Cecil Balmond: CARNEGIE MUSEUM OF ART

Article excerpt

A renowned structural engineer, Cecil Balmond has over the past three decades played an instrumental role in the work of architects such as Philip Johnson, Rem Koolhaas, and Daniel Libeskind. His unconventional approaches to engineering problems and structural geometry have aided those figures in realizing some of their most daring ideas and, in the process, radically expanded the realm of possibilities in architecture. Though also--and increasingly--an architect in his own right with notable projects to his credit, Balmond will likely remain best known as the engineer whose structural ingenuity allowed the most extravagant autographic gestures of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries to leave the sketchbooks and cad files of architectural offices and become structures in space. Not quite a product of architecture or engineering, though certainly related to both enterprises, H_edge, 2006-, a work recently installed at the Carnegie Museum of Art, represents a third, more nebulous point on the evolving spectrum of Balmond's practice.

The installation sees Balmond emerging from the long shadows of his formidable collaborators and shrugging off the related mantles of engineer and architect to enter a discursive field resting between sculpture and design. Overall, H_edge takes the form of an easily navigable maze, whose walls are composed of curvilinear Xs cut from aluminum plates and suspended between metal chains that are held in tension. Here, the installation was flanked on one side by a series of mirrors with vaguely distortive effects, and on the other by six light boxes featuring sound, text, and video that offer an exhaustive account of Balmond's influences, ranging from the Fibonacci sequence to the designs of R. Buckminster Fuller.

As the introductory panel and brochure point out, the installation hinges on a "trick," namely the impression that the Xs are hanging from the chains--a supposition that soon gives way upon one's realization that the chains in fact stand rigidly on the ground. …