MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 4, Sustainable Prospects; Week Three : Practice Development
I was seeking out inspiration and opportunities to develop my practice at Unseen Amsterdam 2017. The appearance of concrete made my heart sing. The Materia Gallery in Rome had concrete panels by Stefano Canto on the walls, figure 1. That led to a discussion and the purchase of the book Concrete Archive (2016). I have now read this through and apply parts of the learning here. There were notable links which have lead me to working on a lateral, material expression of practice.
Canto had a fascination with the scale and materiality of the monument to Mussolini at the Foro Italico sports complex in Rome, the 300-tonne monument to the power of fascism when it was erected in 1932. Canto subverted this with his own concrete monument to Theo van Doesburg (1883 to 1931), the founder of De Stijl movement in the Netherlands in 1917.
Canto, as architect turned artist, has his work analysed by Emanuela Nobile Mino (pp 82-88) in Concrete Archive. Notably the German rationalist movement (Bauhaus), when adopted in Italy, in the early part of the twentieth century, carried with it the burden and representation of Fascism. Mino writes “Italian Rationalism was more committed to political celebration, therefore to the construction and modernisation of public building, of representation. The monument…erected in 1932..was no exception (figure 2) As with the complete urban plan of the city in general, the monument – a monolith in Carraran marble standing 17 meters in height – slavishly follows the formal and symbolic iconography of Imperial Rome; …a phallic metaphor; a monument of the indomitable undisputed universal power of the emperor.” pp 84.
Canto identifies the Dutch/German influence in van Doesburg completion entry for a monument in Leeuwarden in 1916 (figure 3) and, in making the comparison between the fascist and the rationalist, Canto hypothesises a deconstruction into parts on the ground, thus the potency of the political power is diminished and laid to the earth. Mino concludes her essay about Canto’s laying down piece “[he] elaborates an even more drastic slippage, constituting an even greater distancing from its original title (Mussolini) and bestowing a new one (‘to Theo van Doesburg’), proposing an alternative reading of the canons of formal and aesthetic work: aligned with the central issues of contemporary European art, rather than with the linguistic servility of political propaganda” pp 88. It is this response, using a concrete form, to subvert power, that is a appealing; the liberation and expression of art against the abuse and force of regimes. Canto, in 2013 made this image of his monument to grounded repose figure 4.
Carmen Stolfi, the curator and writer, in her essay ‘Archiving the Ephemeral’ in Concrete Archives discusses the FOMO generation (the ‘Fear Of Missing Out’), citing Facebook’s constant plea ‘what’s on your mind?’ as if it matters on a minute by minute, ‘rolling news’ of consciousness. The pleasure is derived in the moment and anticipated by the next. The ephemera of common existence, shared but rapidly discarded in the digital wake; an afterlife of fractured pixels and alphabet soupness; a memory of vagueness in the overload that has no power to hold coherence, but to refract, deform, diminish and decay. Stolfi states a counterpoint to this generation’s tendency in that “Canto resists to the ephemeral character of the present and reinforces the idea of stability and durability of our past. The image of the archive made out of cement [concrete] if, on one hand, proposes a reflection on the notion of archiving, documenting and recording of humans’ actions, on the other hand, it suggest the artist’s interest in architecture. The cement [concrete] offers here not just a collateral interpretation of the time that transforms, subdues, and reinforces but also a literal one. In fact, Canto’s training as an architect his underlines his interest in the concept of mutation and the relationship between artifice and nature, by especially focusing on the way man has altered the landscape over time”.
In his exhibition pieces, at Archeologia dell’Effimero (2016) Canto ‘fixes’ time, space and shape by casting concrete into loose moulds and inserting ice into the fluid body of material which melts during the curing process which creates a void; the natural material melts but leaves its trace figure 5. Canto derives his thinking about the mode of life from Zygmunt Bauman’s essay Liquid Modernity (2000), I extract here from the 2012 version “To ‘be modern’ means to modernize – compulsively, obsessively; not so much just ‘to be’, let alone to keep its identity intact, but forever ‘becoming’, avoiding completion, staying under-defined. Each new structure which replaces the previous one as soon as it is declared old-fashioned and past its use-by date is only another momentary settlement – acknowledged as temporary and ‘until further notice’” viii Foreword.
Stolfi notes that the Canto response is to create work that conceptually addresses the state in that “everything happens in a continuous, swift and elusive transformation, in which past and future disappear, thus becoming an eternal present. The work becomes the starting point for a reflection on the roles of archaeologist and artist.
I was able to see Canto’s ‘Epoca No 731’ at Unseen, Amsterdam in September – figure 1. Here he fuses photography and printing with a slab of concrete. There is an absorption of information and colour from one body to another in that the wet, curing concrete sucks in not only the information on the layer of print offered up during the process, but bonds the paper into the surface. It becomes a concrete print; the photographic print is made, then the print is transformed by a chemical hydration interaction of cement, water and fine aggregate. In this incidence it is newspaper print from Epoca magazine. Stolfi notes that this is “a nostalgic attempt to eternalise a present that veers towards the blurred digitisation, while proposing a different interpretation of our time that fights against the virtual elusiveness, by using semantic shifts of meaning of the word ‘concrete’ standing both for cement and for an archive that is tangible, real, material”.
In summary the is a highly appropriate confluence of ideas for my practice development here;
Firstly, I have photographed a number of concrete framed buildings as part of my Pause Project. I await a response to requests I have made for pieces of the demolished concrete structures to be given to me as part of my ultimate goal of a spatial exhibition which would go beyond simply the photographic print, as a concrete ‘momento mori’.
Secondly, Canto’s reference of Bauman’s continuous and unsettling mode of change is relevant to my thinking and methodology for the Pause Project as buildings become discarded and I capture them in just that period of waiting for the next, apparently better place. My methodology;
“The practice resolves to question and explore the concept of pause. Pause is the interruption of the natural or imposed flow of time and life. An adjournment. A metaphor of the slowing of the heart beat, a hesitation, a drawing of breath. A discontinuance.
The interregnum preceded by the specifics of history and holding time before the future existence or execution”.
Thirdly, I am seeking opportunities to retrieve archive source material in the form of models, drawings, photographs and media articles about the design and construction of key buildings in the twentieth century of Birmingham. These may become part of the memory and infusion into something else….
Fourthly, I have been pondering projecting or pasting onto concrete surfaces for sometime and the potential to do this has led to my next experiment, doing just that; see my next entry.
Thus this reading provides me with a researched basis for a new exploration.
1 Figure 1 photo: Philip Singleton, taken at Unseen
2 Canto, S. (2016) Concrete Archive Rome; Drago
3 Figure 2 sourced from https://romeonrome.com/2016/01/mussolinis-architectural-legacy-in-rome/ (visited 15.10.17)
4 Figure 3 sourced http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Theo_van_Doesburg_088.jpeg (visited 15.10.17)
5 A news article about the Mussolini monument http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-37230455
6 Link to Theo van Doesburg http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/theo-van-doesburg-1017
7 Article on van Doesburg https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/jan/23/theo-van-doesburg-avant-garde-tate
8 Figure 4 sourced fromhttps://www.artsy.net/artwork/stefano-canto-monolito (visited 15.10.17)
9 Figure 5 photo: Philip Singleton, taken at Unseen
10 Bauman, Z. (2000). Liquid modernity. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
11 Bauman, Z. (2013). Liquid Modernity. (Later edition with foreword)Oxford: Wiley.
12 Footnote: Interestingly, from the perspective of preservation, as a monument to living, Reitveld’s (a key member of the De Stijl movement) house for Shröder (which in part is concrete (balconies)) is now listed thus;
The World Heritage Committee inscribed the Rietveld Schröder House on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites on 2 December 2000, during the 24th session in Cairns, Australia. The committee decided to apply criterion i and ii, and said about the house;
The Rietveld Schröderhuis in Utrecht is an icon of the Modern Movement in architecture and an outstanding expression of human creative genius in its purity of ideas and concepts as developed by the De Stijl movement. (…) With its radical approach to design and the use of space, the Rietveld Schröderhuis occupies a seminal position in the development of architecture in the modern age. World Heritage Centre. UNESCO. Retrieved 2008-05-06.