Thursday, 20 November 2008

Cyprien Gaillard: Glasgow 2014
Hayward Project Space
7 October – 16 November 2008.

By Jenine McGaughran

Herbert Rappoport’s 1962 film ‘Cheremushki’ is a musical comedy portraying Russia’s youth gleefully embracing the hope their new world offers them. This satirical, light hearted film see’s its protagonists singing and dancing joyfully in celebration of a new form of architecture. A scene pictures a young couple rushing through their prospective home remarking on its modern construction, from its walls, floors, doors and windows to its contemporary furnishings and appliances, all the while proclaiming it to be ‘a beautiful dream come true’.
This wonderfully kitsch, Hollywood-esque moment sums up the anticipation felt throughout the Cold War period, the notion that ideas transformed into tangible reality could come true: that Utopian ideals in the form of social housing projects could actually help solve the problems societies faced.

It is within Cyprien Gaillard’s Glasgow 2014 that the failures of such ideals are documented. Three large-scale photographs depict former high-rise blocks reduced to heaps of rubble. Cairns, the titles of these works, reflect the significance Gaillard bestows upon these mounds, venerating them from masonry fragments to monumental status. The piled debris alludes to much more than mere rubble; each title contains the name and dates of the former buildings, acting as an obituary. However, these images not only lament the loss of former dwellings, they mourn the passing of the hope social and structural regeneration invested in the housing projects of the 1960’s. In Cairns (12 Riverford Road, Pollokshaw, Glasgow, 1967-2008) the dead look upon an urban space not akin to the one they once inhabited. Pollokshaw, formerly a town with independent status nestling on the periphery of the city, was annexed into Glasgow in 1912 to meet the demands of urban sprawl. The familiar terrain of its former inhabitants was cleared to make way for high-rise blocks purpose built to impose a notion of community and ease the slum poverty of the post war period. Having witnessed the creation, degradation and demolition of the ‘streets in the sky’ these ruinous headstones bare witness to the failure of such government expectations.

Gaillard pays further homage to these buildings with Cenotaph to 12 Riverford Road, Pollokshaw Glasgow 2008. This monument, composed of recycled concrete from the demolished housing estate, has been placed within a secret garden only visible from inside the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Here Gaillard’s obelisk stands as a memorial for more than Pollokshaw, placed at the centre of Hubert Bennet’s iconic Brutalist building Cenotaph commemorates both the passing of 12 Riverford Road and the faith society invested in urban regeneration.

The scene depicted in Cairns (131 Allan Street, Dalmarnock, Glasgow, 1965-2007) is no longer surrounded by looming tower blocks; demolition was completed in 2007 to make way for the Athletes Village for the forth-coming Commonwealth Games in 2014. The mission of the Commonwealth Games Federation is to improve society and the general well-being of those inside the Commonwealth, with every decision measured against their core values of Humanity, Equality and Destiny. Indeed such notions are not so alien to those put forward in the development of key campaigns such as Homes for Heroes in the years following World War Two. Here Gaillard makes clear man’s traces in nature, exposing modern architecture as contemporary ruin and nature constantly on the cusp a man’s domination and vice versa. A space that not so long ago was populated with derelict tenement blocks has become the proposed site for East One, a 39 storey residential tower block. Another city regeneration project uncannily like the ones presented half a century ago, attempting to achieve different goals but ultimately risking a similar fate.

The Lake Arches shows two men enjoying their carefree leisure time amongst Ricardo Bofill’s Saint-Quentin-en- Yvelines. This still thriving post modern housing projects was built on outskirts of Paris as one of the original ville nouvelles in the early 1960’s. As both men dive into the manmade lake, placed in the heart of the community, one emerges from the lake bloodied as a result of coming into conflict with its shallow bed. Here Gaillard simultaneously communicates the unforgiving nature of the landscape and man’s continuous attempts to manipulate and master it. Like man has rejected the imposed ideas of a Utopian way of life, the grey green waters of the lake have rejected this man’s attempt to commandeer it.

Brian Dillion articulates what lies at the centre of Gaillard’s work in his discussion of ruins stating: ‘The modern ruin – the industrial ruin, the defunct image of future leisure, or the spectre of Cold War dread is in fact always, inevitably, a ruin of the future’.

On the surface Glasgow 2014 takes an almost romantic stance on the failure of idealised aspirations for the future through the picturesque rendering of urban decay. However what is at stake is exposing man’s traces on the world and the world’s ultimate rejection of them.

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