Wignall & Moore’s The King and the Minotaur

Maria Lisogorskaya

Climbers mount ladders, grabbing bottles among glass orbs.

Source: James Read


The King and the Minotaur
St Pancras Way, London NW1.
Cost: £7.
Details at www.thekingandtheminotaur.com
April 21-23 and 28-30

Wignall & Moore’s labyrinth installation exemplifies our cultural fixation with the temporary

“Hungry?” enquires a girl with theatrical training and animal accessories, as she creaks open a metal gate. Handing over a plastic fork, she shows me to a viewing platform overlooking the installation. Above is a world of stunning timber beams, and warm glowing projectors. Below, in the centre, is a pocket room: brick hodgepodge shell and smooth white painted interior with stage like seating nooks. Inside hangs a fresh lamb carcass and buffalo head above a table decked out with busy mini grill and picnic hummus. This must be the Minotaur’s den. A meaty scent permeates the 1850s stables.

Wignall & Moore, a part II architect/engineer duo, has embraced the current climate of slashed arts funding to become Jack of all trades with an independently conceived and completed bar installation in their landlord’s empty property. Direct involvement from design to event programming, “basically building and emailing” as Bradley Moore describes it, has been a sharp learning curve.

The current politics’ encouragement of independence requires stealthy roaming in the funding jungle. With costs covered by sponsors IdeasTap and Den Creative Wignall & Moore struck a deal with the “trendy artisan London gin” Sipsmith for the gallery’s Liquid Room bar. The spirit is distilled in handmade copper, and its brand suits the gallery’s pre-industrial ambience. The drinks industry, big in large music festivals, is ubiquitous too in the local intervention experience. Behind the bar, climbers mount wooden ladders, grabbing chained bottles amidst glass orbs; the drinking spectacle somewhere between a Trisha Brown performance and a Diesel storefront. The “immersive production” has found increasing popularity through the work of theatre groups like Punchdrunk. At a seven quid entry and boutique cocktails, theatricality is pricey; at odds with its economy of production.

The production occupies a maze of 35 see-through fabric panels, arranged against the stables’ column grid. Some are opened using pulleys of little weights on strings. A play on solidity and transparency, light and shadow, The King’s Labyrinth feels like a 1:1 of an architecture student’s model.

Making do, Wignall & Moore even reclaimed the bricks from next door’s demolition site, as from the department skip. Keen to show off and animate this special building typology with dancers, improvisers and video projections, it feels at times like a rich Photoshopped “inhabitation”. In barn dust, hay, and work tagged Suburban Baroque DIY, a programme of events has been scheduled including an evening with comedian Colin Hoult, and a special Royal Wedding weekend.

The King’s Labyrinth feels like a 1:1 of an architecture student’s model

The planning policy, for public drinking or entertainment, often standardises a template for the “site-specific” production. It is much easier to gain a temporary events license than the longer premises one. The former allows 15 events at a time (on five separate occasions a year), with quick licensing courses available. The result is a weekends-only month-long schedule, with the temporary event seen as a marketing tool for future use of the place. In this case, it is the extension of adjacent Babel studios into the stables.

This can be seen as an exercise in getting things done. “You can’t build a city by yourself”, concludes James Wignall, refusing to commit to grand-scale design “for another 50 years”. Is this a move to a medieval guild structure, or seventies nostalgia?
Either way, the task of rethinking building typologies – barn, factory, car park or flyover – and mobilising human and material resources could be seen as learning ground for those needed infrastructural projects. And as the future of funded architectural education becomes uncertain, such enterprises can be seen as having political value in themselves.

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