Support Structure

Support Structure is a collaborative project initiated in 2003 by architect Celine Condorelli and artist-curator Gavin Wade, a project conceived as an "architectural interface." Support Structure develops relationships with people and organisations, and is engaged with the spatial experimentation and research that underlie the processes of art and architecture, while also resisting accepted definitions of production within each field.

The situational and responsive nature of this practice is inherent in the use of the term 'support'. Avoiding a conventional sense of production, the act of support directs attention away from Condorelli and Wade and towards individual projects and their users. It is an act of generosity that, in the words of art historian Andrea Phillips, stakes a "[direct] political claim: let us help you make something new occur: we will support you. Our role is not to make the new, it is to support the new being made by you." Support Structure takes on board an existing set of relations within an organisational or spatial context, and enhances or reframes these relations, in order to allow a form of "political imagination" to take place.

Support Structure's various projects have investigated how 'support' can read across power structures, social realities and institutional forms. For the project What is Multicultural? (2004), which occurred under the auspices of the Portsmouth Multicultural Group, Wade and Condorelli proposed the formation of a library of resources devoted to expanding and defining the eponymous term. This process addressed the Portsmouth community, encouraging an ongoing archive of books and responses, yet reflected back onto the Multicultural Group by addressing the core tenets of the organisation and its function within the community.

Tensions can occur between 'supporting' an organisation's activities and navigating its bureaucracy, and in this case the project exposed rifts between the mission and reality of the Portsmouth Multicultural Group, leading two of its members to resign. Nought to Sixty – as a feature of the ICA's 60th anniversary year and as an articulation of the institution's relationship to emerging practice – is the most recent context within which Wade and Condorelli have applied Support Structure. Their proposal, Curtain as declaration of desire for change of function (2008), asks the institution to make a list of both artists and employees who have been part of the ICA during its 60 years, and to maintain this list in the future. One intention of the list is to draw attention to differing roles and differing levels of influence within the institution, and the metaphor of the curtain is pertinent here: at once a continuous surface and a form of divide.

However, another intention is that the list might function as an equalising system, drawing on a huge legacy of individual experiences and interpretations of the institution, and acting as a pool of participants for dialogues that would address the past and future policies of the organisation. Curtain as declaration of desire for change of function might be hampered by the past, including the vagaries of record-keeping and archiving; while its future might be subject to institutional developments, and to shifts in commitment. However, Support Structure's proposal exists as an invitation to consider the ICA as an accumulation of potential, and to provide a collective form of re-imagining that would access this potential.

Richard Birkett