Brutal and Beautiful: Saving the Twentieth Century was a very small but enlightening exhibition that celebrated post-war listed architecture in England. I went to see the show one day before it closed so, for once, i have a good excuse for the ridiculously late review. It took place at the Quadriga Gallery, on the second floor of Wellington Arch right in the middle of Hyde Park Corner. I don't think i had ever been to Hyde Park Corner before.
Brutal and Beautiful, thus. The images below speak for themselves and I won't need to comment much on the adjective 'beautiful', even if, for many people, their aesthetic qualities are somewhat debatable. But brutal, in this context, requires a few lines of explanation. It comes from the term New Brutalism coined by architects Alison and Peter Smithson in 1953 to define a style that used the béton brut (raw concrete) as much as it used light and innovative materials. The term probably contributed to the unpopularity of the style but in fact, what the Smithsons had in mind was not concrete aggressively poured all over the country but 'honesty of expression and of natural materials.' This is therefore not a show about brutalism even though the style has a strong presence in the gallery.
The exhibition presents brutal and beautiful cathedrals, libraries private houses, landscapes, war memorials, schools and industrial buildings. They were built between 1945 and the 1980s, in times of austerity and boldness. Each of them has been listed which means that they may not be demolished, extended, or altered without special permission from the local planning authority. Buildings and landscapes can be considered for designation once they are 30 years old. Younger structures can be protected when they are under severe threat or are considered outstanding, that's how the Lloyd's building became the youngest listed edifice. And ultimately, the exhibition invites us to rethink what makes a historic building:
Now the Royal Festival Hall and Coventry Cathedral are popularly admired but at the time post-war listings were fiercely debated and the future Tate Modern was rejected. Brutal & Beautiful looks at our love/hate relationship with England's recent architectural past and asks 'what is worth saving?'
It's fascinating to see how buildings that have been much maligned are now seen as iconic. Think of the Trellick Tower --and the smaller but equally arresting Balfron Tower-- by Ernö Goldfinger, an architect as famous for his arresting council blocks as he is for his unpleasant character so much so that, as you probably know already, Ian Fleming named one of James Bond's villains after him.
The Barbi! The upswept balconies, i read in the gallery, reduce wind resistance.
That said, all's not rosy and cheerful in the world of Brutalism. The Heygate Estate, in Elephant & Castle, provided the gloomy setting for violent scenes in the Luther tv series until its demolition started and John Madin's Birmingham Central Library will be teared down in 2014. But, hey, at least the the Preston Bus Station is doing ok.
And i'm going to leave you here with some brutal and not so brutal archi porn:
The photographs in the exhibition were by James O. Davies. They will appear in a forthcoming book, Space, Hope and Brutalism: English Architecture 1945-1975 which will be published next year by Yale University Press. I'll definitely get my hands on that one.
Related: Utopia London.
Brutal and Beautiful: Saving the Twentieth Century is thus closed. The next exhibition to open at the Quadriga Gallery, however, seems to be equally interesting: Almost Lost: London's Buildings Loved and Loathed. It will run from 4 December to 2 February 2014.
I used to go to the Imperial War Museum in London just to watch the hanging planes, the V2, the tanks, etc. The place is under renovation right now and i stopped paying attention to their programme (the war machines are wrapped up somewhere.) Big mistake! A few weeks ago, they've opened Donovan Wylie: Vision as Power, a show that explores the impact of military architecture on the landscape.
Vision as Power brings together five projects from radically different parts of the world but that are interconnected through the surveillance apparatus. Donovan Wylie grew up in Belfast during the Troubles and living under military surveillance has had an undeniable impact on his work.
Built in 1976 to house terrorist prisoners, the Maze prison segregated men according to their political beliefs and membership of paramilitary organizations.
Wylie started working on the series in 2002, just as the prison had closed under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and the last inmates had been transferred to other prisons.
Wylie then extended his research to the British Watchtowers, the surveillance architecture built at the height of the Troubles, when South Armagh was one of the most heavily militarised areas of Northern Ireland. The British army built a network of watchtowers and observation posts in order to control cross-border smuggling and paramilitary attacks but also to maintain an intimidating presence.
As part of the Northern Ireland Peace Process, the watchtowers were dismantled between 2005 and 2007. As Whyle documented their presence in the surrounding countryside, British troops were deploying to Afghanistan, taking with them elements of the Northern Ireland watchtowers.
The Maze informed the watchtowers, and the watchtowers informed the Afghanistan work. I wanted to show this evolution, the photographer explained in an interview for the British Journal of Photography. When I was making the pictures of the watchtowers, they were coming down [being dismantled] and many of the soldiers working on them were going to Afghanistan. Elements of the structures were being taken to Afghanistan. Modern warfare is very transient, it is built to move, but basically it's the same idea regardless of nationality or politics or whatever - take the high ground and use vision as a method of strength and protection. Ultimately what I think is fascinating is how we use landscape as a tool of war.
Another series shown at the IWM explores American defensive structures in Baghdad, Iraq. The Green Zone was the international administrative zone of central Baghdad, controlled by the Coalition forces during the Second Iraq War. Wylie saw similarities in the way people were contained in the Green Zone and how they were imprisoned in the Maze.
Wylie's series Arctic closes the exhibition. The white and extreme environment is home to cyber radar stations unmanned and operated electronically to detect any presence seeking out lucrative natural resources along Canada's Arctic frontier made more fragile by global warming and the new routes though the Northwest Passage it enabled. Once again, the only analogy is with dystopian sci-fi. To Wylie, they are a striking example of surveillance attempting to deter future conflict.
Ultimately, the exhibition reminds us that surveillance is not confined to the spaces of military conflict. Surveillance is the default characteristic of our society, as the revelations about the extent of mass online surveillance have recently demosntrated.
Donovan Wylie: Vision as Power is at the Imperial War Museum in London until 21 April 2014.
There is a lot to say, dislike (portraits of perma-tanned, bejeweled ladies) and like (all the rest) about u s e r u n f r i e n d l y, UBERMORGEN solo exhibition at Carroll/Fletcher.
Whether it's a painting, an installation or a website, everything in u s e r u n f r i e n d l y comes with an uncomfortable background. Take Perpetrator: the photo of a young man shouting in an abandoned train station. The print is part of a series of photo and video works inspired by the life of Guantanamo Bay military guard. His name is Chris Arendt and he is, we read, an offspring from a white trash meth family. Arendt registered for the army at 17 and was sent to Guantanamo Bay two years later to serve as prison guard in Camp Delta. He saw and did things he could never forget and never forgive.
In 2008, Chris stayed at the UBERMORGEN house for two months. They didn't realize that things could go wrong...
The exhibition keeps this level of tension and mental provocation throughout the rooms, relentlessly encouraging visitors to think about censorship, mass surveillance, torture, democracy, e-commerce, etc. The kind of issues that can't be more contemporary, yet, are hardly ever brushed upon in other contemporary art exhibitions (or fairs, i'm looking at you Frieze!)
Some of the works in the exhibition explicitly invite visitors to participate. Superenhanced (A Parallel Universe) recreates the instruments and conditions of an interrogation facility complete with handcuffs, a hood and shackles. You can either play the part of the prisoner or of the interrogator who's guided in their task by a helpful interrogation software run on the tablet at their disposal. I didn't chain myself to the chair, thank you but i did love the way the installation makes use of the elegant concrete architecture of the gallery. You have to almost crawl through a very low passage in order to access the interrogation room. It has no ceiling so anyone in the upper level can monitor what you're doing down in that space.
u s e r u n f r i e n d l y shows new works but also some of UBERMORGEN's 'classics'. Such as [V]ote-Auction, one of my favourite projects EVAR! In 2000, UBERMORGEN posed as 'Eastern European business people" who gave American voters the opportunity to sell their vote in the election campaigns opposing Al Gore an George W. Bush. "Bringing capitalism and democracy closer together" was the tagline of the enterprise.
Mayhem ensued! The project gained enormous media attention, the legal system started an investigation in 14 States. And so did the FBI, the CIA and other organizations. In total the project generated 2 500 news features. The works was also at the origin of the Internet Domain Legislation by ICANN, the governing body of the Internet. Quite impressive for an intrusion into mass media that required only cheap and low-tech instruments. Ubermorgen calls this type of action "actionism" and "media-hacking."
In China, there are over 2000 online-gaming workshops employing young people called Gold Farmers to play MMORPG games. The farmers acquire ("farm") items of value within a game, usually by carrying out in-game actions repeatedly to maximize gains, sometimes by using a program such as a bot or automatic clicker.
They sell the in-game gold coins and other virtual goods they've harvested to players and/or farming organizations and get "real" money in return. Players from around the world then use the golden coins to buy better armor, magic spells and other equipments to climb to higher levels or create more powerful characters. Many other workers, however, intensely dislike the Gold Farmers because they disrupt the rules of the game.
UBERMORGEN's Belgrade series depicts WoW screenshots of hardcore, underground Western gamers fighting Chinese Gold Farmers to stem the trade. The images were taken during a game session at a large arcade in Belgrade. A first series of Chinese Gold was actually documenting the other side of the East vs. West battle by photographing the Chinese gaming workshops.
"This work is one of the results of our meeting with Snowden. We're in receipt of an encrypted data package that circulates as Dark Data inside ethernet cables organised by four 'Beagle Bones'. Any manipulation will result in the immediate deletion of all files." Hans Bernhard
The 'amnesiac' netbooks run TOR privacy software and are wiped clean every reboot. 'The Fridge' (the body) is filled with energy drinks. The CCTV cameras stream and record all government and non government activity inside the gallery.
The installation is actually a working space where any visitor can sit down and use the computers. There's even Club-Mate in the mini-fridge. What else could you want?
All the works in the show deserve a few comments and explanations (except obviously the above-mentioned perma-tanned bejeweled ladies) but I'm going to close this hasty and very partial review with the row of wifi routers that Aram Bartholl hung at the entrance of the gallery. The artist selected a series of UBERMORGEN online works and assigned each of them to a single router which is not connected to the Internet. To see a specific artwork, visitors have to connect to each network individually through their own smart-phones, tablets or laptops.
OFFLINE ART is a new and very pertinent way of showing internet based art within a typical white cube. Simply hanging monitors on the wall doesn't capture the works' native environment. Accessing them via a smartphone or tablet provides a more authentic experience.
u s e r u n f r i e n d l y is at the Carroll/Fletcher gallery until 16 November 2013.
The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, London's favourite radio art station, is aired this Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.
My guests will be designers and artists Michiko Nitta & Michael Burton.
Michael works on the edge of speculative design, arts, and as a researcher. His works investigate the choices we face in our evolution as a species and in redesigning life itself. Meanwhile, Michiko's interests are in the relationship between nature and humans, often taking extreme vantage on how humans can change their perception to live symbiotically with nature.
You might have heard of Michiko and Michael's work already. Last year, they were at the Victoria and Albert Museum with a performance that showed how opera singers with powerful lung capacity might produce food in a future world where algae have become the world's dominant food source. And in Spring they were at the Watermans cultural center to explore the possibility of a city that would be isolated from the wider environment and where food, energy, and even medicine, are derived from human origin and man-made biological systems. Obviously, you're in for a weird ride with two charming people...
The radio show will be aired this Wednesday 6 November at 16:00, London time. Early risers can catch the repeat next Tuesday at 6.30 am. If you don't live in London, you can listen to the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.
On Saturday i went all the way to the Stanley Picker Gallery , that's in Kingston and Kingston is in zone 6! I had never ventured beyond zone 3 before. Apart from the endless Piccadilly line trips from Finsbury Park to Heathrow airport and back, of course. But i'd travel the globe for a good show about sound art. And Sound Matters: Exploring Sound Through Forms is not only very good: it is impeccably curated (there isn't one weak work and each piece is acoustically insulated from the neighbouring ones), seducing and has a clear and simple concept as it explores the physicality of sound by looking at the connections between contemporary craft practice and sound art.
The added bonus for me are that i've discovered a couple of interesting artists and designers.
Performance ceramicist (surely this term exists, right?) Keith Harrison noticed that potter Lucie Rie had the same Roberts radio in her studio as he uses in his own studio. His other sources of inspiration were her potter's wheel and her use of manganese slip. Lucie Rie vs Grindcore are two potter's wheels customized to become a set of turntables which Harrison then connected to two transistor radios. A grindcore metal record is played on one deck, a raw clay one covered with a layer of manganese is played on the other deck.
The resulting sound might or might not be to everybody's taste but visually, the installation and performance (at least the one i saw in the video) are stunning.
Textile designer Ismini Samanidou collaborated with sound artist Scanner to explore a shared interest in mapping, the physicality of code as well as in the visual and technical similarities between the softwares they both use. The larger of the two Weave Waves textiles they created visualize the artists' own breath. The recording of their breathing was processed through a software and the data was then translated it into a digital jacquard weave design. The other, smaller piece used a software to map the loudest areas of London and Manchester. The details of the fabric structure and the interpretations of the cities can be explored through magnifying devices. Meanwhile, the soundscapes, recorded on the locations, also become audible.
The wooden horn uses the geometry of the hendecahedral (that's 11 sides) horn shape to naturally and spectacularly amplify sound. The shape of the horn is designed using vector maths and Owl Project's bespoke software, Bevelator78.4˚, to calculate the cutting angle between horn planes.
Owl Project had another work in the show: the rather ingenious Sound Lathe, an instrument based on a traditional green wood turning pole lathe that explores the relationship between the crafting of physical objects and the shaping of sound. During the performances, the movements are turned into electronic music. 8 sensors rest on the turning spindles and translate its changing profile shape into data which is then converted into sounds. At the end of each live demonstration, a unique wooden object is produced that will preserve a memory of the performance.
Studio Weave's Polyphony functions as a large compound ear that separates, abstracts and re-organizes the sounds coming from multiple directions through listening horns. I was alone in the very quiet gallery so i didn't really get a good feel of the installation. However, i'm glad the exhibition gave me the opportunity to discover the works of Studio Weave. Do check out their portfolio, it's an impressive one.
Sounds of Making in East London is a 10″ vinyl record that celebrates the work of the 21 of the many skilled makers who live and work in East London. The record captures sounds as diverse as the clatter of lyric poet John Hegley's typewriter, the chopping of garlic in a Michelin star restaurant, the tap of rock 'n' roll cobbler Terry de Havilland's hammer and the sound of a bell being tuned in Britains oldest manufacturer.
Wilcox later asked Yuri Suzuki to create a new sound work inspired by Sounds of Making in East London. The young artist selected a few tracks and mixed them. The resulting record was pressed with loop grooves (the tracks continuously repeat) which allows various points of the record to be played simultaneously on Suzuki's Prepared Turntable, a device that allows music to be played by 5 tone arms with individual controls. The ensemble creates an overall soundscape that further interprets the energy of East London's makers.
The voices and sounds in Tweed were recorded in the Outer Hebrides, remote islands off the North west coast of Scotland. The first voice, of weaver Catherine Campbell, was recorded in her weaving shed and shop in Plocrapool, on the east coast of Harris. The next voice was recorded in a weaving shed near Callinish on Lewis in 1998 as the weaver was demonstrating how to work on the Hattersley loom (used to produce Harris Tweed since 1919.) In the background are voices and mechanical sounds from a mill at Shawbost as it was about to be sold.
Max Eastley's steel and canvas sculpture is covered in tiny metal fragments animated by a motor fitted with magnets. The ongoing movement generates a subtle, quiet sound. Landscape was originally created to be installed within a Georgian fireplace, as an echo to the 18th century practice of placing a landscape-painted screen in the fireplace during Summer.
The gallery guide is online.
The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, London's favourite radio art station, is aired this Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.
Today's guests are not the usual suspects as they are scientists using art to explore and communicate mathematics. Marcus du Sautoy is the Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford. Victoria Gould is a mathematician and actress.
Marcus and Victoria have just spent several days and evenings at the Science Museum in London to perform X &Y, a theater show that use mathematics, humour and theatre to navigate the known and unknown reaches of our world and ultimately to approach some of the biggest philosophical and scientific questions we might encounter: where did the universe come from, does time have an end, is there something on the other side?
I saw one of the last London performances fearing everything would fly high above my head (math classes are far far away from my mind now) but the whole show is incredibly accessible, whether you're a child or a retired professor of physics. I'm neither of those and i found X&Y surprisingly entertaining. I even enjoyed the language of equations and laughed. About mathematics! In the process, i learnt that zero is a relatively new number and that there are many sorts of infinity.
If you've missed the shows, you might want to head to the Science Festival in Manchester. I know i might. The programme is very tempting: an exhibition about contemporary architecture in Antarctica, retro computing events, a talk about the application of quantum physics on communication technology, a presentation about controlling brains from the outside, etc. And a series of X&Y performances from October 30th to November 3rd.