In Tadashi Kawamata’s studio, you will find paper cutouts alongside maquettes, constructions made out of cardboard together with scavenged objects. Kawamata works alone on his maquettes, and if his spectacular and monumental interventions are conceived in a spirit of participation, this initial period of introspection is just as important in his work as the later stage of construction. He works with immense concentration, tirelessly searching for inspiration and meditation. Kawamata always reserves a decisive part of the production process for his maquettes, which he sees as veritable microcosms of the world, of his world.

Freed from the bounds of rules and models, his maquettes are nonetheless underpinned by the same mechanisms as produce his built works. With their variations in scale and material, they illustrate his methods, his systems for construction, the way he plays with assembling forms from scrap materials. They also reflect his acute sense of the ephemeral, his ongoing desire to transform existing pieces of architecture, to dissolve the boundary between inside and outside, between public and private. At once models for thought, tools for exploration, and imaginary landscapes, the maquettes bring us into the heart of his practice and show us his ideological and aesthetic aspirations.

As tools for thought, they can intervene in the creative process and permit the artist to understand or further develop his project. Favela no. 1 attests to his fascination with the endless cycle of construction and deconstruction in the favelas in Brazil. ‘The favelas, built and pulled down, built and down again, are exactly what I try to capture in my installations,’ he says. ‘They are really part of the fiber of the city, while endlessly, organically propagating.’ With these little flat-roofed huts, Kawamata created for Documenta 9 at Kassel a whole ghost town: a People’s garden. A veritable spatial construction, the maquette, placed on a table and seen from above, resembles a tool for scripting the real, evoking past or coming experience. It brings out the incessant dialogues and journeys taking place in Kawamata’s practice between the maquette and the finished construction. The same is true of the maquette for the Maison des squatters, which bears witness to the structure—a veritable movement of horizontal expansion—that Kawamata and his students assembled around a squat.

This ‘movement that creates another, and then another’ breathes disorder into the order of the ready-built, and demonstrates in a spectacular manner the artist’s refusal of all fixed situations. Considerations about when a work is finished or unfinished enter into none of his constructions; it is their potential for being acted upon and acting upon the space that alone is allowed to determine how they develop.

The maquette could also be the copy of a copy, the reproduction of an imagined real. There is something mysterious about the Bruges Tree Huts, these little houses in the air inviting you to escape from reality. Clearly, each hut is also a poetic object, a short form, a suspended, architectural haiku. They become sculptures without ever losing their character as shelter, as hideaway.

Kawamata endlessly blurs the boundaries between the represented object and the constructed object. He creates houses that look like maquettes and maquettes that look like drawings. In their tangled play, all of them attest to the complex and proliferating economy of his studio work, but also to his back-and-forth between solitary and collective making, between his imaginary world and real space.

Mouna Mekouar