22 March – 26 May 2019
James Ackerley, Nazgol Ansarinia, Tom Dale, David Connor Design + Kate Darby Architects, Malcolm Fraser, MAP Studio, Manchester School of Architecture, Abigail Reynolds, Larissa Sansour, Adrien Tirtiaux, Sarah Westphal
Curated by Sally Stone, Laura Sanderson(both Manchester School of Architecture),Matthew Pendergast (Castlefield Gallery) and Tom Emery
9 Introduction by Tom Emery
15 UnDoing: Buildings by Sally Stone and Laura Sanderson
55 UnDoing: Towers, Tanks and Statues by Matthew Pendergast
UnDoingBuildings hold histories. Architectural style and function can teach us about our historical predecessors and our contemporaries, but more than this, buildings store the individual histories of the people who used them. Worn floors, damaged surfaces, graffitied walls, these serve as records of the people who were here, for whom a particular building was a fundamental part of the infrastructure of daily life. In any given building exciting things have happened, terrible things have happened, but mostly, things have just happened, everyday life continued and for the most part, it wasn’t notable, except to the person who lived it.
So, what happens when an architect renovates or redevelops an existing building or place?
Often, this is simply the necessary work to make a building useable. But redevelopment can also be a threat. It can herald gentrification, or the loss of the history attached to a specific building. Any significant redevelopment inevitably attracts criticism from people who are worried that they will lose something, whether that is the affordability to continue living in their home, or the historical value attached to a certain site. How then, do architects manage the conflict between the needs of the present with the value of the past? What is lost once a building is gone for good? What is our relationship to our history, and how do we inhabit and respond to our present environment?
These are questions that are explored throughout UnDoing, with contributions from a range of international architects and artists who explore how buildings, places and artefacts are re-used, reinterpreted and remembered.
13UnDoing: Buildings by Sally Stone & Laura Sanderson
‘The story adjusts its gait to the slow progress of the ironbound hoofs on the climbing paths, towards a place that contains the secret of the past and of the future, which contains time coiled around itself like a lasso hanging from the pommel of a saddle.’ 1
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, Italo Calvino.
Opening the doors of Food, 1971. Image by Richard Landry. Alteration by Gordon Matta Clark (pictured, right).
In 1972, Gordon Matta Clark, with Carol Goodden, and Tina Girouard published the financial expenditure for the first year of their radical and experimental café: FOOD. The first column of the accounts lists the taxable assets, the payments and the income. The salaries, insurance and advertising disbursements are shown, as are the raw food purchases, the kitchen equipment and the waste disposal, but then so is the income. The books are balanced: $167,120.72 in and $167,120.72 out.
1 Calvino, Italo. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller. A Harvest Book, Harcourt, Inc, 1979. Page 224.
The second column is much more specific; it itemises the actual food and quite often the process by which it was cooked, and although specific to the menu and the tastes of the clientele, it is an objective but unconventional inventory of the food consumed: 17,760 yards of spaghetti steamed, 220 bunches of parsley sprinkled delicately, and 15,660 potential chickens cracked.
It is the statistics within the third column of the accounts that are much more personal: 99 cut fingers, and 99 workers, 213 people who needed to get it together (keep it together), 3 unfulfilled promises by good friends, 47 dogs asked to leave, and 7 made up Social Security numbers. Two rebellions are listed, the first was the Dishwasher Rebellion of Feb. ’72, and the other one the Radio Rebellion of May ’72. This column transcends the formal book-keeping necessary to keep such an enterprise afloat. The reality of what it was actually like to be there, the sense of how life was lived within the café.
A city is made of buildings and streets. It is constructed from concrete and glass, steel and masonry. But a city is more than an itinerary of bricks and mortar, it is greater than the streets and alleyways, it is bigger than the rooms, squares and parks, and the funding needed to construct them. It is formed by the people who occupy it, by what they do, how they feel and the way that they interact with each other and with the environment around them. Buildings and spaces are engrained with the narrative of use over time. Walter Benjamin clarified this relationship between places and the people who occupy them: ‘To live is to leave traces.’ 2
FOOD was ostensibly a café, somewhere to buy and consume food, but it was also a destination, a focus for the community who frequented it. This duality allowed the artists who worked there, or those who visited, whether regulars or not, to be part of the ever
2 Benjamin, Walter. Paris Capital of the Nineteenth Century. Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writing. New York: Schocken Books, 1986. Page 155.
evolving circus of experiment and artistic invention. The tangible nature of the building, the shutters, the counter, tables, light fittings and the quality of the food, were obvious and critical elements of a successful business. However, the intangible nature of the place was also an important part of the installation. Who was there and why they were there, what they were doing and with whom. Life was lived within the confines of the space. The interpretation of this adventure formed the basis of the final column of the accounts, but even these leave much to the imagination.
As individuals and communities, deep significance is attached to familiar places, and complex relationships can develop between the residents and the place that they inhabit; thus, places are defined by the people who live within them. This quality that is present in the nature of the buildings and the streets, is often generated by the ordinary actions of local people, many of who believe that their identity is essentially tied to the place that they inhabit. This local distinctiveness is characterised by the activities that occur within the specific environment. And so, significant markers are formed, in both the present and in the past, which will allow a society to relate to a particular environment.
Italo Calvino in his searching recollection of cities discussed this many -layered relationship between the generation of a place and the manner in which it is occupied. A city, he said, consists of ‘…the relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past’. He qualifies this ‘… the line strung from the lamppost to the railing opposite and the festoons that decorate the course of the queen’s nuptial procession; the height of that railing and the leap of the adulterer who climbed over it at dawn; the tilt of a guttering and a cat’s progress along it as he slips into the same window.’ 3
3 Benjamin, Walter. Paris Capital of the Nineteenth Century. Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writing. New York: Schocken Books, 1986. Page 155.
This constant use and adjustment to that use and abuse creates an ever-evolving environment, somewhere that is never finished, not complete nor content. Yet as the city develops it leaves traces and marks of that evolution. It is ordered and reordered, and in doing so displays these uncertainties and patina of time within the very grain of the streets and buildings themselves. Calvino continues: ‘As this wave from memories flows in, the city soaks up like a sponge and expands. … The city does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the street, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.’ 4
The city is a crowded complex place full of contrast, juxtaposition, discord and incongruity. Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter, describe it as a ‘didactic instrument’, 5 that is, a place in which a desirable discourse can be formulated. They believe that the constructed environment is charged with narrative content. It is a place in which certain elements come to the fore, while others are more modest, more unassuming, but no less important or carefully considered. It is created from the collective endeavours of many generations; each of which has its own priorities, focus, or agenda, and it is the interpretation of these priorities that proves to be the impetus for further evolution or change. Alterations, adaptations, additions, embellishments and undoings all accumulate in the ever-developing city.
This idea that the built environment, which initially appears to be permanently fixed in an unchanging static and immobile state, and yet is actually a constantly evolving entity, hurrying from one
4 Benjamin, Walter. Paris Capital of the Nineteenth Century. Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writing. New York: Schocken Books, 1986. Page 155.
5 Benjamin, Walter. Paris Capital of the Nineteenth Century. Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writing. New York: Schocken Books, 1986. Page 155.
manifestation to the next to avoid the process of scarification was discussed by the Irish architect John Tuomey. He suggests that ‘when we say that we think of a building as a permanent thing, that is not to say it must stand intact forever or that it cannot be changed’. 6
Throughout history, places, buildings and situations have been reused and adapted: they can survive as cultures and civilisations change. The city is created as layers of archaeology, formed one upon another – a palimpsest of discourse, alterations and networks. The buildings may radically change, but the underlying nature of the place is still present within the street patterns, the position of the river, the direction of the wind, the predominant patterns of the surrounding hills, the building materials and the accents and the actions of the residents. Tuomey then deliberates upon this relationship with the past by invoking Seamus Heaney, who ‘has described one function of memory as a kind of disassembly and remaking of the past in which parts of our history are dismembered in order to be remembered in a way which is useful to our present.’ 7
Memory and anticipation are a forceful combination that create associations, connections, and affiliations. Places that exist and places that we imagine will exist, (or indeed we imagine did exist) induce a sense of melancholia; that is a longing for a half-forgotten past, for a time just before memory begins. The ‘already built’ provides a direct link with the past; it is a connection with the very building bricks of our society. The existing tells the tale or story of how a particular culture evolved. A simple building may depict a certain moment in time; it may relate the particular sensibility of specific era. A more complex collection of structures and spaces may have a much more elaborate
6 Benjamin, Walter. Paris Capital of the Nineteenth Century. Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writing. New York: Schocken Books, 1986. Page 155.
7 Benjamin, Walter. Paris Capital of the Nineteenth Century. Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writing. New York: Schocken Books, 1986. Page 155.
13 th Floor Century House, 2018. Image by Sally Stone.
story to tell. Christine M Boyer ruminates upon this: ‘The name of a city’s streets and squares, the gaps in its very plan and physical form, its local monuments and celebrations, remain as traces and ruins of their former selves. They are tokens or hieroglyphs from the past to be literally re-read, re-analysed, and re-worked over time.’ 8
The use and re-use of a constructed site creates a direct connection with the identity of the place. It is a strategy that establishes an explicit relationship with history and context, not just with the site, the building and its immediate surroundings, but also with the society that constructed it. Art and architecture facilitate the exploration of identity
8 Benjamin, Walter. Paris Capital of the Nineteenth Century. Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writing. New York: Schocken Books, 1986. Page 155.
through the examination of the specificity of the context in which it is embedded. The reading and understanding of the message of the city, the individual building and the spaces in between them provides the basis for any discussion. And thus, an interactive discourse is constructed between the past, present and future needs of the site, one which transcends the mere preservation of the site in the found condition.
This material, emotional, political, and conceptual response is a sort of close reading or mapping of the already existing situation. Giancarlo de Carlo refers to the ‘revelatory capacity of reading . . . if one is able to interpret the meaning of what has remained engraved, not only does one come to understand when this mark was made and what the motivation behind it was, but one also becomes conscious of how the various events have become layered, how they relate to one another and how, through time they have set off other events and have woven together our history.’ 9
The artist or architect can choose to work with uncovered identity, to create new buildings and spaces, installations, images and constructions that are appropriate to their location and which do not destroy the nature or character of an area. It is possible to create works that have the capacity to condense the artistic potential of the region while reinterpreting cultural influences coming from the outside, for new works to show a great understanding of both place and tectonics, and to evoke the essence of the site, together with the inescapable materiality of situation. Interventions, conceptions, constructions, exhibitions and documentation can be conceived and created through this approach.
The process of examination that the architect will employ is not dissimilar to that the artist may use. It is about understanding and interpretation. An architect may begin any project with an examination
9 Benjamin, Walter. Paris Capital of the Nineteenth Century. Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writing. New York: Schocken Books, 1986. Page 155.
of the site. In an initial survey physical qualities are recorded; measurements taken, light levels, quality and direction assessed, surrounding building heights logged, access, drainage and services noted. It is this incomplete catalogue of information that creates the ‘as found’ or ‘constructed’ site for a given project. The artist may feel the site in a more oneiric manner, possibly a more instinctive connection, but eventually it is one that is comparable. Apparently, when asked about the difference between art and architecture Marcel Duchamp, is alleged to have stated: ‘drains’.
This understanding and then adaptation of the conditions of the site can be condensed into an easily remembered saying: Remember, Reveal, Construct. Remember the characteristics of the site, look closely at the attributes, explore the nature of what is there, examine the place and find out what it is saying. Reveal the situation, analyse the findings of the investigation and discover what it means. Use these to exploit the very qualities of the situation. Construct new elements that are appropriate to the situation, that heighten the experience of what is there, that become part of the continual evolution of the place.
Manchester has a long tradition of reusing buildings. Just as it was one of the first industrial cities and as a consequence constructed large numbers of mills and warehouses, equally, it was one of the first to embrace the post-industrial condition and remodel these massive edifices as flats, galleries and premises for small businesses. Manchester is a city that has completely redefined its agenda, and much of this is based upon the adaptation of its existing architecture
One of the most pressing concerns for our 21 st century society is the challenge of the huge stock of existing buildings that have outlived the function for which they were built. Their worth is well recognised and the importance of retaining them has been long debated, but if they are to be saved, what is to be done with these redundant buildings? Whether these are edifice of character and worth, or ordinary straightforward structures that have simply outlived their purpose;
demolition and rebuild is no longer seen as the obvious solution to the continuous use of the specific site. It is now a commonplace architectural approach to re-use, adapt and add-to, rather than the building being razed and a new structure erected in its place.
Issues of heritage, sustainability and smartness are at the forefront of many discussions about architecture today and adaptation offers the opportunity to reinforce the particular character of an area using up-to-date techniques for a contemporary population. Issues of collective memory and identity combined with ideas of tradition, history and culture mean that it is possible to retain a sense of continuity with the past as a way of creating the future. Building reuse is an environmentally supportable method of regenerating the built environment. It is intrinsically healthy in that it retains the collective memory of the local population, and sustainable in that much of the embodied energy within the structure will not be destroyed.
Manchester has moved far from the image of a dark and gloomy, northern English city built upon hard work and dirt, synonymous with just three things: industry, football and music. The place was known for its warehouses, cotton mills, railway viaducts, and canals – as would be expected from the first modern, industrial conurbation, however the continually evolving city has been reinvented as a significant situation that embraces the new while recognising the importance of this architectural and environmental heritage. This mid ground is an architectural bricolage, where a series of existing built elements are collected and reworked, where everything is of importance and everything is relevant. It is a wondrous combination of new and old, of the worthy, modest, exciting, significant, unimportant, and the almost invisible. Manchester is a vigorous and vibrant environment that is continually adjusting itself to the gait of the evolving narrative of urban life.
Sally Stone and Laura Sanderson
Using leftover and recycled materials, James Ackerley follows self-imposed rules and parameters to incrementally expand and rearrange his Studio Objects (2016–) and prototype furniture. He explores the nature of making, taking apart and reassembling by accurately cutting and chopping materials into functional, logical shapes that can be temporarily fitted together with other materials. Cardboard, timber, MDF, and unused off-cuts of upholstery foam are purposefully combined and juxtaposed. Like budget Brâncusi sculptures they replace the modernist master’s carved wood, marble and cast bronze with more ‘throw away’ and everyday materials that neverthe-less communicate a strong sense of materiality. The works are routinely exhibited or shared as images online before they are dismantled, reconfigured or combined into new works. UnDoing includes sculptures by Ackerley that serve as exhibition furniture, inviting visitors to sit, lean or look through them, affecting the way we experience them, the gallery space and other artworks in the exhibition.
James Ackerley, Prototype for Uncomfortable
Chairs, 2018, courtesy of the artist
Nazgol Ansarinia’s Living Room (2005) shows an apparently blank wall, as the video progresses it reveals marks indicating its previous use as a domestic space, ghostly indicators of where furniture was placed, where pictures were hung, the faintest hint of the history embedded with the structure of the building itself. The wall is in fact part of the artist’s parents’ former home in Tehran, Iran, with these marks becoming apparent as Ansarinia helped her parents move out. The piece tells a deeply personal story, the literal marks left behind from years of domestic family life, yet it also hints at a much wider social context. The marks are a product of Tehran’s significant air pollution, itself a product of the rapid, mass urbanisation of Iran’s population following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. This simple wall in fact tells a story that connects domesticity to revolution and vast social change.
Nazgol Ansarinia, Living Room, 2005, Courtesy the artist, Galleria Raffaella Cortese, Milan and Green Art Gallery, Dubai
Tom Dale’s Vision Machines (2012) is a series of photographs of houses in Poland. These house were originally constructed according to strict communist building regulations but after the end of communism in Poland in 1989, they have been adapted and expanded by their owners. In Dale’s images the buildings have been subtly edited, returning them to their initial footprint, creating awkward, uncanny images. These works highlight the overlap between the personal and the political, how domestic life is impacted by the wider political climate.
Tom Dale, Visions Machines (no 7), 2012, courtesy of Copperfield, London
David Connor Design + Kate Darby Architects
Croft Lodge Studio (2017) was an act of both creation and preservation. The original ruins of an 18 th century cottage had become almost impossibly lost, having decayed into an irreparable state of disrepair. Thus, the newly constructed house and studio became a protective shell, a space of many functions: an ecologically sound domestic and professional space, but also a means of preservation. By enveloping the ruins, they are able to be preserved perfectly, building around them so that rotten timbers, dead ivy, old bird’s nests and cobwebs can all remain in place.
Croft Lodge Studio, 2017, courtesy of James Morris
Dance Base (2001) in Edinburgh is one of a series of dance studios designed by Scottish architect Malcolm Fraser. Throughout the building Fraser uses high ceilings and vast skylights to maintain a connection between the interior and the world outside. The sky is allowed to reach in and lift up the inhabitants, giving a sense of upwards momentum appropriate for a dance studio. Rather than accumulating architectural detail, Dance Base emphasises simplicity and a response to the sensory, allowing a focus on the physical activity that it has been constructed for. Here, and throughout his practice, Fraser has maintained the use of local materials to instil a sense of Scottish identity, allowing the modern to sit in harmony with its older architectural counterparts.
Malcolm Fraser, View through the glazed roof of the studio looking towards Edinburgh
Castle, 2001, courtesy of Keith Hunter
MAP Studio’s renovation of the Porta Nuova Tower (2011) saw them transform the original 14 th century structure, adding concrete and steel in an overlapping relationship with the centuries old masonry. At times these new additions exist in harmony with the old, reflecting the original architectural forms that surround them in an elegant coming together of old and new. While the simplicity of the new materials function to highlight the detail – the texture and patterns – found amongst the original structure.
MAP Studio, Interior of Porta Nuova Tower in Venice, showing the new steel staircase juxtaposed against the old wooden one, 2011, ORCH \ chemollo courtesy of Arsenale di Venezia S.p.A.
Manchester School of Architecture
Led by Sally Stone, Tom Jefferies and Eamonn Canniffe, Manchester School of Architecture’s Lost Spaces (2016) project explores actual lost history and buildings, as well as the mythmaking that surrounds the half-remembered spaces through the construction of architectural models of destroyed buildings.
Selected projects Caffè degli Inglesi by Giovanni Battista Piranesi Re-Imagined by Daniel Kirkby and Vanessa Torri
Haçienda by Ben Kelly Re-Imagined by Simina Ionescu, Christina Lipcheva and Charlotte Fuller
Hammam Yalbougha al Naseri Re-Imagined by Emma Naylor and Panayiotis Paschalis
Baptistery, Piazza del Duomo, Milan Re-Imagined by David Eccles and Jenny Etheridge
Wittgenstein’s Hut Re-Imagined by Leigh Ellis and Zena Moore
Maths Tower by Scherrer & Hicks Re-Imagined by Mihaela Mihaylova and Sam Power
Bank of England by Sir John Soane Re-Imagined by Richard Newman and Sam Stone
Caffè degli Inglesi, 2016, courtesy of Daniel Kirkby and Vanessa Tori
When Words are Forgotten (2018–9) is a continually evolvinginstallation, changing shape and contents in relation to its surroundings. With this work, Reynolds responds to her Lost
Libraries research project, where she made a five-monthjourney along the Silk Road – travelling through China,Uzbekistan, Turkey, Egypt, Italy and Iran – stopping at thesites of libraries lost to natural disasters, revolution and war. When Words are Forgotten shows a library without words, withcoloured panels of glass illustrating what has been lost, whilehinting at the power of books to build knowledge and shapeperceptions. The accompanying Library Displacements (2018)print series shows Reynolds continuing to explore these ideas,the change in format allowing for greater specificity and moredirect communication.
Abigail Reynolds, When Words are Forgotten 2018, courtesy of Charlie Littlewood
Palestinian filmmaker Larissa Sansour’s, In the Future, They Ate From the Finest Porcelain (2016), continues her longrunning practice of applying science fiction premises to theIsrael-Palestine conflict. Here she uses a blend of live actionand CGI to show a bleak dystopian future where a resistancegroup plants underground deposits of elaborate fake porcelainartefacts, aiming to create proof of a fictitious people tosupport future claims on disputed land. The film considers therole myth making has in shaping identity and creating nations.In the context of UnDoing the piece further emphasises thatwhat we do now can affect our understanding of past, presentand future, through the way ideology lives in the thingswe make, the buildings we inhabit, and the marks we leavebehind.
Larissa Sansour, In the Future They Ate From the Finest Porcelain (film still), 2016, courtesy of the artist
After studying both art and architecture Adrien Tirtiaux has developed a dynamic practice instigating his own projects as well as responding to commissions from international galleries and festivals. His often large scale sculptures have appeared in gallery spaces, abandoned buildings and the public realm. Tirtiaux responds sensitively to the surroundings of his work researching the histories and contemporary contexts of the places he is working in, combining this with a knowledge of sculpture, architecture and visual culture. His works have involved performance and audience participation referencing the politics of diverse places and histories.
Adrien Tirtiaux, Bruggen bouwen (To Build
Bridges) 2013, courtesy of Jasper De Pagie
Sarah Westphal’s installations and photographs findmeaning in the overlooked, commonplace and forgotten. Zwischendenräumen – Tussenderuimtes – Inbetweenspaces(2007–9) is a book of images that unfolds a journey through ahouse as readers browse from room to room, finding narrativesin the architecture of the everyday. Translating architecture intothis format suggests the dual proposition that a house can beread as a book, and a book can be read as a house.
Sarah Westphal, Zwischendenräumen – Tussenderuimtes – Inbetweenspaces (detail), 2007–09, Picture Book, © Sarah Westphal
53UnDoing: Towers, Tanks and Statues by Matthew Pendergast
Several years ago, I gave a speech as the best man at a friend’swedding which included a quote from French literary theorist,philosopher, critic and semiotician Roland Barthes. I had been unsureabout marriage; associating it with a shallow money-making industryand an archaic system of patriarchal dominance. Despite that, inbetween being invited to and delivering my speech at the wedding,I had also got engaged and found myself considering what in fact itmight mean to get married. I settled eventually – via Alain Badiou –on the romantic notion that it would mark our continued fidelity to theinitiating chance event of our relationship. A commitment to the futureand the past, a future and a past yet to be defined. The quote wasfrom Barthes essay about the Eiffel Tower:
‘…the Tower attracts meaning, the way a lightning rod attracts thunderbolts; for all lovers of signification, it plays a glamourous part, that of pure signifier, i.e. of a form in which men unceasingly put meaning (which they extract at will from their knowledge, their dreams, their history) without this meaning thereby ever being finite and fixed: who can say what the Tower will be for humanity tomorrow? But there can be no doubt it will always be something, and something of humanity itself. Glance, object, symbol, such is the infinite circuit of functions which permits it always to be something other and something much more than the Eiffel Tower.’ 10
My suggestion – with the gentle humour that post-structuralism bringsto a wedding – was that the marriage of my friends might not become
10 Barthes, Roland (1979) The Eiffel Tower and Other
Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang, p.5.
a universally recognised symbol of love and romance, but that it wouldalways be something for them, something that they and us would allput meaning into.
The existence of the Eiffel Tower was contested before it was built. Itsdesigner, Gustave Eiffel, had to argue against a petition signed by 300people – including establishment architect Charles Garnier and painterAdolphe Bouguereau – published in Le Temps in February 1887, theyear construction of the tower began.
‘We, writers, painters, sculptors, architects and passionate devotees of the hitherto untouched beauty of Paris, protest with all our strength, with all our indignation in the name of slighted French taste, against the erection…of this useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower’
Eiffel argued his modern edifice would have various uses for science and engineering from studying the ‘…physiology of the climber…’ to ‘…radio electric research’. In the years that followed the ‘Overwhelming myth of the Tower, of the human meaning which it has assumed throughout the world’. 11 would out shine any protests against it, along with any of its creator’s intentions. This is the fate of all things, objects, people and events; personal or famous. Once recognised as a symbol of themselves they are at the mercy of time to have meaning eternally inferred into them.
A year or so after the speech, my wife and I were married at Victoria Baths, Manchester. We had decided not to make our commitment in the presence of God, and the noise of history that echoes around the semi-refurbished grandeur of an Edwardian bathhouse was a suitable substitute. Like the Tower it may no longer be carrying out its originally
11 Barthes, R. (1979) The Eiffel Tower and Other
Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang, p.6.
intended purpose, but it has found several new roles to play incontemporary Manchester. We had previously visited the baths tosee exhibitions, print and zine fairs and performances. Its versatilityto play different roles has also seen it appear in a number of televisionprogrammes including as: a restaurant; back of house for a boxing event; a venue for trading horses and a hospital wing, in BBC’s Peaky
In February 2019, the former Socialist Republic of Macedonia,previously one of the six constituent countries of the Socialist FederalRepublic of Yugoslavia, was officially named North Macedonia. Despitestrong opposition and protests from people across Greece and itsnorthern province of Macedonia, the Greek government gave itssupport to the decision which it hopes will settle nearly three decadesof bitter disputes. Among legitimate fears of future territorial claimsand negative impacts on trade and tourism the Greek people are alsorightly concerned about the appropriation of their history by theirnorthern neighbours. Macedonia's EU and NATO-membership hadbeen opposed by Greece on the grounds of the name dispute, itsforeign affairs had stagnated and the government focused its attentionon consolidating national power by developing a new Macedonianidentity. A project referred to as ‘antiquisation’ (2006 –2017) wascarried out by the right-wing, nationalist VMRO-DPMNE-ledgovernments.
‘…Airports, train stations and stadiums were renamed after Alexander the Great and Philip of Macedon – both figures from Greek history who have little connection to Slavic Macedonia – as well as other places and figures from Greek Macedonia.
Huge areas of Skopje were bulldozed and rebuilt in a more classical style, a programme costing hundreds of millions of Euros in a country with some of the lowest employment figures on the continent.' 12
Most striking is the officially titled Warrior on Horse Back, a giant statue in the centre of Skopje which cost 7.5 million Euros and bears a clear resemblance to Alexander the Great. In the context of massmisinformation and post-truth politics, James Bridle notes that ‘In short, Macedonia is a country that has attempted to construct its whole identity on the basis of fake news’. 13 Some Macedonians have dismissed the government’s efforts as nationalist kitsch whilst others are prepared to not just believe in, but to support nationalist and right-wing politics in the name of this fiction about their own identity.
More than fake news and alternative facts, what we should be more afraid of is the establishment of fake pasts and alternative histories. These kinds of fictions can be extremely seductive, as was the Brexit campaign and its promises about the future supported by rose-tinted ideas about Britain’s past glories. Attempts to determine a definitive, quantitative and impartial answer to whose record is better with the economy – Conservative or Labour – are debatable at best. In spite of Labour often doing quite well out of these comparisons there is still a pervasive myth that they can’t be trusted with the economy, leading to shallow Newsnight jibes and Question Time guffaws. These soundbite fictions get repeated into existence. When what is going on in the world – beyond the pantomime farce of government – is difficult to comprehend, these simple lies continue to win out against complex truths.
12 Bridle, James (2018) New Dark Age Technology and the End of the Future. London: Verso, p.233.
13 Bridle, J. (2018) New Dark Age Technology and the End of the Future. London: Verso, p.234.
In 1865, Édouard Manet exhibited Olympia (1863-5) that in many waysrepeated the familiar image of the reclining Venus, which has appeared in paintings from Venus of Urbino, (1534) by Titian to Reclining Venus(1822) by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Manet’s Olympia shockedat the Paris Salon, with her confrontational gaze and the various cluesin the painting (including its title) which indicated the subject was notan innocent classical nude, but a modern-day prostitute. This shouldnot simply be read as a modern twist on an old theme that can beeasily dismissed.
‘All the obscenity of class, power and sex brutally invade the space of the painting, and it is crucial to note that the effect of the repetition of Ingres in Manet is retroactive: it is not only that Ingres’s Venus is replaced by a prostitute, it is that Ingres’s Venus itself loses its innocence and becomes (visible as) a prostitute’. 14
We cannot unsee this image of Venus/Olympia, it has changed the meaning of all that came before it. This is how revolutionary events and works of art change the world, not by creating a tabula rasa – to use an architectural term – a blank slate on which to build a new world order, but by forever changing the way we see the past. Not by creating a fiction about the past, but by showing us the truth of the present.
Hito Steyerl begins her collection of essays Duty Free Art (2017) with the story of a Soviet battle tank being repurposed by a group of pro-Russian separatists in Konstantinovka, Eastern Ukraine, in 2014.
‘It is driven off a World War II memorial pedestal and promptly goes to war. According to a local militia, it “attacked a checkpoint in Ulyanovka, Krasnoarmeysk district, resulting in three dead and three wounded on
14 Zizek, Slavoj (2016) Disparities. London: Bloomsbury, p149.
the Ukrainian side, and no losses on our side.” … Apparently, the way into the museum – or even into history itself – is not a one-way street’. 15
The essay describes our contemporary situation of sustained instability in which many suffer whilst others profit. A situation in which the past invades and occupies the present, trapping us in a computer game-like loop that we must play over and over until we can create new rules that will help us break out of this deadlock and reach the next level. The Western world too is increasingly being confronted with unwelcome elements of its past. The relative democratisation of the spread of information enabled by the internet means leaks, revelations and research can be shared and seen outside the control of established institutions. Difficult and dangerous information resurfaces out of context, distorted, over-simplified, conflating past and present. Like the dramatic and persistent propaganda made by ISIS that labels its enemies as ‘Crusaders’; history is coming back to haunt the West in a manner out of its control. The flip side of this is that many people still manage to sustain a total amnesia over the extent of our colonial crimes. This is supported by a general willingness to believe we played a selfless civilising role in the development of other countries, to see our history in a positive light despite what the truth might be. A fantasy that is also maintained by the top-down systematic destruction of documents that detail the needless imprisonment and barbaric torture of thousands of innocent people: which ‘might embarrass Her Majesty’s government’ or ‘be used unethically by ministers in the successor government’ (Iain Macleod, Secretary of State for the Colonies, 1961). 16
15 Steyerl, Hito (2017) Duty Free Art. London: Verso, p.1
16 Cobain, I., Bowcott, O. and Richard Norton-Taylor, R. (2012). Britain’s destroyed records of colonial crimes. The Guardian, [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/apr/18/britain-destroyedrecords-colonial-crimes?newsfeed=true [Accessed 4 February 2019]
In the novel The City & The City (2009) by China Mieville, two separate populations inhabit two cities which are in fact interwoven in the same physical space. The only thing that separates them is the self-training of the inhabitants to not see, or to ‘unsee’ the other city and its inhabitants. At first it is difficult to imagine how this might be possible, how the wealthy more technologically advanced Ul Qomans and the poorer more retro Besz pass each other on the street and simply don’t see or ‘unsee’ the other. The ultimate realisation though is that this is indicative of our everyday experience. When we walk past people from different social, religious or economic groups, when we walk past butty shops, porn shops, betting shops, art galleries, museums, garages, places of worship, expensive restaurants, foreign restaurants, designer clothes or jewellery stores that are just not part of our world. There are places some are alienated from to the extent that they simply don’t see them in their daily lives. If this is still hard to picture it is worth noting that the 2018, four-part BBC drama based on the book was filmed entirely in Manchester and Liverpool, not with one city as one and the other, the other – but simply using affluent shiny new buildings to depict where the wealthy Ul Qomans live and portraying Bezel with more downtrodden areas of the cities. In Manchester’s city centre people walk to work every day past statues of men with long coats and capes, most of whom did things in the 1800’s, things that for better or worse may have helped to make this city, this society what it is, but now the statues are invisible to its inhabitants; most couldn’t name who they depict or tell you what they did.
In 2017 (a century after the Russian Revolution), a decommissioned 1970 Soviet statue of Friedrich Engels was transported from the Ukraine to Manchester and permanently installed outside HOME, by the artist Phil Collins. The Ukraine was a constituent republic of the Soviet Union 1922–1991. In 2015 the Ukraine began a formal process of ‘decommunisation’ outlawing communist symbols, renaming streets, cities and villages and preventing the Communist Party from
participating in elections. Engels lived in Manchester for over twodecades and was shocked by the squalor, child labour and industrial accidents he saw here and elsewhere, which led him to write The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845) and later co-authorthe Communist Manifesto (1848) with Karl Marx. He also supportedMarx while he wrote Capital (1867) editing and publishing volumes 2and 3 from Marx’s notes after his death. These works have gone on toinspire resistance against the oppression of capital around the world.The arrival of Engels in Manchester, or some might say his return afternearly a century and a half, 128 years since the Eiffel Tower was theentrance to the Exposition Universelle of 1889 and 104 years since theexhibition of Olympia at the Paris Salon in 1865, was also marked withsome gentle controversy.
Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan likened Engels to Adolf Hitler onTwitter. 17 The following conversation pointed out that ‘…blamingMarx and Engels for the horrors committed by Stalin and others islike blaming Jesus for the Spanish Inquisition’ (@fucking_blair, (2017,16 July) replying to @DanielJHannan) and included people tradingblows about which historical figures and ideologies are responsiblefor the most deaths and who or what should and shouldn’t deservea statue to them: Fascism, Christianity, Communism, Capitalism, theBritish Empire, Oliver Cromwell, Margret Thatcher, Enoch Powell …and so on.
A more nuanced point was made by Kevin Bolton, an archives consultantliving in Stockport whose wife is a member of Manchester’s sizeable Ukrainian community. In an article for The Guardian, Manchester has a Soviet statue of Engels. Shame no one asked the city’s Ukrainians hetook issue with the statue as a piece of Soviet propaganda, that as suchrepresented not simply
17 Hannan, D. (2017) 16 July Available at: https://twitter. com/DanielJHannan/status/886700292296892416 [Accessed 07 January 2019 ]
Engels but the ideology of the later Soviet period and the Stalinistterrors associated with it. 18
With respect to those that have suffered, especially given that we livein a time when Soviet tanks are coming back from their museumpedestals to attack again, this is precisely what makes the workrelevant – needed even. It functions by going back to go forward whileconfronting all that is in between, a kind of radical not forgetting, anattempt to confront all that is positive and negative about Engels’legacy. It is not possible to go back to a pure untarnished image ofEngels, the equation of Communism with Stalinist terror is anotherpervasive soundbite fiction that has been repeated into existence, adinfinitum… ad nauseam. Engels and the image of him in Sovietpropaganda are inseparable.
It is not possible to go back to the past to find the point where thingswent wrong, to correct the timeline by taking the DeLorean back to1955 to stop Biff from getting his hands on the sports almanac, likeMarty McFly could in Back to the Future Part II (1989). What is neededis to look at history differently.
‘… we are coming to be more and more interested in the nonhistoricist approach to our past. More interested in the decontextualisation and reenactment of individual phenomena from the past than in their historical recontextualiation. More interested in the utopian aspirations that lead artists out of their historical contexts than in those contexts themselves.’ 19
18 Bolton, K. (2017). Manchester has a Soviet statue of Engels. Shame no one asked the city’s Ukrainians. The Guardian, [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/19/ manchester-soviet-statue-engels-ukrainians [Accessed 7 January 2019]
19 Groys, Boris (2016) In the Flow. London: Verso, p.187
Rather than trying to pin elements of the past into their historicalcontext – to understand them correctly – they need to be liberatedso that they can speak to the here and now. Transporting the Engelsstatue to Manchester is an attempt to drag Engels from the wreckageof history. To prop him up and dust him off, to see ourselves in hiseyes and to ask him what he thinks of us now after everything that has happened. The above quote from Boris Groys is taken from In the Flow(2016) a book which talks about art production today, particularly inthe context of the internet. He continues ‘Maybe the most interestingaspect of the internet as archive is precisely the possibility ofdecontextualisation and recontextualisation through the cut-and-pasteoperations that the internet offers to its users.’
In this way the wild untameable nature of the internet also showsus potential strategies, strategies that can be carried out across ourarchives, museums and cities whereby buildings, artworks and eventscan be recontextualised, re-seen and relearnt from. Not simply to leavethings unhooked from any context but to recognise their truth andnecessity; not to leave them undone and back in the past tense but tokeep undoing them from unhelpful fictions and lies. The task is to dothis in a way that respects the past, everyone and anyone’s, withoutgetting entangled, overwhelmed and bogged down by it. The past, likethe internet, is largely out of our control, it too is impossible to visualisein any kind of totality. It is full of towers, tanks and statues, themeanings of which are always already changing. Some of history islost for good, some of it is hidden from our view, whilst some is alltoo present. It is personal, national and global. It can be progressive,uncomfortable, helpful and dangerous. Ignoring the past, or parts ofit, undermines our ethical position, something we need to strengthennow more than ever. We will reach the future not by forgetting thepast but by undoing it and re-seeing what it can mean to us, in orderto find a way out of the feedback loop of the present.
We wish to extend our thanks to all of the exhibiting artists and architects, without whom, this exhibition would not have been possible.
Special thanks goes to Manchester School of Architecture, Castlefield Gallery’s partner in producing UnDoing, and our collaborator Tom Emery.
We must acknowledge and thank the highly skilled and dedicated teams, too many individuals to mention, at Castlefield Gallery and Manchester Metropolitan University and University of Manchester, your contributions have been invaluable.
Sally Stone, Reader in Architecture, Manchester School of Architecture
Laura Sanderson, Senior Lecturer, Manchester School of Architecture
Matthew Pendergast, Curator, Castlefield Gallery
Tom Emery, independent curator and writer
Published by MSA Press ISBN978-0-9929673-6-9
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