The Subterfuge Series

Growing up in Chicago, my older brothers and I grew up working on weekends with my father. We were restoring old buildings, such as churches and schools. They were architectural relics that needed pruning and attention. That’s how we earned our allowance. On the way to our family contracted jobs, he would always take us on numerous architectural side detours, visiting this or that side street. He loved the concept of a building, appreciative of each distinctive architectural style. “Can you imagine what it’s like in that space” or “look at the detail on that building, that’s interesting, why would they do that”? Those were our topics as we meandered on in the station wagon sipping coffee out of our styrofoam cups. We also had a 27’ Bayliner boat docked on the southside that continually broke down and had to be towed. The towing allowed us to get an eyeful of all the beautiful and majestic relics of steel industry plants like Ryerson, etc. on the Chicago River. My eyes were wide open and in awe. That began my love of architecture and steel.

Close your eyes and consider for a moment, in your memory, a very commonly published photograph of New York’s Empire State Building as it was being erected. One of those many photos is of the legendary Mohawk (Kahnawake) iron-workers, as they walked on an I-beam sometimes only 12” wide. These pictures are beautifully expressive in their gritty portrayal of the worker’s bravery casually “walking iron” 1,400 feet above the ground and adjoining structural steel components. They have become classic iconic images. Beautifully expressive in their gritty portrayal of the worker’s bravery amidst the dangerous environment.

Consider another more modern-day portrayal of steel being used in architecture. This is going to be quite possibly outdated as soon as it is proposed as an analogy, but take Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Spain. This reference may be a little bit more honed to a specifically educated audience, but it is historically relevant to steel’s cultural relevance. Compared to the imagery of the Empire State Building, you get the sense that steel is visualized now as a more organic or bio-morphic material. Architecturally, we now weave structural steel elements instead of merely vertically stacking them.

In this body of work, I physically deconstruct, fragment, and contort the structural I-beam so that is not readily recognizable. Further juxtaposing a vibrant non-organic color plane against the physicality of the thick old rusted steel, it is a direct subterfuge.

Mark Knutson