY BY OWNER/ AND REVOCABLE AT WILL.” The Property Lines pieces do double duty in providing context of both Benitez’s practice as solo artist and the siting of Brooklyn in her work.

Benitez’ largest drawing exhibited, Independence Community Center’s Entrance (Francisca Benitez with Alena Adams, Takiera Dominguez, Imani Gibson, Lynee Jacobs, and Giselle Nieves, Graphite floor rubbing on paper, 60″ x 90″, 2009) presents a direct translation between her solo work and her collaborations in Brooklyn public housing. In this piece, the careful even-handed accuracy that Benitez has deployed in her Property Lines series is intentionally sacrificed in the making of a collective record of a public space.


In Niedzwiecki’s work, the question of site is investigated at the scale of the gallery and even the body of the architect. Niedziecki’s work presented in MAKING SPACE was entirely produced at SUPERFRONT. Inhabiting a live-work studio behind the gallery for six months, Niedzwiecki appropriates building materials and details from previous exhibitions and renovations into his own practice. The work is paradoxically both introverted and materially embedded in its environment.

In Music Composition (Wood door with mixed media, 80″ x 32″ x 1.25″, 20009), a door becomes an object to be marked, decorated, and rendered. Handles on the side trace Niedzwiecki’s previous use of the object as a transportable work-space (becoming a desk when laid flat). The door operates as both an image plane and sculptural object. Taut lines of thread evoke the guitar, which Niedzwiecki references frequently. The very physicality of the door becomes a means by which it achieves this layering of images (flat plane, object, and instrument), in defiance of the utility of the door as building material.

In the process of designing a large tattoo for his knee and calf, Niedzwiecki’s own body becomes implicated in the terms of site, context, and form. Tatuaje (Ink on Bristol, 7″x11″, 2009) presents an iteration of the tattoo design study, one of a series of ink drawings on paper. While titles reference germination, fish, seagulls, and guitar music, the hand drawings collectively form an ongoing study for a tattoo that Niedzwiecki designed to wrap around his knee and curl down his calf. The work explores drawing as a mode of both pleasure and identification, as a subjective practice of mark-making.

Niedzwiecki’s site-specific installation Music Wall (wood and metal, 12′ x 20′ x 3′ dimensions variable, 2009) continues some of the motifs of his Music Composition piece. Built at 12 feet in height, the construction takes advantage of hooks that were installed in the brick wall for a previous exhibit. Combining new materials and these appropriated details, the composition of Music Wall derives its spacing from musical notation. Music and musical notation are read as a form of environment to be integrated into architectural experimentation.


As a not-for-profit space for architectural experimentation, SUPERFRONT commits itself to not only architectural practice, but inter-disciplinary practice. Since the founding of SUPERFRONT two years ago, this has meant supporting and enabling work by emerging architects and artists with interests in space, urbanism, or the built environment. In other words, much of the first two years of SUPERFRONT programming has rather frequently provoked the question of ‘What is architecture?’ (or its variant, ‘What does that have to do with architecture?’).

With MAKING SPACE, the inaugural exhibit of the Architects-in-Residence program, SUPERFRONT expands the domain of the experiment. The question provoked in MAKING SPACE is not only ‘What is Architecture?’, but ‘Who is an architect? or What is the figure of the architect?’ In navigating such a formidable question, SUPERFRONT is quite fortunate to have friends in the Bushwick-Hylan Senior Center, the Independence Community Center, the local tattoo parlor, and, of course, Francisca Benitez and Pawel Niedzwiecki.

Mitch McEwen
Curator of MAKING SPACE, Director + Founder of SUPERFRONT
Brooklyn, NY, January 2010