Exploring the Architecture of RAW POP UP / LAB

Simone Sutnick

The creators tapped for September's RAW POP UP / LAB

On September 27, RAW POP UP/LAB will open the doors of its latest intervention at Miami’s Brickell City Centre. RAW POP UP endeavors to make art accessible to a wide audience by focusing on the relationship between the spectator, the work and its creator. Through September 30, the public is invited to explore the 11,500 square-foot space replete with interactive works and performances for a multi-sensory experience. We sat down with RAW POP UP’s head curator, Tam Gryn, and head architect, Sharit Kassab, to look at the inner workings of RAW POP UP and its mission.

What was the impetus for RAW POP UP?

Tam Gryn: I was personally always concerned by the big gap between the art world and people. Most of the art world I experienced as a young professional was too exclusive, catered to an elitist niche and preaching to the choir. I always dreamt that art would be the opposite. With RAW POP UP, I want to curate democratic art experiences that anyone can inherently connect to, no matter what their background or educational level is. RAW POP UP is a welcoming experience that is approachable, yet elevating. I always think about my dentist as an example of someone who is removed from the art world but curious; I think to myself, how can I get people like him to connect? What kind of art experience would engage someone like him?

RAW POP UP’s vision is the Interactive Art Movement (IAM). Experiencing art using your entire body leaves you no choice but to connect to the message that art is sending you. It makes it natural for you to understand the importance of that piece of art, in that space and that time. My mission during each RAW POP UP is to make you feel very powerful, raw, honest instincts that biologically define us as humans. Once we feel, we understand, we connect and we can improve together.

How does architecture play into the experience of RAW POP UP/LAB?

Sharit Kassab: RAW POP UP LAB is an experiment in which interdisciplinary creators work together to design an “Urban Comfort Pavilion.” As the Head Architect for RAW POP UP I’ve been working together with 15 creators to design a pavilion made out of temporary construction elements in order to house different needs and uses. Just as a regular design process in architecture we went through creating a site-specific concept with our Head Curator, Tam, a first round of schematic design in which each creator was able to choose a specific program to develop along with their field of work. We aim for cultural integration which lies in the symbiotic relationship between art, architecture and any other creative discipline. We are living in times in which lines between disciplines are being blurred more and more, we are in the midst of a Creative Evolution.

TG: Every concept we produce is an ode to the building. Every single artwork we showcase is site-specific. We always consider the building’s history, the meaning of the neighborhood in the city’s context, the local population, the role of the building for our generation and others in the future. The building is the storytelling departure point. By shying away from tents and white cube gallery spaces, RAW POP UP connects Miamians to their own history by activating historical spaces and architectural landmarks with site-specific curatorial statements.

Why is it important for you personally to create such a universally relatable experience of art?

SK: Miami has been shaped by many cultural influences and so have I. I come from a Jewish, Venezuelan family influenced by Spanish, Egyptian and Israeli heritage. Being in Miami for almost 5 years, I perceive this city as a melting pot of culture. A city in which everyone is from somewhere and it’s going somewhere else. Art is the intersection in which people connect in this culturally fluid world.

Sharit Kassab (left) and Tam Gryn

In what ways does an ephemeral experience create a lasting impression?

SK: Our ephemeral experiences, or what I call “short-term lived architecture,” happen in architectural gems that get intervened for a period of time with a specific use in mind. The key of this experience lies in the time span and how aware and present one can be when we know it has a physical expiration date that could only be transcended in our minds.

TG: Every RAW POP UP is new and different, taking place in a temporary space only available to be experienced for a short amount of time. There is a sweet timing window to the landmarks that we activate. These spaces are usually in between private leases and will only be experienced by the public in this very rare opportunity that is RAW POP UP. For example, we activated the Old Post Office and Courthouse Downtown during Miami Art Week 2017. That building is a unique gem that no one would have ever had a chance to discover otherwise and that will most likely never be opened again.

Most of the iconic buildings in Miami that are designed by famous architects such as Zaha Hadid and Renzo Piano are not public spaces that we as citizens can enjoy. Therefore, RAW POP UP aims to put together the most engaging art experiences inside iconic spaces for the community to feel connected to their heritage.

What was the inspiration for the theme of juxtaposing materials?

SK: Brickell is an active construction site wherever you turn and this Urban Comfort Pavilion is designed to reflect that same idea. Programming and different building uses are getting stacked on top of each other to facilitate the comfort of the user. Structure drives an idea and then it is up to us to find the comfort in it; that is why for RAW POP UP / LAB, we would find scaffolding as our primary building material and then each creator would bring in their idea of comfort through a wide range of “soft” materials.

How did you select the participating artists?

TG: This is the first project where we hand-picked creators based on their structural abilities instead of hosting an open call as we usually do. We always want to work with creators who are open minded, believe in the present and future of the IAM and see themselves as cultural entrepreneurs. We also wanted creators who can work together as a collective and feed off each other’s brilliance.

SK: We were facing the challenge of finding creators that would also be comfortable in understanding and designing large-scale structures. We needed a team that was willing to work collectively and a total of 8 out of the 15 creators ended up having an architectural formation. It has been a fascinating process getting to see the creators share their design thoughts and how much they are looking forward to build one big interactive experiment that will serve as a stage for 15 performers and 5,000+ guests.

How is this pop up different from the spring pop up earlier this year?

TG: This project is called the RAW POP UP / LAB because we are testing out a few new cultural models. We are testing the idea of the new economy for creators which is based on the audience demand of the art experience – versus the past model of art as an object where people purchase art (which isn’t the case with millennials). We are giving back a percentage of ticket sales to the creators who are taking risks as cultural entrepreneurs. We are also testing out a performance program for the first time, which we hope to build to great lengths in our projects in the near future. This includes a movement and music program where performances use the space fluidly, there is no stage—it’s disruptive ephemeral architecture.