Text for show at LUBOMIROV / ANGUS-HUGHES, 26 Lower Clapton Rd, London E5
4-26 Nov 2017 (PV 3 Nov)
recasting the meaning in a found object or appropriated image by placing it in different context; minimalism’s concentration on materials and shape for their own qualities independent of representation; the hyper-realistic depiction of the world ‘as it is’; and art as political or social protest. Those probably sound like contradictory approaches, and, of course, they often are. Yet it is perfectly sensible to claim that Charlie Warde’s work in ‘Disappearing Landscape’ utilises all four.
Let’s take Erosion 1, 2 and 3. Arranged on each concrete-grey aluminium panel is a section of the distinctive vertical fins that line the building facade of Robin Hood Gardens, as designed by the Smithsons to break up the roar of passing traffic. The concrete is eroding and cracking to reveal the material’s aggregates. Presenting that in a gallery context might make us think about the end of such a building, the point at which it is broken down into its constituent elements and passes beyond use. The memento mori of a building. It also suggests that we should look at the fins as aesthetic objects in their own right, not simply as functional components of a much larger architectural whole. The aesthetic is closely allied to minimalism: Carl Andre’s way of pointing to the qualities of bricks, for example, and their possible arrangements in simple, grounded combinations. Likewise, Warde’s fragments float free of the utilitarian reasons for their production just as they celebrate its material presence, and propose that art and industry aren’t in the simple opposition one might assume.
|Erosion 1,2 and 3, 2017|
|Erosion 3, 2017|
That counterpointing of the contemporary and the traditional is very much to the point of the fourth mode of art: housing is a political subject. Indeed, it has rarely been as political as it is in Britain now, where three factors are at the root of severe problems. First, there aren’t enough homes: successive governments have set targets to increase the rate of building, but have failed. Second, many homes are not up to standard, the poor having been corralled into under-maintained stock. It took the Grenfell Tragedy to bring that to attention. Third, what homes there are – especially in London – cannot be afforded by those who need them. That’s a function of short supply, the distorting effect of foreign capital flowing into the market, and the drying up of public investment in social housing – all given added bite by the disastrous changes being introduced to the welfare system through universal credit which, if it is rolled out fully, will trigger a spike in homelessness well beyond the doubling of the last few years.Erosions 1, 2 and 3 speak to all of those issues. They act as memorials for high rises which – rather than being modernised and made safe – are demolished to make way for new developments which cannot be afforded by people like those who lived in the blocks. In Warde’s words: ‘Brutalism is part of the Zeitgeist again because it harks from a time when the state provided. It represents a muscular return to strong core values.’ The new, as in Warde’s layering of conceptual and realist approaches, may well need to incorporate former ways.
|Erasures 1,2 and 3, 2017|
Warde’s other works expand his politically charged documentation of our disappearing Brutalist heritage, focusing on Robin Hood Gardens (Alison and Peter Smithson, completed 1972 in Poplar), Trellick Tower (Ernő Goldfinger, completed 1972 in Kensal Town) and Balfron Tower (Ernő Goldfinger, completed 1967 in Poplar). Despite many attempts to save it, the demolition of Robin Hood Gardens has begun, and significant parts of Trellick Tower’s curtilage are also scheduled for demolition.
The shelf of Reliks are pigment jars of aggregates (made from solid 3D acrylic paint) that are based on examples Warde has found at the base of Trellick Tower that have ‘spalled’ from the surface of the building. The Balfron Decanter is a large pigment jar of aggregates based on those that have fallen away from the surface of Balfron Tower (a listed building, but one from which social housing tenants have recently been ‘decanted’ in order to refit and sell the flats as luxury housing for the private sector).
Goldfinger Crypt, 2017 with Reliks and Balfron Decanter
Moving from those paintings to the ‘Disappearing Landscape’ installation as a whole reinforces the social aspects. The sound artist James Torrance, who has spent years recording sounds from modernist housing estates, previously collaborated with Warde on his film 'Prometheus' (2011-12), a stop frame animation of 230 progressively degrading etchings of the Trellick Tower; 'The Alexander Road Project' (2012), a film projected onto drawings of buildings by recent RIBA gold medal winner Neve Brown; and the series of radio programmes 'Homes For Tomorrow' (2013), a sonic exploration of Goldfinger’s utopian drive to build for a better world. Now Torrance provides a bricolage of sound, with recordings of the demolition of Robin Hood Gardens and the voices of the Smithsons alongside Mozart and a collection of texts ranging from the poetic to the absurd. That enhances the atmospheric and documentary suggestiveness of Warde’s project, which Torrance summarises piquantly as ‘a thin veneer of fake brick cladding and the bitter sensation of loss’.
|Erasure 4, 2017 - detail|
Warde and Torrance are not alone in their concerns. Working in Britain now, David Hepher has often used real architectural materials like concrete in forty years of engagement through painting with the high rises of South London; Mark Leckey, the 2008 Turner Prize winner, has channelled a dark poetry through his reconstruction of a 1970’s motorway bridge as the portal to his past; and the 2011 prize winner Martin Boyce typically investigates a faded modernist dreamscape. Two interesting younger artists, Jessie Brennan and Evy Jokhova, have investigated the interplay of communities with sixties-built housing. Internationally, too, leading artists like Monika Sosnowska and Cyprian Gaillard could be cited. Such commonalities indicate the reality of the resonance.
Perhaps we can take ‘Disappearing Landscape’ as a proposal that we should look to the past to inform the future. Warde depicts and mourns the decline of the physical integrity of the social housing schemes conceived fifty years ago, while retaining enough of their innovative aesthetic to celebrate what they were. That physical decline stands in for and also mourns the parallel loss of empathy represented by recent housing policy. We need to move forward by moving back: in physical terms through reparation, not redevelopment; in moral terms by replacing the narrow financial and parochial perspectives of the new century with an approach more akin to the ideals of the sixties.