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About the exhibition

Portraits + Architecture

The National Portrait Gallery exhibition Portraits + Architecture is an experiment. The participants have been asked to think about their creative practice in a new way. The exhibition explores the relationship between creative thinking and identity and incorporates new photographic portraits of creative individuals and groups.

The exhibition presents the work of seven leading Australian architect teams with commissioned photographic portraits by seven Australian photographers. The architect teams are known for their contemporary and highly distinctive work. They have made significant contributions to Australian architecture and design culture. The photographers work across a spectrum of fine art, commercial, and design practice and have produced bold and original photographic portraits for the exhibition.

In the 21st century the social, cultural and ecological imperatives of architectural practice resonate strongly with artistic, philosophical and sociopolitical ideas and actions. Many architects, designers, artists and writers are interested in how issues of sustainability and ethics relate to innovation and creativity in technology, aesthetics and functionality. We are increasingly aware of the impact of the built environment on our daily lives, how the design of our dwellings, workplaces and public spaces affects our psychological and physical wellbeing.

The exhibition Portraits + Architecture explores the thinking that informs creative architecture practice rather than the details of specific buildings or architectural projects. The selection of the participating architect teams was based on the original nature of their practice. As a group, they represent a diversity of scale, working from different locations in Australia. The everyday work of each architect team is marked by their unique personality, attitude and aesthetic.

Each architect team was asked to create an installation that reflects their creative philosophy. The exhibition excludes traditional architecture models and plans. The installations can be considered as a self-portrait of the architects’ practice. Variously incorporating photographic, video, and three-dimensional elements installed in the gallery space, the installations are evocative and open-ended.

The experimental exploration of identity through creative process is matched to the more immediate form of photographic portraiture. Each architect team was asked to invite a photographer to create a suite of portrait photographs in response to a defined brief. The portrait photographs are presented in monochromatic black and white and based on the modular unit of the international standard A1 paper size of 594 x 841mm. This common format serves to connect the diverse installation projects throughout the exhibition while allowing each photographer to create an individual interpretation of their subjects.

The exhibition appears like a studio environment. Each installation and suite of portrait photographs occupies a distinct zone, while relationships between the installations are present through overlapping sightlines. Several of the installations invite the interaction of the visitor. There is a spirit of experimentation and playfulness as a generator of creativity, introduced in the exhibition entry zone, where visitors are invited to participate in interactive activities. The installation concepts were developed over time, and a number of them anticipate a degree of improvisation and responsiveness to their presentation in the physical space of the gallery.