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March 7, 2019

Build a monument to the moment at WOMAD this weekend

Over three days at WOMAD this weekend, help French artist Olivier Grossetête construct a multi-storey box tower and knock it down again.

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  • Words: Josh Fanning

Back when Bi-Lo was a thing, this writer remembers being dropped off at the front of the store to dive head first into a pit of cardboard boxes while mum went shopping. The crystal clear memory of diving in and rummaging around the box pit comes flooding back every time we smell cardboard.

Olivier Grossetête will be at WOMAD this weekend and he will be building the WOMAD box tower of our collective Bi-Lo dreams.


Ephemeral City at WOMAD
By Olivier Grossetête

11am – 2pm (Workshop)
3pm – 7pm (Workshop)
11am – 7:30pm (Construction)
6pm – 7pm (Deconstruction)
Buy tickets to WOMAD here.

Seven storeys tall, Olivier’s design will be constructed out of nothing but cardboard boxes and Scotch brand packing tape.

“Their sizes are a little specific for our constructions,” says Olivier. “They are modular, large enough while being quite ‘economical.’ There are 1300 boxes of cardboard planned, which represents about 1500kg, and we use about 250 rolls of scotch tape per construction.”

Installation artworks like the WOMAD box tower are reminiscent of earlier large-scale works the festival built its reputation for whimsy on.

Olivier has built ephemeral buildings all over the world. The works are always participatory, involving the public in their construction and deconstruction. Olivier is not an architect or an urban planner he assures us, and he avoids commenting on the state of modern architecture. For him, these constructions and the WOMAD box tower is about process rather than aesthetics or materiality.

“I use architecture for its symbol and what it can generate to set it up, its construction really questions the notion of ‘building’ together and thus the notion of living and doing together,” says Olivier.

And while he’s travelled the world, this is Olivier’s, “first time in Adélaïde!”

The WOMAD box tower design


Many of his designs (see the slider at top of story) are reminiscent of Adelaide’s own heritage buildings. We recall the fact that the University of Adelaide’s Bonython Hall was constructed around 1880 but designed in the Gothic style (12th century architecture). Bonython, who ponied up the cash for the building, wanted the hall to look more established and hallowed than it might otherwise have looked had it been built of the period.

Seeing Oliver’s more classical and European designs, we wonder whether his work and the WOMAD box tower is questioning our preoccupation with designing things to look futuristic rather than historic.

“On the one hand, cardboard bricks are quite suitable for reproducing [the heritage] style and these construction periods… And on the other hand, yes, I find that [the heritage styles] carry much more imagination than contemporary constructions,” says Olivier.

“Perhaps this is simply because they are more elaborate,” he continues, “and perhaps the buildings that we have left behind also started out more ambitious!”

At its best, WOMAD is an escape from the ordinary time space continuum. WOMAD can become another reality for four days and its own country with its own culture and ways of doing things. The WOMAD box tower by Oliver Grossetête is the perfect example of a simple idea augmented to the point where it can expand our collective conscious.

It’s also just cardboard and sticky tape and will come down at the end of the festival on Monday.

“This is much easier and faster,” says Olivier of the deconstruction phase of the WOMAD box tower’s life. “In principle, we unbalance the structure to make it fall…… and then we ‘throw’ the public into it,” he exclaims. “It’s a pretty festive moment”.

Just like mum plonking us in the boxes at Bi-Lo.

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