UNBUILD: a site of possibility


UNBUILD: a site of possibility

22 September – 10 December 2023 

Every touching experience of architecture is multi-sensory; qualities of space, matter and scale are measured equally by the eye, ear, nose, skin, tongue, skeleton and muscle.’ Pallasmaa,i

‘…[B]odies do not dwell in spaces that are exterior but rather are shaped by their dwellings and take shape by dwelling. Spaces are like a second skin that unfolds in the folds of the body…’ Sara Ahmed, ii

As Drawing Room opens in its first, permanent home after twenty years of nomadic activity, UNBUILD: a site of possibility considers the impact of buildings on our bodies, our minds, our memories and our dreams.  The selected artists use expanded forms of drawing to explore how the built environment represents our dreams and aspirations, cultural and physical displacement and the inequities of our patriarchal society.

UNBUILD: a site of possibility takes place within and beyond Drawing Room’s physical building as we begin to ask what our new home might offer artists, visitors and the communities that surround it. The richly varied work of Jessie Brennan, Ian Kiaer, Tanoa Sasraku, Emily Speed and Do Ho Suh proposes a range of physical, emotional and political responses to buildings, as places and ideas, that offer us several paths to explore.

For many, the lockdowns of the Covid-19 pandemic meant our relationships with the spaces we inhabit became more heightened than ever. A Tower to Say Goodbye by Tanoa Sasraku was made over the course of several months in which she occupied a disused postal sorting office, separated from her partner by the pandemic. Constructed from layers of paper that are stitched together, coated in soft pink pastel dust and distressed through the act of tearing, this ‘thickened’ drawing is a manifestation of the physical and psychological effect of spending so much time in isolation and in one building.

Buildings can feel like an extension of ourselves, a second skin. In Emily Speed’s new commission titled Fossa, the distinction between body and building is lost; a leg becomes structural support and fingers emerge from the tightly woven innards to clutch the structure’s own edges, barely holding things together.  By making this link with the body explicit, her work draws attention to the fact that buildings are manifestations of the people and societies that construct them – capitalism, patriarchy and our colonial past are embodied in the fabric of London’s shifting skyline.

Our new building is part of that conversation, particularly regarding the social effects of urban redevelopment that leads to relocation and the loss of buildings that anchor communities. Working with delicate materials that contrast with the solidity of architecture, Do Ho Suh’s work explores themes of relocation and absence through the concept of home. It is informed by his experience of migration, of remembering the buildings of his past – emotions and memories shared by many the world over. The entwined and meandering lines that distinguish his drawings in thread and ink seem to represent a visual mapping of movement through touch.

As well as evoking memories of the past, buildings also propose future ways of thinking and dwelling. In a new commission that responds to our gallery space, Ian Kiaer makes reference to the approaches and theories of architects he admires, who have remained critically resistant to dominant ideologies while proposing alternative models for negotiating spaces. His installation will include salvaged materials that come with their own life, as well as models of buildings made from concrete and cardboard.  Together these fragments bring attention to the often-unseen relationships between material things, reminding us of how physical objects speak to things imagined, thought, dreamt and touched.

As we think about the possibilities our new building might offer, Jessie Brennan’s commission over the course of several months will engage with people living nearby to facilitate the exchange of local knowledge and personal experiences. This will help shape what our building might mean in the future to those in our southeast London neighbourhood and beyond. Drawing Room’s mission is to champion the unlimited potential of drawing to help us understand ourselves, each other and our evolving world. Brennan’s work, alongside the other artists in UNBUILD: a site of possibility, will raise questions about how our new home can become the environment for that to happen. The conversations between our audiences and the artwork on show aim to reveal drawing’s capacity for experimentation, invention and the imagining of endless possibilities.

i Pallasmaa ‘The Eyes of the Skin – Architecture and the senses’, p.45  

ii Sara Ahmed– ‘Queer Phenomenology – Orientations, Objects, Others’, p.8  


For further press information and high-res images please contact:

Mary Doyle
[email protected]

George Bray
[email protected]


About Drawing Room

Drawing Room was initiated by Mary Doyle, Kate Macfarlane and Katharine Stout. Launching in 2002 with Drawing on Space, which investigated the different ways in which contemporary artists articulate space, the project took the form of a book, an exhibition and an investigation in social space of how drawing is used in everyday life. The focus on non-site specific and on psychological spaces suited Drawing Room’s status then as a peripatetic curatorial initiative. As we settle in a permanent home, after twenty years of nomadic activity, we are looking at the conditions of our neighbourhood, with its internal diversity, to inform our thinking around Drawing Room’s third decade. Together with the wider city, Bermondsey in southeast London presents a microcosm of the urgencies facing contemporary society, including post covid recovery, environmental crisis, the effects of capital accumulation and struggles around social justice in terms of race, class, gender and sexuality. These themes will be explored in our forthcoming programme through our collaborations with artists, scholars as well as diverse publics in navigating and connecting the specificity of the local with the transnational.

About the artists

Jessie Brennan (b. 1982, Plymouth) is an artist and educator based in London.  Her work is focused on sites, situations and situatedness, specifically the role of artists in fostering solidarities with working-class communities and their right to the city.   Recent projects include those for East Street Arts, UP Projects, Soundcamp, South London Gallery, Metal Culture, and her books include Re: development (2016) and Regeneration! (2015).

Ian Kiaer (born 1971, London, UK) is an artist based in Oxford, UK. His work is indebted to histories of painting, sculpture, architecture, literature and theory, but its central interest is repurposing: the waste, recovery and reconstitution of meaning.  Kiaer has shown his work at Heidelberger Kunstverein, Heidelberg, Germany, Kunsthalle Lingen, Lingen, Germany, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, France.

Tanoa Sasraku (born in 1995, Plymouth, UK), is an artist based in London. Her practice shifts across sculpture, drawing, print and filmmaking, juxtaposing and performing British, Black, Ghanaian and queer cultural histories. She has shown her work at Spike Island, Bristol, UK and at Peer, London.

Emily Speed (born 1979, Chester, UK) is an artist based in North West England. Her practice spans drawing, sculpture, installation, photography, moving image and performance. It explores the relationship between architecture and the human body. Speed has shown her work at Tate Liverpool, Tate St Ives, Scotland+Venice: The Happenstance, Biennale Architecttura, Venezia, Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Do Ho Suh (born 1962, Seoul, South Korea) lives and works in London. He works across various media, including drawing, sculpture, installation, paintings and film which he uses to explore the concept of space and home. Recent solo exhibitions include Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, Australia, Buk-Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul, South Korea, Bloomberg SPACE, London, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

Jessie BrennanMaking SpaceOne of four public artworks for the Royal Docks in Newham, commissioned by UP Projects. Photo: Thierry Bal