The mind of Man is fram’d even like the breath
And harmony of music. There is a dark
Invisible workmanship that reconciles
Discordant elements, and makes them move
In one society.
William Wordsworth, The Prelude: Book 1
In 2014, Anne Holtrop begins tracing the ruins of the Barbar Temple in Bahrain, thought to honor Enki, Sumerian god of water and craft. The temple, first built in 3000 BCE and reconstructed several times since, sits in what was Dilmun, a sacred port, the original garden of Eden. Long before Adam made Eve, Enki met Ninhursag, Mother of the Rock, and together they created the world. Enki and Ninhursag conceived plains and trees, rivers and ponds. They loved and warred and eventually brought the innocent inhabitants of Dilmun into consciousness, teaching them the law of motion, that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Holtrop’s architecture is like this. A push and pull into form that accentuates the messiness of creation. We see him breaking, bending, re-imagining materials in his Batara excavations in 2013, and again in his shards of furniture drawn from the stone collection of Roger Callois. For the Barbar Series, he extracts a puzzle of rectangular paper cuts from Enki’s temple that form collages of imperfect spaces, beguiling shadow play. He starts with a building and ends with a door handle, revealing the potential for architecture to each time create a new a set of circumstances out of material, form and history. For Maniera, Holtrop assembles A Table, A Lamp, and A Door Handle; travertine, glass and brass; something to lean on, something to light up and something to hold. He situates them amongst influences and iterations like a Judd chair, a pavilion modeled on a roof, an index of incomplete forms.
This work outlines a particular language of making – one that is neither blindly invested in a specific outcome nor seduced by spontaneous expression. Holtrop conducts a confluence of factors to make a whole: the historical significance of his reference, the potential of the material, the intelligence of fabricators, and the context of his time. The result is an ars poetica meditating not just on the form and techniques of architecture, but on its potential to serve us with the great sensation of presence – the entropy of history wed to the grace of immediate experience.
Alexandra Cunningham Cameron