The Arch

Investigating the many meanings of the subject of this year's Frieze Masters and Frieze London campaigns

Arch, from the Latin, arcus: a bow. Arch as in the bow-and-arrow archer bending the straight string against the curve to send the arrow into the air.

Arch, as in the backs of kittens learning how to dance-fight.

Arches in stone? In painting? The arch is self-standing, independent. It doesn’t need anything else. But it likes to compromise with the rest of a building, open other structures up. It’s internally self-supporting, like an admirably emotionally well-adjusted friend. Above all, though, its solidity is about openness, it’s a see-through structure – and a structure that lets you see through it, acting simultaneously as frame and open threshold, is a miracle of versatility: a kind of structural generosity.

It’s the perfect union of curve and straight line, the original structural marriage. Dimensionally it always offers more than one way to go – at the very least, there’s through and across.

 

Sassetta, San Sepolcro Alterpiece. Courtesy: The National Gallery

Sassetta, San Sepolcro Alterpiece. Courtesy: The National Gallery

Sassetta, San Sepolcro Alterpiece. Courtesy: The National Gallery

It asks the eyes to raise. Maybe it asks the spirits to, too. Its curvature apes the leap of faith. It’s the original rainbow somersaulter, the shape that the fall of the spectrum takes as light responds to the elements and the curve of the Earth. In this, no matter what colour it is, its shape takes on something mythological.

It’s also the natural structure of continuous narrative. It holds still and complete as it rises and it falls; it’s a static trajectory, movement, journey. It always suggests further context, something that’s more than itself, beyond itself, through itself. (I always think, when I’m under the roof of St Pancras station, that the arch is akin to the spatial trajectory of the novel as a form: a roof over the top of all the journeys, all the comings and goings, of the lives that pass beneath it.)

It suggests the ups and downs of our lives and offers firm structural shape to them both. It’s natural to us – we’ve got arches in our feet and our fingerprints. If we’re being arch, we’re being mischievous, roguish, impish, flippant. Archduke? Arch enemy? It means pre-eminent, archness. Call me arch? I’ll thank you for it. That bend in the bow? It’s our first flight.

Ali Smith lives in Cambridge, UK. Her most recent book, How to Be Both (2014), was shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize, the Folio prize and won the 2015 Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction. It was also the winner of both the 2014 Goldsmith's Prize and the Novel Award in the 2014 Costa Book Awards.

Issue 3

First published in Issue 3

October 2016

Most Read

Ahead of Berlin Gallery Weekend, a guide to what to see across the German capital
Ahead of Art Cologne this week, a guide to the best current shows in the city
A fresh dispute over the estate of Vivian Maier; Chris Ofili is made a CBE
Theaster Gates & The Black Monks of Mississippi’s latest project for IHME Festival, Helsinki
Barkley L. Hendricks has died; the Tate faces a lawsuit from its neighbours

From Egyptian surrealism to Parisian pissoirs: what to read this weekend
On the 2017 Jamaica Biennial and its attempts to confront the role of misogyny in Jamaican popular culture
Jan Bonny and Alex Wissel’s new film project, ‘Rheingold’, sends up the ethical superiority of art making versus...
Jason Rhoades, My Madinah. In pursuit of my ermitage..., 2004, mixed media, dimensions variable. Courtesy: Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, The Estate of Jason Rhoades and David Zwirner; photograph: Fredrik Nilsen
Hauser & Wirth, Los Angeles, USA
Ahead of Art Brussels opening this week, a guide to the best shows around town
Recently awarded a USA Artist Fellowship, Lynn Hershman Leeson speaks about cultural technologies, personal narratives...
Cosey Fanni Tutti talks to Paul Clinton about feminism, freedom and the politics of the personal
David Zwirner, New York
A guide to the best of the current and soon-to-open shows in London
The final part in a series of our editors’ initial impressions from documenta 14 Athens, Amy Sherlock on the fourth and...
A survey of more than 50 respondents from over 30 countries

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

Jan - Feb 2017

frieze magazine

March 2017

frieze magazine

April 2017