During a 2015 fellowship at the American Academy in Rome, Bryony Roberts spent a lot of time visiting medieval churches. Inside those spaces, the New York–based artist and scholar—whose work focuses on transforming architecture through unexpected, often beautiful activations—found herself drawn closer not to the divine, but to the floor. Decorated in a style called cosmatesque, the flooring features complex marble-and-stone motifs that act as a kind of pathway during religious processions. Fascinated by how the marble’s natural mottled hues complicated the already intricate designs, Roberts decided to use the medieval motifs as a framework for patterns of her own, which she created in Photoshop using images of marble slabs. She made a number of these digital collages, and aptly named the body of work “Marbles.” Last summer, Roberts made an installation that brought the series to life at the American Academy, where she used faux-marble contact paper to superimpose one of her patterns on top of a historic corridor’s monochrome terra-cotta floor. (A similar installation she created at the institution in 2016, titled “Primo Piano,” responded to the geometry of cosmatesque floors.) Looking at the kaleidoscopic result—the original flooring, Roberts’s intervention, and the pattern they create—it’s unclear which came first, who added what, or, to the uninitiated viewer, if the floor had been that way all along.
Last month, Roberts unveiled her third site-specific installation in this vein, currently on view at New York’s Parsons School of Design. Named “Untitled” (2018), it swaps out marble for granite—chosen for its intricate, painterly details—and is part of “Objective,” an exhibition that surveys work by this year’s six Architectural League Prize winners (Roberts is one of them). This time, she photographed full-scale granite blocks, digitally collaged the images, and printed the pattern onto adhesive vinyl. Materializing from a hexagonal pattern on the floor, the multicolored stone shapes move up the wall in a captivating configuration.