Testing the boundaries

Zaha Hadid’s early paintings anticipated the future of digital tech
By CHARLES MCQUAID | Art | 9 December 2016

‘Metropolis’, 1988
Copyright Zaha Hadid Architects

Top Image: ‘Metropolis’, 1988. Copyright Zaha Hadid Architects

Dame Zaha Hadid was recognised as one of the world’s most influential architects, her buildings defied classification and even gravity. She continuously battled with convention and always looked towards the future of architecture using both technology and tactics: “There can be no progress without an element of uncertainty and without a sensation of embarking on a journey into the unknown,” Hadid once said of progression and innovation.

The Serpentine Gallery has a long history with Hadid and its newest exhibition celebrates her as an artist above all else. Zaha Hadid: Early Paintings and Drawings showcases her early work and gives us an opportunity to reflect on the origin of this prolific architect. We spoke to the curator, Amira Gad about Hadid’s influential impact less than a year after she sadly passed away.


Charles McQuaid: The exhibition concentrates on Hadid’s work before her first building was erected but can you expect to see roots of her recent architectural style in the show?
Amira Gad: Yes, expect to see where it all started, how it has evolved and the whole process of it. By studying her paintings and drawings we get an idea of how her signature architecture style has developed.

Charles: And which elements of her signature architectural style are shown in her early paintings and drawings?
Amira: I think there are three pillars and ideas. One element is the fragmentation of forms. The second element is her idea of challenging space by defying gravity. This has been trademarked today in her architecture by floating buildings and use of weightlessness. The third element is her proclamation that buildings should not have any 90-degree angles, we have a painting in the show that’s called The World 89 Degrees.

Zaha Hadid Sketch
Selection from Sketchbook 2001 Copyright Zaha Hadid Architects

“What is amazing is the fact that the paintings in this exhibition have emerged at a time before that technology and CGI existed. They have aesthetics that are reminiscent of visual imageries that can only now be produced by digital software.”

Charles: The show is in The Sacklar Serpentine Gallery which Hadid has a long history with. Could you talk about some of the collaborations she was involved in and comment on why it is a fitting venue for her work?
Amira: Zaha was a trustee of the Serpentine from 1996 and was invited by former director, Julia-Peyton Jones, to design the inaugural Serpentine Pavilion in 2000. She came back a few years later for the Lilas Installation that hosted the annual fundraiser event. Then, in 2013, we opened the extension of the Serpentine Gallery, the Seckler Gallery. We consider the Serpentine Seckler Gallery as her house, so in that sense, it could not be a more fitting experience. It is her design. It is her building. It is her architecture.

Charles: Drawing is a fundamental practice for all architects but most now use digital software instead of pencil and paper. Did Hadid predict this shift with her use of 3D printing and her implementation of state-of-the-art technologies?
Amira: Her paintings did pre-empt CGI and digital technologies. They do prefigure it, but what is amazing is the fact that the paintings in this exhibition have emerged at a time before that technology and CGI existed. They have aesthetics that are reminiscent of visual imageries that can only now be produced by digital software. So in that sense, she had that foresight of what would, later on, become a reality.

Concept Painting
Cardiff Bay Opera House, Wales, UK 1994-1996 Copyright Zaha Hadid Architects

Charles: The exhibition is a great way to remember the ‘Queen of the Curve’, and her legacy still lives on in Zaha Hadid Architects. On a wider scale though, how far has her design influenced other artists besides architects?
Amira: What was important for us with this exhibition was to celebrate Zaha the artist, not just Zaha the architect. What is unique about her paintings is that they are proposals for designs and yet they are not a  realistic depiction of design. They are still abstracted and fragmented. It seems she did this to invite us to participate and engage in the world that she was creating, before putting us in front of an accomplished design that is ready to be constructed. She had much more consideration for movement and how the world would evolve. So for us, what’s really important in the context of this exhibition, is to re-affirm the authority of her paintings and drawings and emphasise the artistic qualities of them. All the while, offering an insight into architectural ideas.

Charles: Did Hadid have any involvement with the exhibition before she passed away?
Amira: Zaha Hadid and Hans Ulrich Obrist, the co-director of the Serpentine Galleries, often spoke about this. One of his conversations with Zaha, in 2006, was transcribed, edited and included in the exhibition catalogue that we release here. They talk in detail about her drawings and paintings and the conversation ends with Hans saying: “We should do an exhibition of these works,” Zaha responds: “Yes. We should do that together.” It’s fascinating coming back to that archival conversation and realising the idea already dates back ten years. These conversations between Zaha and Hans have been ongoing. Earlier this year when she gave her lecture at the RIBA, Hans immediately said that: “We need to revive this idea, it needs to happen soon.” We were all saddened by her loss in March but decided that there could not be a better moment to celebrate her work. This would have been her dream and we owe it to her.

Wireframe Sculpture Perspective – 2010 ‘Victoria City Aerial’ Berlin, Germany 1988 Copyright Zaha Hadid Architects

Zaha Hadid: Early Paintings and Drawings runs at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery until 12th February.

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