​åyr go through the keyhole

We talk to the art-via-architecture collective about their Frieze project, the sharing economy and the world of interiors.

by Felix Petty
15 October 2015, 4:55pm

Ever wondered what Cy Twombly's house looked like? Or Rick Owens'? Or MoMA curator Klaus Bisenbach's? Åyr's exhibition, Newcomers, at Project Native Informant, peels back and reveals the home lives of the rich of the famous.

Although, of course, it doesn't quite. In a series of lightbox renders of these interiors, the UK-based collective instead critique the aspirational perfection of people who open their homes to interior photographers to document them, and who seek to place a certain image of themselves in the perfectly arranged world of their. A window frames each image, we're directly looking in like voyeurs, and repeats, infinitely and uncannily, into the distance of a window too. Each image is punctured and interrupted by a incongruous element; a sombrero, a portrait of Portia and Ellen, a Michael Kors bag, a Dyptique candle, a satire on their perfection, but also revealing the break in the construction of self. The images are hyperreal and hypnotic, but also violent and dystopian in the way they reach for perfection. The renders' power comes from the fact they are both unnaturally real though obviously constructed and fake; they seem at first glance attainable and beautiful but then reveal their falsity and darkness.

They also were part of Frieze Projects this year, with Comfort Zone, which like Newcomers relies on the optical illusion of repetition, and the symbolism of the home and bed, to critique the domestic environment. One of the fair's stand out booths, Comfort Zone is part chill out zone, part critique of the hyper connectivity of the smart home, whilst exploring the gap between art and play.

Can you describe a little about the history and idea behind ÅYR?
The four of us came together a little over a year ago when we worked on the AIRBNB Pavilion, an independent pavilion that happened over the opening weekend of the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale. We continued to operate under that name until spring this year, when, after a long summer of legal back and forth (after receiving a cease and desist letter by lawyers representing AIRBNB), we settled on this new name, which we see as transitory, a temporary name to the now nameless pavilion.

We are obsessed with the idea of how our name can be constantly changing, in an age when branding and the value attach to this is so important , we want to explore this continuous untraceable body of work. It's not anonymous, just eternally confusing.

You mainly come from architectural backgrounds, how does this affect your place within the "art world"?
its funny because both architecture and art always function with some sort of gate-keeper figure deciding who or what can be considered part of the discipline. so for us to fully prescribe to either is just reinforcing very outdated forms of control. i think as individuals the four of us look at this from different perspectives as a collective we conceived of ourselves as an art project that works with an architectural vocabulary. But given the nature of ÅYR as a constantly transitioning project, maybe in the future we might think of it as an architectural project in an art context.

Architecture is always affirmative and never critical that's its inherent limit, so we could never imagine ÅYR's work to be perceived as architecture…

The first projects were critiques and investigations into the sharing economy, these last projects are more concerned with a critique and investigation into the luxury industry (interiors, hipster aesthetics, contemporary art, etc, etc) -- how do you see these two strands being related in your work?
The sharing economy has this drive towards the accessibility of luxury but with a twist in models of ownership. We don't see them as being two distinct things but rather the same. Luxury and its accessibility has a certain allure but deep down there is a violence there. For example Interior Illusions Lounge, from which the works at Project Native Informant stem from are so sexy because of their hyperreal and hyper aspirational representation of luxury. It becomes so attainable, but that's just the surface, deep down we see these pieces as dark and violent.

What attracted you to each of the people whose interiors you've reimagined.
The reasons for each one vary, some are arbitrary if we like what the interior communicates (like Klaus Biesenbach's all white interior) or because of the history of Cy Twombly's house, but they all look into the artist interior as the mythical birthplace of aesthetic tendencies, urban demeanours, and incubators of metropolitan subjectivity.

To what extent can we think of interiors as self-portraits?
The construction of the renders starts with existing photographs of these spaces. These photographs could only have happened by inviting photographers to come into their houses and photograph their intimate spaces. There is a certain ritual of inviting people over, where you prepare the house so it represents a different reality to the actual lived one. The construction of an interior is one that is charged with self-portraiture, you construct it to construct yourself. 

How much of the critique comes through the small interventions in these images (the Doritos, the sombrero, the portrait of Ellen and Portia, the dog) that puncture that ideal of ourselves?
I like how you talk about these as punctures, because that's exactly how we conceptualise them, they are the cracks of the pristine rendering and the control embedded in the interior as portrait. They come naturally once the image has been fully constructed and comes from a desire to present these as archetypes and autonomous images that go beyond the subject. In a sense, more than the trompe-l'oeil quality of the images these bear a certain discomfort to the image. They fuck the househole up.

What, if anything, do you think we can understand about the people who "live" within these interiors through viewing them?
We've been looking at Warhol's portraits, the ones in which he would photograph collectors and personalities on a polaroid with the idea to construct a collective portrait of society at the time by only displaying a surface representation of identity. That's how we think about the Interior Illusions Lounge.

Photography Lewis Ronald. Courtesy of Lewis Ronald/Frieze.

The bed is a recurring motif in many of the renders, and in your Frieze Projects installation too. What attracts you to the symbolism of the bed?
The bed has always been there for us. We see it as the object that condenses a lot the affect we deal with. There is a long history of looking at the bed as biographical and emotional, as a space for comfort and love, as the space of the couple, and the only space where physical intimacy is allowed and encouraged. Its very coded. But at the same time we also look at it as really boring piece of designed technology: it's just a padded cube that nonetheless manages to regulate so much of our interactions. In this sense, it epitomises the idea of a domestic signifier: it is simple and global, it defines the function of its room and the action of bodies. It is a condition of productivity and it shows that even the most vertical bodies need full horizontality vis a vis productive laziness.

Can you explain a bit about your Frieze Project?
It uses the bed to construct an anachronism around notions of comfort, privacy and display within a seemingly domestic environment. It is firstly an enfilade—a baroque architectural typology that anticipated the corridor in modulating degrees of intimacy and publicness. The suite of six rooms cuts throughout the central tent at the moment in which it meets its neighbouring one so that, while walking by, it almost appears as a hallucination. The rooms are the size of a standard master bedroom, differently coloured according to global domestic palettes we found researching for "calming neutrals", and furnished with the most comfortable beds available on the market and pendant ceiling lights augmented with smart technology. It draws upon the recent emergence of cosiness, chilling and entertainment in entrepreneurial rhetoric, caricatured in start up and freelancing cultures. This shift is visible in the design of these spaces that freely employ domestic signifiers like fireplaces and hot tubs to transform the sterile corporate lounges into homey interiors. We see that as embodying a shift from having a job to having an occupation. Nonchalance, laziness, happiness has become a mainstream cachet of professional success; probably helped by the fact that it is still a form of production. Conversely, the rhetoric of efficiency and production drive the products of the smart home, not to say that watching a movie in bed or texting your mum already generates data that has some sort of value. We are interested in the ways these dynamics are transforming the home as an aesthetic, as a concept and as a feeling.


Text Felix Petty

comfort zone
felix petty
project native informant