Installation : Final Major Project
MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 5
As another part of the exhibition preparation falls into place, it is naturally pleasing to receive the text from the art blogger, Ruth Millington, fig 1. Following two briefing meetings, the following has come from her pen and will be used in the exhibition.
‘If we turn concrete to dust, where do those memories go?’ – Christopher Beanland
‘Birmingham Dust’ captures a city changing, physically and culturally, amidst rapid regeneration. As part of Philip Singleton’s larger ‘Pause Project’, this exhibition presents the artist’s photographic interventions across twelve sites in Birmingham, ahead of their demolition or redevelopment. Through printed photographs, a projected film and an installation of concrete tablets, Philip Singleton preserves those places where dust has settled, before they disappear.
An architect-turned artist, Philip Singleton began the ‘Pause Project’ by taking photographic images of Edgbaston House, left empty, in 2016. He was struck by the discarded objects – food, tables, pictures, signs, even a suitcase – recognising them as signifiers of a peoples’ lives and memories. His series of photographic prints explore uninhabited urban sites, including the Roundhouse, Municipal Bank and Birmingham’s Conservatoire. Uncanny images, such as ‘Gilders’ Yard – Looking Through’, suggest mystery in the mundane, with multiple doors left curiously ajar, above. Other photographs display dust, the signifier of time passing, as it settles and shrouds spaces.
Alongside the photographs is an installation of 21 unique concrete tablets, onto which the artist has transferred decal prints. He is amongst several contemporary artists, including Anselm Kiefer, Rachel Whiteread and Stefano Canto, to exploit the association between architecture, concrete, construction and memorials. The tablets appear as archaeological exhibits, and each solid slab is textured with indentations and imperfections, its patina perceptible through and in the space surrounding the photograph. These permanent concrete casts, which will grow harder over time, preserve the fragile prints of places soon to be lost, becoming mausoleums of memory.
The exhibition’s third component is a projection which casts a series of paired photographs of vacant buildings onto the gallery wall. As each set of images are paused, silently, the eye is drawn to shafts of natural light, which illuminate aspects of the architecture. The film requests a meditative, reflective response. Within the space, a solitary coat hanger or empty duo of chairs mark moments of humanity, the objects acting as vessels of memory. The transience is transfixing, celebrating the nuances of life.
‘Birmingham Dust’ shares a city’s collective history, locating memories in empty architectural space and abandoned objects. The exhibition highlights the role of photography in archiving actual, past realities. At the same time, Philip Singleton brings his own experiences – as a resident and architect of the city – to his ongoing ‘Pause Project’. Having spent hours alone in each of the twelve buildings, his imagery betrays his personal interpretations, encounters and memories of Birmingham’s urban spaces, before they disappear into dust.