All That Could Have Been

CAN, London, 2020



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Sir John Soane’s Museum commissioned architecture studio CAN and artist Harry Lawson to create an installation exploring the relationship between architecture, objects and time

Drawing from Soane’s approach to collecting, the installation takes the form of three cabinets, entitled All That Was, All That Is and All That Could Have Been. Inside each cabinet, CAN and Lawson have placed a number of objects—including both the natural and manmade, the fragmentary and complete, the rarefied and everyday.

Together these micro-collections reflect on the ways we understand and appreciate physical objects in the digital age, and how, in turn, they shape our understanding of the wider world. The cabinets themselves reflect Soane's approach to documenting his architectural projects through inception, completion and eventual ruin through drawings and watercolours. All That Was Constructed in the form of a retained façade, propped by over scaled red oxide buttresses, this cabinet reflects on the conflicts between developing new architectural ideas and retaining historic architectural elements. It takes the physical object as its starting point, presenting historical artefacts, ranging from old rocks to redundant technology, to examine how objects are read and understood in the present and how their meaning can shift over time.

All That Is Taking the form of a scaffold, this cabinet reflects on the idea of a construction forever in a state of flux. It references Soane's drawings of his own tomb and Dulwich Picture Gallery during construction, covered in scaffolding. The pulley forms a broken pediment. The objects within this cabinet—replicas or objects created in series—aim to unpick the notion of the hallowed or sacred object.

Following the way images exist on the internet in infinitely reproduced form, here objects appear accelerated into caricatures of their original intentions. All That Could Have Been This cabinet adopts a tomb-like form to examine the space of contemporary cultural production. The cabinet is finished in a recycled 'rubber-rock' developed for an unrealised proposal for a house designed in collaboration with the artist.

A model of 'House Rock' is set in the cabinet. It is made from a lump of flux, a by-product of the galvanizing industry which is sold to cosmetic firms to add shine to face creams. Also trapped in the limelight are a range of fragments, building materials and exhibition labels. Taken together, this incoherent collection of the unrealised, underdeveloped and implied posits a kind of completion for what was never completed or reached its final form.

Photography by Tim Bowditch


  • Begun: Jan 2020
  • Completed: Jan 2020
  • Floor area: 20m2
  • Sector: Arts and culture
  • Total cost: £5,000
  • Funding: Private
  • Procurement: Designed and Built by CAN and Harry Lawson
  • Address: Sir John Soane's Museum, 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields, Holborn, London, WC2A 3BP, United Kingdom

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