The Brisbane CBD is sensibly arranged in a grid format in which streets running northwest are named after British kings, and intersecting streets take their names from queens and princesses. Why? Because it’s logical, rational, practical; it just plain makes sense.
In the visual arts, the grid has been the quintessence of modernist aspiration since the early twentieth century. That it embodied function, efficiency and all things rational made it an exemplary motif for the avant-garde. However, as art theorist Rosalind Krauss identifies, “no form within the whole of modern aesthetic production has sustained itself so relentlessly while at the same time being so impervious to change ... never could exploration have chosen less fertile ground.” Krauss argues that the grid, which has become so closely aligned with modernist values such as progress and development, is ironically quite resistant to change, and has simultaneously become a paradigm for the anti-developmental. It is contradictions such as these that fuel the work of Brisbane-based artist Richard Stride.
Stride’s practice is concerned with oppositions and tensions in the built environment. Working predominantly in mixed media assemblages and technical drawings, the artist, in his own words, “question[s] the role that structures play in the human pursuit of order.” Until recently, his assemblages have been constructed primarily from brightly coloured everyday objects such as milk crates, paper trays, mops, traffic cones, umbrellas, and coffee mugs. What these disparate objects have in common is that they represent standardisation and systemisation; in other words, a capacity to play into the pursuit of order. But in Stride’s works these objects are denied their intended roles and instead “transform into unexpected (though strangely coherent) organisations seemingly according to their own devices.” In his new body of work, however, the artist does away with found objects and his usual methods of subversion to create something entirely new.
Upon entering the small gallery space at Metro Arts, one is reminded of an exhibitor’s booth at a trade show. The front wall presents the title of the exhibition like a logo. Beneath it, a few lines of text employ advertising language to sell the ‘product’: “From walls, floors and ceilings, to steps, corners and doorways, Mould will help you grow any habitat into a complex environment.” The far wall is lined with imagery that evokes glossy marketing material and neighbouring walls display technical drawings. One such work depicts an isometric projection of a single room. The room is austere, minimal, rational; that is, it is archetypically modern down to the Le Corbusier furniture. ‘Growing’ in the corners and on the exterior, however, is Mould. In the actual gallery space, the same product is ‘growing’ in one corner, and a single prototype is propped up on a clean white plinth standing proudly in the room’s centre. The plinth is also ‘branded’ with slick vinyl lettering: Mould.
This new body of work developed out of a fascination with concrete formwork, the moulds that are used in the construction industry. The artist explains, “I found it interesting how this formwork and the supports that hold it in place generally appeared very complex and often quite makeshift.” There was a tension, it seemed, between the complex appearance of the formwork and the ‘clean’ concrete forms it left behind. “So from here I wanted to play around with the ideas of simplicity and complexity to create an alternate formwork product that was simple and modular, but generated complex forms”, Stride explains. The result is Mould, which Josh Harle describes in the catalogue essay as a “crystalline structure”, in which constituent parts are arranged in patterns extending in all directions. According to Krauss, the grid, in theory, also extends to infinity. She writes that “any boundaries imposed upon it by a given painting or sculpture can only be seen – according to this logic – as arbitrary. By virtue of the grid, the given work of art is presented as a mere fragment, a tiny piece arbitrarily cropped from an infinitely larger fabric.” The key difference, however, between Krauss’ grid and Stride’s crystalline structure, is the ability of the latter to grow seemingly organically. Two individual components of Mould can be connected in 48 possible ways, and it is left up to the ‘consumer’ to decide whether they be constructed according to some order or at random. Either way, as Mould begins to grow, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish any trace of a rational structure. Krauss’ grid, however, remains transparently linear; repetition to infinity would only generate more of the same, and the pattern would in fact become more apparent with each reiteration. Conversely Mould has the capacity, indeed the propensity, to appear non-linear. It cunningly employs the modernist discourse of systemisation, repetition and logic to create something that is seemingly anti-systemisation, anti-repetition and anti-logic; in effect, it plays by the rules in order to break them.
The word ‘mould’ is itself somewhat duplicitous. On one hand, it is a cast or model. It produces exact replicas or multiples. On the other hand, mould is a fungus; it is something that grows organically over an existing object. That Stride has taken ‘mould’ for the exhibition title serves to emphasise the works’ cunning. Is it controlled or wild, rational or irrational, calculated or random? Ever-elusive, Mould craftily employs the logic of the modernist grid in order to challenge it.
 from her 1979 essay ‘Grids’. Read it online here.