Constructing Worlds: Architectural Photography

Should architecture photography look beyond documenting the built environment? This is the question raised by Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age, the latest exhibition at London’s Barbican Art Gallery. Here the curators have set out to explore the power of photography to reveal wider truths about our society. And it is an interesting glimpse into our world.

The Barbican Centre, itself a utopian statement and so much more than just a set of concrete blocks, is the perfect venue for this kind of show. This is an inspired exhibition featuring over 250 works – some rarely seen and many shown in the UK for the first time – by eighteen leading photographers from the 1930s to now, who, the exhibitors believe, have changed the way we view architecture and think about the world in which we live.

Highlights include Berenice Abbott’s photographs charting the birth of the skyscraper in New York; Lucien Hervé’s subtle evocations of modernity as found in Chandigarh by Le Corbusier; the luxury lifestyle of Julius Shulman’s images of California’s residences; the moving nature of Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum as seen by London based photographer Hélène Binet; the recent dramatic growth of Chinese urbanisation recorded by Nadav Kander; and the devastating effects of war in Afghanistan as expressed in the poignant images of Simon Norfolk.

‘Photography and architecture have a long and shared history and yet amazingly this is the first major exhibition in London to throw light on this relationship,’ says Jane Alison, head of visual arts at the Barbican. It is an exhibition, she says, not only for anyone interested in how we understand architecture but equally the dramatic global shifts in society in the post-war period.

Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age is at the Barbican Art Gallery from 25 September 2014 – 11 January 2015

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Exhibition review: Jim Dine

What would you think of a show where every print was covered with hammers and saws and an almost endless variety of spanners, scissors, tongs, pliers, and pincers?

Jim Dine’s A History of Communism at London’s Alan Cristea Gallery offers a complex array of impressions. I came away impressed with the ingenuity, intrigued and a little moved too, but also somewhat uneasy. Let me explain.

Dine has used a series of lithographic stones left over from an art academy in the German Democratic Republic that was given to him by his friends Sarah Dudley and Ulie Kuhle. These were presumably made by students in the academy over the years. He then worked over the drawings using symbols, some of which he normally uses in his own art works, to give his personal narrative, a history of communism as he saw it.

The original lithographs ranged from the amateurish attempts at a portrait of an old man or elephant, to heroic muscular soldiers, determined miners and a serious looking female worker whose piercing gaze and resolute lips would have been looking down from countless posters and tracts across the country exhorting hard work, and projecting the optimism for a future that seemed forever round the corner. It is what Dine did with these lithographs that is fascinating.

There are the scissors arrayed in a semicircle, eyes at the top, through which one can see an industrial landscape –like a sinister line up of prying eyes fanning across the country, observing every move made by the workers.

Or the juxtaposition of a saw with a female head, as if it is about to be sawn off. In another print a spanner looks for all the world, like a Tyrannosaurus rex about to pounce and devour a heroic horse, while on the other side a man and a horse are wielding a huge hammer about to give it a lethal clout.

Then there is the nude, her head and long hair falling back in an ecstatic pose, surrounded by clouds of black nothingness, dark gloom.

What is perhaps remarkable is that Dine seems to be kinder to the more propaganda-like lithographs. The two hammers surrounding the head of the heroic soldier face outwards. And then there is a portrait of an old man with glasses and a penetrating gaze who has a remarkable resemblance to Walter Ulbricht, the tyrannical first leader of the German Democratic Republic.

What is unclear is whether Dine had created the portrait or he had touched up the original to make it look like the dreaded ogre. Whatever the relative contributions of student or artist, it is a remarkable, dark and strangely beautiful hybrid.

While walking around the exhibition one of the other visitors asked me a question that left an uneasy sense. What are the ethics of using original works by others without their permission, he asked. I guess they would never have got the exposure if Dine hadn’t done what he did, he quickly added. Yes, I replied, I too feel a little uneasy, particularly as some of the students are probably still alive today.

As to the exhibition title, this is clearly not a history of communism. Even the GDR did not even call itself socialist, let alone communist – after all, it was a supposedly ‘democratic’republic. The exhibition should perhaps be more appropriately titled The history of American exceptionalism.

Be that as it may I came away with a feeling that the epithet ‘extraordinary’does correctly describe these prints. They are well worth a visit as is the accompanying exhibition Jim Dine: Printmaker, with fourteen recent additions as well as classic prints to celebrate the artist’s fifty years as printmaker. There you can also see Dine’s trademark of hammers used in a different, non-political context.

Mohsen Shahmanesh

Jim Dine: A History of Communism will be in Alan Cristea Gallery, Cork Street, London from 10 September –7 October 2014.

Read more reviews by Mohsen Shahmanesh.

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Serpentine Pavilion by Sou Fujimoto

This is the latest Serpentine Gallery Pavilion designed by Sou Fujimoto and unveiled yesterday. At 41, the Japanese architect is the youngest creative to participate in the design of this temporary structure that resides in London’s Kensington Garden for four months.

His creation is a delicate, three-dimensional latticed structure made of 20mm fine steel poles that forms a lightweight and semi-transparent sculpture almost blending in with the surrounding landscape. The flexible, multi-purpose social space has a café inside to encourage park visitors to enter and interact with the Pavilion.

Fujimoto is very much part of an exciting generation of avant-garde artists who are re-inventing our relationship with the built environment. Inspired by organic structures, such as the forest, the nest and the cave, his signature buildings inhabit a space between nature and artificiality.

He describes his design concept: ‘The delicate quality of the structure, enhanced by its semi-transparency, creates a geometric, cloud-like form, as if it were mist rising from the undulations of the park. From certain vantage points, the Pavilion appears to merge with the classical structure of the Serpentine Gallery, with visitors suspended in space.’

Fujimoto is the third Japanese architect to design the Pavilion, following Toyo Ito in 2002 and Kazuyo Sejima & Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA in 2009. He has completed the majority of his buildings in Japan, with commissions ranging from the domestic, such as Final Wooden House, T House and House N, to the institutional, such as the Musashino Art Museum and Library at Musashino Art University.

The Pavilion is an exciting project that is organised by the Serpentine Gallery. Past work have included designs by Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei (2012), Frank Gehry (2008), the late Oscar Niemeyer (2003) and Zaha Hadid, who designed the inaugural structure in 2000.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Read our previous reports on the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion projects here.

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Frieze London 2012 in picture

‘Frieze week’ is about to come to an end. London once again turned into one giant art and design fair as galleries small and large from around the world exhibited their work. At the centre was Frieze London in Regent’s Park, featuring this year Frieze Masters – here to give the contemporary work on show at the main event a narrative and a context within art history. Elsewhere Pavilion Art and Design London displayed objects of desire art in a more discreet marquee in Berkley Square, Mayfair.



Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Read our report from last year here.

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Memory Marathon at the Serpentine

‘We move so fast that memory is something we can only try to grasp,’ says Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei. The annual Serpentine Gallery Pavilion – this year created by Ai in collaboration with architects Herzog & de Meuron – inspires Memory Marathon. The three-day event sees leading artists, writers, filmmakers, scientists, architects, musicians and theorists gather together in a continuous, performative programme of explorations and experiments about and within memory.

This is a pretty diverse gathering of creatives. Sadly historians Eric Hobsbawm, due to attend the event, passed away last week. Alongside Jay Winter and Donald Sassoon, he was scheduled to explore the theme of ‘War Memory’. The event is therefore dedicated to this fascinating historian.

Amongst the confirmed participants are REM vocalist Michael Stipe, and filmmakers Amos Gitai and David Lynch who will present a new film. Celebrated neuroscientist Israel Rosenfield will introduce ‘The Problem of Memory’ with writer John Hull. There will be a robotics expert Luc Steels and World Memory Champion Ed Cooke, artists Olivier Castel and Ed Atkins, publisher Jefferson Hack, and scent expert Sissel Tolaas.

The event begins with a five-hour performance by acclaimed Lebanese sound artist Tarek Atoui, who together with 14 world musicians will take audiences on a mesmerising journey through Tarab and classical Arab music recorded from the early 20th century onwards.

‘As a curator, I am constantly engaged in building memory or, as Eric Hobsbawm put it, leading a ‘protest against forgetting’,’ says Hans Ulrich Obrist, co-director of the Serpentine Gallery.

‘Although we are hugely sad that Ai Weiwei still cannot travel to be with us and see the Pavilion that provides the inspiration for this year’s Marathon, his brilliant co-designers, Herzog and de Meuron, will be among a stunning array of world-leading experts exploring the subject of memory through the prism of art, history, science and technology, considering – among many other things – the suspicion that there is a kind of systematic forgetting at the core of the information age.’

Memory Marathon marks the closing week of the Serpentine Pavilion 2012.

Serpentine Gallery Memory Marathon runs from 12 – 14 October for tickets visit here.

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