Three Good Leads

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 4, Sustainable Prospects.  Research.

A while ago I popped ‘artists that work in concrete’ into my search engine and began to uncover a series of intriguing but not wholly useful pages.

The serendipity of conversations that include the phrase “I am now working in concrete” has solicited responses from Jesse Alexander, Paul Clements and Argentea Gallery.  The age old technique of talking has reaped some super leads to three artists for three reasons;

Rebecca Fairley 

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figures 1, 2, 3

Fairley teaches and experiments at the Open College of the Arts with fabric and its interface and infusion with concrete in its wet form which cures into beautiful and intriguing results.  See figures 1, 2, 3.  She writes  “What I love about concrete is its form-finding behaviour. The mould materials and the concrete work together to create something exciting. I am never quite sure what the results will be and I find this exhilarating. I learnt that this hardwearing material is actually very sensitive, it picks up the smallest details of a fabrics surface, giving me the opportunity to create fine concrete textures” and approaches it from a gendered view “It struck me then that the concrete was no longer a masculine cold unforgiving material; in my hands it had become tactile, intriguing and feminine. This has led me to believe that there is a language of materials and a dialogue that occurs in the hands of the maker”.

She also cites a group that cast repetitive elements of work at the Tactility Factory  in Belfast –  their output looks quite exquisite; figure 4.

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figure 4

Both these processes and organisations I will be exploring and possibly meeting as my concrete work evolves.  I photographed a linen drawing in the summer and the possibility of reproducing that and moulding it with a concrete substrate has taken a step closer.

Samin Ahmadzadeh

screen-shot-2017-12-10-at-14-56-06.pngScreen Shot 2017-12-10 at 14.56.24Figures 5, 6

I was fortunate to see a solo exhibition by Ahmadzadeh in the Summer 2017 at Argentea Gallery, Birmingham.  She creates interwoven images bonded onto plywood (see figures 5, 6) and, I have discovered, via an email conversation with her, this week, that she coats them with acrylic varnish.  Her work is appropriate to my experimentation as she bonds (in her case) to a substrate (thus bears some similarity to my work) and most importantly protects the vulnerability of unique woven prints from damage and UV light by the use of this varnish.  My initial experimentation with concrete has led to a severe washing out of the imagery which was printed only on thin, standard paper, but nevertheless has drawn out the need for a solution.

Michelle Henning

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figures 7, 8

Having written about Henning’s Tate presentation in my journal, I have been signposted to I have discovered that she has a width of skills in the image world.  Not only is she a long term collaborator with PJ Harvey (see figure 6 for an example of her art work), thus providing an other ‘photographer/wider artist’ example, but she has written a book being published in 2018 “Photography – the Unfettered Image” which argues that this mobility of the image was merely accelerated by digital media and telecommunications. Photographs, from the moment of their invention, set images loose by making them portable, reproducible, projectable, reduced in size and multiplied”. But also as a photographic image maker she has created these ‘through the glass’ images which my work has echoed.

figures 9, 10

And she has explored construction sites, figures 10, 11

figures 11, 12

So, for me, another one to watch.

 

References (all sites visited 10.12.2017)

Rebecca Fairley

All images from : https://www.textileartist.org/rebecca-fairley-oca-textiles-tutor/

https://www.textileartist.org/

Samin Ahmadzadeh

All images from : http://www.samin-ahmadzadeh.com/

Michelle Henning

All images from : http://www.michellehenning.co.uk/

Book: https://www.routledge.com/Photography-The-Unfettered-Image/Henning/p/book/9781138782556

figure 7 Birdshit, Bristol to London (2009)

figure 8 Dirty Sunset, Bristol (2012)

figure 9 Ealing Shop Window from The White Album

figure 10 Closed Shop, Weston-Super-Mare | from The White Album

figures 11, 12 “Construction Work is an ongoing project of photographs of half-completed or abandoned construction sites. It is based around an implied analogy between the work of artistic construction and of building. Appropriating aesthetic devices from late modernism it takes accidental arrangements and reinvents them as staged spaces for action”.

Henning and PJ Harvey work:

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2011/apr/24/pj-harvey-england-shake-interview

https://www.creativereview.co.uk/designing-pj-harveys-hope-six-demolition-project/?mm_5a2d4c7a955b6=5a2d4c7a9565d

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A Tangential Shoot

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 4, Sustainable Prospects.  Week 8

 

NAG 2

I have made reference previously to books I am studying, one of which is ‘Concrete Culture’ by Adrian Forty.  This continues my thinking, feeling and touching concrete.  Thus I made a visit to a building that I am very fond of but also is cited as a contemporary delight by Forty (The New Art Gallery, Walsall) in his final chapter.

The Wikipedia page on the gallery describes it thus; “The architecture has been both praised and criticised, described as “almost flawless”by the RIBA in The Guardian article and “extraordinarily good” by Hugh Pearman but also castigated by John Stewart-Young as an “architectural indulgence”, an impressive building that lacks consideration of how the wider public will use it.  The essayist Theodore Dalrymple described the interior as resembling both “a fascist foreign ministry” and “a sauna of gigantic proportions”, and the exterior as “a hybrid of grain silo and secret police headquarters”.

It was opened in 2000 and designed by Caruso St John. Its exterior is predominantly of terracotta panelling but its interior is an intense expression of in-situ cast concrete to walls, soffits and (polished) floors.  As a warm and tactile counterpoint the walls are, in places, clad with precisely cut 75mm Douglas Pine panels which, in certain spaces, are in turned countered by a trace, where the concrete walls were created using timber shuttering.

As with my Spaghetti Junction shoot, this represents a tangential exploration to the core Pause Project, to create a bank of images as I ‘see’ concrete in an intimate way.  The circular casting indentations have given me a solution to my concrete mound specification for my own work.

Here is a selection of the images made on 15th November 2017.

 

References

Forty A. 2016 Concrete and Culture. Reaktion Books, London

Gallery web site http://thenewartgallerywalsall.org.uk/  accessed 17.11.2017

Wikipedia entry for the gallery https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_Art_Gallery_Walsall accessed 17.11.2017

Guardian article on the Stirling Prize https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2000/oct/17/maevkennedy1 accessed 17.11.2017

Hugh Pearman article https://web.archive.org/web/20020622155140/http://www.hughpearman.com/articles/walsall2.html accessed 17.11.2017

Images all 15th November 2017, Philip Singleton

 

 

 

 

A Concrete Acquisition

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 4, Sustainable Prospects.  Practice Development 

“V&A acquires three-storey chunk of Robin Hood Gardens”

This headline caught my eye as today (9th November 2017) The Architect’s Journal (AJ) released the news that the Victoria and Albert Museum are to acquire a portion of the sadly, soon to be demolished, Robin Hood Gardens – a huge concrete residential estate in Poplar, East London designed in the late 1960’s by architects Alison and Peter Smithson and completed in 1972.

On a rather more modest scale I am seeking to obtain concrete from the demolition of the concrete Conservatoire building in Birmingham and also recreate a concrete imagery installation as a memoriam to Birmingham’s concrete heritage, hence to see this move by a national institution is a delight. Notably Christopher Turner, keeper of the design, architecture and digital department at the V&A, is quoted in the article below: “This three-storey section of Robin Hood Gardens, complete with “street in the sky”, is an important piece of Brutalism, worth preserving for future generations.  It is also an object that will stimulate debate around architecture and urbanism today – it raises important questions about the history and future of housing in Britain, and what we want from our cities.”

Here is an extract of the article from the AJ;

Robin hood gardens v&a crop 2

The V&A is to take possession of a three-storey section of Robin Hood Gardens, saying it as an ‘important piece of Brutalism, worth preserving for future generations’

The section from Alison and Peter Smithson’s lauded 1972 Brutalist landmark is 8.8m high, 5.5m wide and 8m deep. It includes the exterior façades and interiors of a maisonette as well as part of the ‘streets in the sky’ walkway.

The east London estate is set to be demolished to make way for the Blackwall Reach regeneration project.

The acquisition came about as a result of a collaborative effort between Liza Fior of muf architecture/art; the London Borough of Tower Hamlets; London mayor Sadiq Khan; project backer Swan Housing Association; Hill Partnerships; and Northeast Demolition.

 

Robin Hood Gardens in Poplar in 1986

SOURCE: MIKE SEABOURNE

Robin Hood Gardens in Poplar in 1986, photographed by Mike Seabourne

In September, the AJ reported that builders were beginning to take down the western side of the estate, but that there were still residents living in the eastern block of the two main Smithson-designed buildings. A spokesperson for Swan Housing Association told the AJ that these residents would not be moved out until 2020.

Catherine Croft, director at the Twentieth Century Society, which strongly opposes the demolition, said: ‘Keeping a small section is by no means an adequate way of preserving all that is important about a great building, but nevertheless we are delighted that some sense of the physical materiality of Robin Hood Gardens will endure.

‘It is very prescient of V&A to recognise the significance of the estate, both as an example of high Modernist design, and as a highly controversial conservation disaster.’

Previously, in 2008, then architecture minister Margaret Hodge also refused to list the estate following a campaign mounted by Building Design magazine, concurring with English Heritage that it was unfit for people to live in.

https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/10025139.article?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=AJ_EditorialNewsletters.Reg:%20Send%20-%20Daily%20bulletin&mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTnpZeE9EbGhNVFUxWmpnNSIsInQiOiJKRjFnVlwvVlYxaGNaRjFoakF5WUtsQnhcLzJQR2dvSXI0aUx2YjhTcmFOaWVoNUlpcjQyRWsrQXJyRDFicGZEUHlXSWVJUHJ4N3lNNGJ6QUFaT2s0aWlqNFlkSGhtVHpXejJVdmlhYzIyd1NcL0pSWWV1NmNhWDhsMFlhRkFiSHhFSyJ9         accessed 9.11.2017 (NB links to this journal are often denied unless you are a subscriber)

 

Shooting Spaghetti

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 4, Sustainable Prospects.  Practice Development

spag 3

figure 1

As a clearly defined adjunct to my thinking about concrete infused imagery as part of my Pause Project, I am developing my awareness of concrete its use out in the field of the constructed environment around my resident city, Birmingham UK.

This practice development is founded on two practitioners I have viewed on line;

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figure 2

‘A Fine Beginning’ is a Welsh photography collective that offers a platform to discover and showcase photography being made in and about Wales.  They cite Nick St. Oegger’s work here http://www.afinebeginning.com/bypassed/  (accessed 29.10.2017).  Lessons were learnt, as the original stretch of what is now the M4 motorway connected and helped the economic revitalisation South Wales to England, yet, “Behind the fanfare laid the fact that over 200 houses, three churches and several schools had been destroyed to make way for the motorway. Despite the advances, the bypass has left a lasting effect on the physical and psychological landscape of Port Talbot”.  The photographer (also an MA student) managed to capture the strident, overhead enormity of a concrete engineering project that remains impactful, since 1966, upon the lives and outlook of people, their homes, streets and lives – figure 2.

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figure 3

The photographer Colin Templeton captured Port Talbot communities again on the length of the M4 and his grainy black and White images evoke a soulless, largely deserted series of spaces left over from the ‘War of the Worlds’ type of concrete legs that stride through the landscape, figure 3.  http://colintempleton.com/red-road/  accessed 29.10.2017

From these readings and knowing, (having worked in 2006 on the area) that, around Spaghetti Junction, junction 6 of the M6/A38M interchange, north of Birmingham city centre, that three Birmingham communities were divided by this roadway, I decided to embark on a shoot.  This I did on 28th October.  For this shoot I had time to get close up to the structures and particularly the concrete supports that pierce the ground, canal and river that form the landscape.  The material surfaces and incredible spans were enthralling.  This area is quite different from the Port Talbot communities as the concrete routes here were created across less developed land, nevertheless pathways and roads were closed to create this opportunity.  This had a practical impact on the shoot, as I took a burly assistant with me as I was visibly carrying quite a bit of photographic kit with me, given the wilderness nature of the area.

DSCF3071 copyspag 5spag 4spag 1DSC_6397 copy

figures 4,5,6,7,8

Figures 1, and 4 to 8 demonstrate the enormity of the overhead structures.

DSCF3063 copyspag 6spag 7

figures 9,10,11

Figures 9 to 11 are close-up studies of the concrete surface demonstrating the qualities of the surface undulations and casting marks.

ends

 

Practice Development. Launching into an Archive. “If we turn concrete to dust, where do those memories go?”

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 4, Sustainable Prospects.

PS_-16

Figure 1

Having established my theoretical approach, for example, via the work and writings around Stefano Canto, I have been focusing on the architecture of the twentieth century created by John Madin (1924-2012).

Madin owned the third largest architectural practice in the UK for a period and his output dominated the city of Birmingham. He has suffered the ignominy of most of his major works being demolished in the last 15 years.  As I write the Birmingham City University Conservatoire, 1964-73, is undergoing demolition.  I captured this building as part of the Pause Project in the Spring 2017, figure 1, along with the Clarendon Suite, 1972 (Hagley Road) and his own studio/offices, 1967 (123 Hagley Road); both are pencilled in for demolition, due to redevelopment plans.  The latter (123 Hagley Road) I plan to return to in the next few months to gather more images.

Clawley, 2011, describes Madin’s work “closely reflects the evolution of the modern movement between 1950 and 1975. Moreover, his major buildings are concentrated in a compact area of Birmingham weather changing styles can be studied relatively easily from the delicate early curtain walling with contrasting bands and materials to the later, strong remodelled concrete panels With their windows inside, and service towns of dark engineering brick” pp1.

Central lib

figure 2

The Birmingham Central Library, 1964-74, was a large complex that included the Conservatoire, cited in the Architect’s Journal buildings library http://www.ajbuildingslibrary.co.uk/projects/display/id/2332  accessed 29.10.2017

The library was demolished in 2015/16.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-35092981accessed 29.10.2017

Figures 2 and 3 show examples of the fine concrete that made this structure, with the soffits and walls respectively.  The building sat on a concrete plane, its pillars were manifest and the walls, externally and internally were all expressed in planes and textures of concrete as was the roof, topping it off.  It was an extraordinary expression in the this most versatile medium. Space-Play, in its blog writes “A square set of reinforced concrete columns support the structure, which stands over the ring road and the unfinished bus interchange. The floors are made with precast concrete coffered (waffle) units with a cast concrete surface for reinforcement. The external structure is left bare to expose the concrete work and walls are finished with a locally graded aggregate mix, blasted to give a rough textured surface”. http://www.space-play.co.uk/birmingham-central-library/  accessed 29.10.2017

Central Lib 2

figure 3

There was much lament at the decision to obtain immunity to listing in 2009 http://www.birminghamconservationtrust.org/2009/11/23/birmingham-central-library-granted-immunity-from-listing/ accessed 29.10.2017.   This paved way for the redevelopment of this part of the city centre and the design and construction of a new library.  The demolition became an event and was recorded in the media, as the monster machines gobbled away at the concrete form.

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figure 4

The radical decision to execute caused national interest; in the Independent article, 24 May 2013, Christopher Beanland writes “Buildings bear witness to the tiny dramas that make us human. If we turn concrete to dust, where do those memories go? Madin’s buildings were the backdrops for a million Brummies’ lives – though as time slipped by, they forgot to notice.”   He extends his observations,  “Brum is an adorable oddball; an eccentric void at the centre of the nation and yet the centre of nothing. Birmingham transforms. Birmingham forgets. Buildings, dreams and memories live in the same unreal world here. Birmingham Central Library is a dreamlike building: Madin’s fantasy made real. Sometimes it’s hard to know where dreams end and reality begins. Paradise Circus boasts a warren of hidden squares, haunted passageways, dead ends” http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/the-man-who-built-brum-a-lament-for-the-demise-of-john-madins-brutalist-birmingham-8627547.html  accessed 29.10.2017

Perhaps just as ignominious as demolition, is seeing the cloaking in cheap, twenty first century wrappings of noble structures.  Here another Madin building actually survives, but becomes smothered with an ignorant and crass veneer of whiteness – http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/new-image-shows-major-transformation-10966423 accessed 29.10.2017

O’Flynn in her (undated) blog brings us to the fact that Madin, this man of concrete has an archive that survives to be visited, despite the loss of the structures they laid out.  Interestingly she cites Madin’s predecessor and mentor, Sir Herbert Manzoni, Birmingham City Engineer and Surveyor from 1935–1963, “I have never been very certain as to the value of tangible links with the past…” and instead creates a counterpoint herself using the eponymous gardens as her example “Like Manzoni Gardens, the John Madin archive, reminds us that we do not decide, what, if anything might be remembered of us and neither do we decide how, if at all, our lives might be interpreted. We can, though, decide to remember and to interpret. We can make new connections and pathways. We can perhaps choose, as some of our predecessors did not choose, to see the value of tangible links to the past”  http://www.catherineoflynn.com/other-writing/why-contribute-to-the-spread-of-ugliness/ accessed 29.10.2017

 

Work in Progress – Practice Development

My practice is aligning my Pause Project and the continuing image making with the analysis of concrete and the potential to fuse imagery with concrete, making a lament to the past and John Madin in particular.  The imagery may be the reappropriation of archive materials interwoven with my own images to create a unique set of works as an installation.

I have arranged to view the Wolfson Archive Centre at the Library of Birmingham with intent to access and review these materials, see figure 5.  This endeavour will be recorded via this journal.

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Figure 5

References 

fig 1 Photograph Philip Singleton 4th April 2017.  Cited as “Birmingham School of Music – 6 storey building – 4 floors for School of music over shopping arcade; Recital room for 250 people; 32 teaching studios; 24 practice studios Paradise Circus, Birmingham Client: Birmingham City Council”

figs 2, 3 Photographs Philip Singleton 20 August 2014

fig 4   Photograph sourced from https://www.expressandstar.com/news/2016/05/26/birmingham-library-demolition-progress-is-just-cracking/

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ends

 

 

Juergen Teller a Donkey and Concrete

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 4, Sustainable Prospects; Week Five

Screen Shot 2017-10-23 at 11.35.29

figure 1

The magnificent self portrait by fashion and art photographer astride a donkey in his brand new, finely crafted, concrete home and studio is by Juergen Teller.  He has commissioned this work by 6a Architects to maximise the use of the precast and insitu  concrete from polished floors to block walls to exquisite beams, figures 2,3.

figures 2,3

I cite this simply as a contemporary display of the flexibility, beauty and consistency of this building method and medium as I pursue my ideas on fusing images with concrete.

Not only has this home/studio featured heavily in the media with its combination of architectural and photographic strength, it has made it into the final list of the UK’s premier architectural prize, the 22nd annual Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Stirling Prize for the UK’s best new building.

figures 4,5

The BBC cites it thus, “The Photography Studio for Juergen Teller in west London consists of three buildings and gardens. The judges said: “The project is a mature and confident statement of orderliness and precision, whilst also being relaxed and playful. It forms a refined, yet flexible workplace, which is already beginning to act as a setting to prompt and influence on the work of its client.”” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40659667 (accessed 23.10.2017)

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figure 6

And the RIBA President at the time, Jane Duncan states “Despite its constrained and semi-industrial plot in west London, the Photography Studio for Juergen Teller is an oasis in which the architects and landscape designer Dan Pearson have created a seemingly modest yet sublime light-filled studio and garden. Every single detail created by this exceptionally talented architect is precise and highly considered”  https://www.architecture.com/knowledge-and-resources/knowledge-landing-page/riba-stirling-prize-2017-shortlist (accessed 23.10.2017)

References

Images from https://www.dezeen.com/2016/10/14/juergen-teller-photography-studio-concrete-6a-architects-london-uk/

Self portrait by Juergen Teller. All other photography by Johan Dehlin

Dezeen Photographer http://www.johandehlin.com

Architects http://www.6a.co.uk

Three useful links to Teller’s work:

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/jan/06/juergen-teller-fame-laid-bare

https://www.ica.art/whats-on/juergen-teller-woo?lid=34587

Juergen Teller: Woo!