All that was, is & could have been

Sir John Soane’s Museum London has 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. 

All That Was

Constructed in the form of a façade, 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. 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. Trapped in the limelight are a range of fragments and building materials. Taken together, this incoherent collection of the unrealised, underdeveloped and implied poses a kind of completion for what was never completed or reached in its final form.

Photography by Tom Bowditch

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