The art collective have created an enfilade of ‘smart bedrooms’ within the fair


Credit: Plastiques Photography. Courtesy of Plastiques Photography/Frieze.

Credit: Plastiques Photography. Courtesy of Plastiques Photography/Frieze.

A large-scale interactive installation at Frieze London tackled the question of the ‘Smart Home’, curating a collaboration between cutting edge interior design and technology companies. The Smart Home is the first victim of the colonization of real space by digital space and has swiftly come to occupy a central position in debates around Big Data and its impact on contemporary forms of life. If, on the one hand, recent technological developments sustaining the Smart Home are framed as the latest advancements towards a smarter, technologically optimised world, they are also raising escalating concerns around privacy and control in an increasingly quantified world.

ÅYR (f. 2015, UK), the collective formerly known as AIRBNB Pavilion, is an art collective based in London whose work focuses on contemporary forms of domesticity. Founded by Fabrizio Ballabio, Alessandro Bava, Luis Ortega Govela and Octave Perrault, the collective was first formed on the occasion of an exhibition during the opening days of the XIV Architecture Biennale in Venice, which took place in apartments rented on Airbnb. It changed its name to ÅYR in 2015 following legal pressure from the San Francisco/Ireland based company. ÅYR tackles the evolution of the contemporary home and its transformations from the fortress of the family to a commodity traded online with performances, site-specific installations, events and writing. Its work focuses on the relationship between objects and their environments, and the effects of the internet on the city. Recent exhibitions include: ‘Schöner Wohnen’ at Armada, Milan (2015); ‘Welcome You’re In the Right Place’ at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin (2015); ‘Morphing Overnight’ at Seventeen Gallery (2015) and ‘Everything that is Solid Melts into Airbnb’ at Swiss Institute New York (2014).

Frieze Projects is a non-profit programme of artists’ commissions realised annually at Frieze London. Frieze Projects and the Frieze Artist Award are supported by the LUMA Foundation.

Additional support for Frieze Projects is provided by Arts Council England


A conversation between ÅYR and Frieze Projects curator Nicola Lees

Nicola Lees: Why were you interested in airbnb as a defining global phenomenon?

Fabrizio Ballabio: Our first project was the AIRBNB Pavilion, which took form in relation to the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale. Rem Koolhaas’ curatorial project in 2014 revolved around the fundamental elements of architecture throughout history, and we strongly believed that there were actually much larger stakes in the observation of current phenomena. In airbnb, we found a paradigm of how the sharing economy of the internet had a tangible spatial impact. The exhibition was an independent project and in no way connected to or endorsed by Airbnb Inc.

Luis Ortega Govela: The pavilion was an installation in apartments rented through airbnb, exhibiting the work of 25 architects and 25 artists. In the context of the Biennale, we were interested in bringing artists and architects into conversation as they have very different ways of addressing contemporary issues. The project then went on to become a collective operating chiefly in an art context.

Alessandro Bava: It’s important to say that we are a collective because this is a form of practice that creates its own space and way of operating. It’s a format that we cherish as it affects the way we work and our creative output. We look to collectives like Bernadette Corporation and General Idea, who have challenged both the nature of artworks and the contexts in which art practices can perform.

NL: What do you think about the shift of private spaces into a public arena, as we see with airbnb?

LG: In the Great Depression the house started becoming a point of financial speculation, and the sharing economy for short-term lodging is the obvious endpoint of a situation in which domestic space becomes an asset for investment. It is no longer solely something that holds your feelings of family, community and security, but becomes a player in the field of global financial speculation. What’s interesting is that as quantifiable qualities of the ‘home’ have become more and more abstracted, its aesthetic signifiers have instead become more and more explicit. That is why the representation of the home online is imbued with cosiness and familiarity. It’s an interesting moment when you start using the signifiers of your home as a way to also market it.

FB: But that’s not the only part of the equation as domestic symbolism has become a currency in its own right: this condition is made evident in how tech companies recycle signifiers of hominess within their workplaces creating surreal assemblages of comfort and relaxation known as ‘break-out spaces’. It’s important to understand that these are a fundamental asset within productive processes as they are moments in which creativity is fostered, leading to new entrepreneurial ventures; be it through the informal chats between employees from different working groups or because of the air of familiarity one breaths inside them. Through these aesthetic tropes, companies simulate spaces of creativity, both urban and domestic, to foster alternative forms of labour within their very confines.

NL: What does it mean to bring the discussion of that context into Frieze Art Fair, among the highest level of luxury items?

AB: Art fairs are a place in which the production of meaning and the definition of value overlap. They are also places in which labour is performed by means of networking and knowledge production, which is why we find it meaningful to re-introduce within the context of the fair what we consider as a spatial paradigm of contemporary creative production—the break-out space or in our own terms a ‘comfort zone’. Creative production relies on the blurred lines of work and pleasure— this is something that tech companies have learned from the creative industry. Art fairs are a fascinating place where these two realities are intertwined. The space reveals and performs this condition.

NL: How do you see this translating to the space at Frieze?

LG: The project consists of an enfilade of bedrooms that will act as a space of comfort within the fair; somewhere to hang out and to chill. The enfilade is a baroque domestic typology that has to do with modulation of privacy, degrees of comfort and, most importantly, techniques of display. The amalgamation of different styles and periods without content reflects the basic surrealism inherent to these chill out zones

FB: This is parallel to our interest in the smart home and how new technologies are affecting the domestic and productive landscape. In spatial terms, the project creates a link between disclosure and display, tackling the internet of things in its most frivolous manifestation. Along these lines, we are hacking into domestic objects such as chairs, tables and mattresses, creating surrealist assemblages augmented by proprietary technologies.

NL: I’m interested in the way you speak about hacking and subverting objects.

Octave Perrault: Hacking and subversion are embedded in the ambiguity of the word ‘smart’. In the context of technology, smartness connotes ‘intelligence’. It is optimisation, efficiency and security: very rational things. When associated with the body, smartness refers to cleanliness, tidiness, and proper appearance. But the etymology of the word ‘smart’ is about pain—it is something threatening and dangerous. This addresses the fact that these technologies were developed by a specific privileged class for production and control, but it also questions the capacity for these sleek objects to normalise everything as they claim. Ten years down the line, these technologies have become places for socialising and so much frivolous exchange. Think of the wealth of memes and Snapchats produced everyday. The hacking of the smart project already happens on a daily basis. There is a tension in this practice and we want to express how it extends beyond the digital world. It also applies to the objects and symbols of the house and what one does with these objects.

AB: We use notions of frivolousness and excess as a form of resistance to the paranoia about data and the extraction of data from the home. But we are aware that they are far from being innocent. The technologies of the smart home make corporate relationships possible within the domestic interior, solidifying the family as an enterprise. This process is similar to the way the modern house was modelled after industrial modes of production. 

NL: How will the data then be accessible?

OP: We are using retrieved data to create an environment that has a certain identity and a specific presence; using it as decoration. We are producing and receiving data all the time. We want to use it as a building material, as design matter.

LG: For example, the chandeliers we are producing operate as lighting fixtures and monitoring devices that are both regulated through external data and data-mined by recording what happens in the space.

AB: We’re using data waste to produce the space.

OP: We salvage data and recycle it. ÅYR has invited Georgina Graham to develop a series of well-being treatments for their Frieze Projects installation Comfort Zone, which will host a number of performances throughout the week, exploring the eerie correlation between comfort and productivity in contemporary working environments. Well—Being addresses notions of subjectivity, personal health and the valuation of beauty as an entrepreneurial asset. Practitioners will deliver treatments to members of the Frieze Art Fair staff, calling attention to the overlapping forms of labour at the event. Well—Being will take place twice daily for one hour.