Big Conference Platform Platform is a sculptural object consisting of an aluminium window-like frame that measures 2400 by 3600 mm. When installed, the sculpture is suspended above ground by cables and mounted to the wall by fittings, so that it hangs face down in the gallery space like a flat awning. Eleven aluminium strips span the width of the frame, dividing its surface into twelve slender horizontal panes of roughly equal width. Ten of these sections are glazed with an opaque off-white Plexiglas, while two (the third and ninth panes, counting from the wall where it is mounted) are glazed with clear Plexiglas. Although the elevation at which the sculpture is suspended is variable depending upon the dimensions of the space in which it is exhibited, the work is always displayed at a height well above the heads of gallery-goers. The four cables that hold the work in place stretch vertically from the sides of the aluminium frame to the ceiling of the space in which it is exhibited and appear to provide the only support for the work, since the wall-mounted fittings are well concealed.
This work was created by the British artist Liam Gillick in 1998. As Big Conference Platform Platform is neither structurally accessible to visitors in its suspended state nor capable of supporting human weight given the fragility of its Plexiglas-based construction, the repetition of the word ‘platform’ in its title would appear to be a self-conscious gesture to the metaphorical nature of the sculpture as a figurative platform for thought, discussion or imagination. Key to comprehending the significance of the work, according to the architectural historian Jane Rendell, is the appreciation of an inherent friction between presentation and purpose, utility and aesthetics:
Liam Gillick’s Big Conference Platform Platform (1998), a ‘canopy’ grid of anodised aluminum and perspex jutting out into an interior space above head height, was a continuation of his exploration of the tensions between planning and speculation through the language of architecture.
(Rendell in Cartiere and Willis 2008, p.45.)
Big Conference Platform Platform belongs to an ongoing series of similarly titled and comparably configured works that Gillick began in the mid-1990s, which include Discussion Platform 1996 and Conscience Lobby 2001. The writer and curator Charlotte Laubard has argued that these works’ meaning is deliberately suspended between spheres of cultural activity, challenging ‘precepts of architecture, sculpture and graphic design’. She goes on to state that
Despite their affinity with minimalist architectural design, Gillick’s installations are characterized by their indeterminate look, halfway between decorative and utilitarian, fact and fiction. Deliberately deceptive, they require viewers to rethink their own ways of perceiving and interpreting art. Installations significantly entitled Discussion Platform (1996), Communication Banners (1996), Big Conference Platform (1998) and Conscience Lobby (2001), appear to be places for discussion and decision-making, providing a setting that encourages reflection and co-operation. Designed to trigger events and interactions, Liam Gillick’s installations can be seen as genuine spaces in which Utopia may be created.
(Laubard in Christov-Bakargiev 2003, p.224.)
The art historian Michael Archer likewise perceives the installation of Big Conference Platform Platform as offering observers a literal and figurative stage, removed from the imperatives of everyday existence, for elevated contemplation, describing it as ‘a discussion platform that might be seen as acting as a relatively neutralized control structure in relation to the other platforms while also designating a space where there is an open frame for free thought.’ (Archer 2000, p.82.)
Michael Archer, Liam Gillick, Cologne 2000.
Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, I Moderni: The Moderns, Milan 2003.
Cameron Cartiere and Shelly Willis, The Practice of Public Art, London 2008.
Supported by Christie’s.