Collaboration is a word that can terrorise both artists and architects. Problems relating to egos, different philosophies, ownership, and even copyright can seem insurmountable. Site specific artwork, although theoretically designated an integral part of the building, is more often than not an addition rather than an inclusion.
This is one of the reasons that the artwork in the Science and Health building, on the Joondalup Campus is so significant. In this instance, the art and the artwork are truly indivisible. The artist was involved with the building design process from a very early stage, thus ensuring that the artwork is way beyond being a decorative addendum and is totally at one with the building structure itself. In fact the architects, Jones Coulter Young, and artist, Andrew Leslie, developed such a strong working relationship that they were able to solve a difficult architectural problem by using the artwork as part of the solution.
The building is highly flexible and allows for potential future changes as technology also changes. It has also been designed with a strong focus on ecologically sustainable principles and energy usage. The design is a highly sculptural structure in five primary portions. Two rectangular wings facing north and south house laboratory and teaching functions. A curved and faceted building wraps itself across the west face creating an exciting and dynamic external facade and a sinuous curved entrance foyer three storeys high. Within this foyer are structural columns, which double as an elegant and powerful artwork. Originally, these columns were hidden in office spaces in positions that were not very suitable. Moving them into the foyer solved the space problem and gave Andrew the opportunity to expand his two major concepts for the building: column and light, onto a truly awesome scale.
The second artwork is part of the biomechanics 'box' on the west side of the complex. The lecture theatre, a splayed, curved element completes the complex. What is overwhelmingly apparent when looking at how this art and architecture meld, is that this has been achieved, not only through the talent of both artist and architects, but also through their good will and willingness to share and compromise. What is even more interesting is that compromise, in the sense of true teamwork, has led to work that is strengthened in all aspects of its intention, and not compromised at all, in the more negative sense of being watered down, or of a lesser quality.
This commission is the third in a series of site specific works for new buildings for Edith Cowan University. The confidence required by the University to allow the artist to develop the work without knowing exactly what the end result would be shows both courage and maturity. When you see the artworks and buildings completed you will know that this has paid off handsomely.
Maggie Baxter is an independent curator and art coordinator who has worked in the area of public art for ten years. She assisted the University with commissioning this artwork.