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What do buildings see? In a recent interview with Jane and Louise Wilson for the Guardian, Adrian Searle asked them ‘You don’t see your work as a kind of activism do you?’ Jane Wilson replies ‘No, these are nature abhors a vacuum, it’s not based on scientific knowledge.’1 I first came across Jane and Louise Wilson in the book Public Intimacy: Architecture and the Visual Arts it was under Modernist ruins, filmic archaeologies Jane and Louise Wilson a free and anonymous monument2 – all these words hitting spots: FREE, MONUMENT, ANONYMOUS, MODERN, FILM, RUINS… their recent exhibition at the Whitworth Gallery has no show title but shows a series of film, instillation and photography.

Jane and Louise Wilson, Face Scripting: What Did the Building See? 2011 | Single screen projection, surround sound, gauze box, 2 mirrors, HD projector, CCTV monitor showing footage from YouTube.

How we experience space and architecture seems key to the Wilsons so it’s important to guide you through a little about the placement of the exhibition in the space at the Whitworth Gallery. It expands from the first floor to the second floor where you can see the Whitworth’s modern development in the space that was built into the original architecture in the 1950’s into the 1960’s. The first floor starts with the Wilsons Altogether (2010) a construction of yardsticks, these are tools used for engineering and measuring. Here the Wilsons reference the Russian soviet artist Aleksandr Rodchenko’s Spatial Constructions in 1918-19213. Next there was Face scripting: What did the building see? (2011) that I will focus on later. To the left is the series of large scale photographs Atomgrad (Nature Abhors a Vacuum), 2010. On the second floor is the Wilsons new film The Toxic Camera, 2012 4and behind the large-scale cage that the film is projected in is a small television where the film Chernobyl: A Chronicle of Difficult Weeks (1986) produced by Soviet filmmaker Vladimir Shevchenko is playing. When you come out of this space, you are then in the midst of the rest of the Atomgrad (Nature Abhors a Vacuum) large photographic


This interview guides you through some of the exhibition and also gives you more of a background to Jane and Louise Wilsons work, see the short interview with the on the Guardian website


For more see: Bruno. G and Vidler. A Public Intimacy: Architecture and the Visual Arts (Writing Architecture) ‒ p.4387.


To view images of Spatial Constructions see the blog website this also has more of a direct look at the influences of architectural, mathematical and design structures produced at the time. Also see MoMA:


Jane and Louise Wilson met the remaining members of 1986 film crew who helped inspire the new film Toxic Camera. The Chernobyl: A chronicle of difficult weeks by Vladimir Shevchenko (1986) is available online YouTube


series. Face scripting: What did the building see? (2011) is an installation including a film and CCTV footage about and of the events leading to the assassination of a Hamas operative Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in room 230, Al Bustan Rotaanna hotel in Dubai, January 2010.5 What did the building see? is a film produced by Jane and Louise Wilson and was projected onto a screen in a large cage with mirrors to the left and right of you, as though you are in a giant lens in the Whitworth gallery. Behind you is the CCTV footage of the assassination on a smaller TV screen fitted high up in the space and felt similar to looking at the arrivals and departures in train stations or airports. The camera movements through the halls and into room 230 were filmed using close-ups of the interior and exterior of the Al Bustan Rotanna hotel. In film, a close-up and extreme close-up shot was designed to focus attention on an actor’s expression, an object or to direct your own attention to other elements in the film. Unlike their film The Toxic Camera (2012) which revisited the town of Pripyat after the 1986 explosion, their film What did the building see? (2011) was not necessarily a conventional historical event. What did the building see? (2011) reminded me of films focusing on a political journey in fictional and factual destructive landscapes such as Apocalypse Now (1979), Full Metal Jacket (1987) or Children Of Men (2006,) war, politics, re-generation, landscape or ruins. This suggested to me that there have always been other spaces to use close-ups as a way of detailing these issues away from the saturation of the cinema.

National Archives [Capital], 2002, Sarah Morris 214 x 214 cm Courtesy of:

The short film Points on a line (2010) by American artist Sarah Morris, painter, writer and film-producer ‘…documents a shared desire to build structures that might change the way we think about a house, a form and a context6’ This project focused on the details of the architecture at the Glass House, New Canaan, Connecticut. You


To view this short film go to:


You can see short snippets of her films here: Points on a line is originally 36 minutes long but can be found on Vimeo with a short 4 minutes 55 seconds clip. Points in a line: part a project Modern views: A project to benefit Farnsworth House and the Glass House. Two houses built in Illinois and Connecticut, America by architects Philip Johnson and Mies van der Rohe. To find out more about the project see:


can see a short clip on her Vimeo website where she shoots extreme close-ups of keys dangling in the door and next a close up of a Mies van der Rohe chair (I’ve no idea about furniture design, let alone German designers…) however we can see these designs everywhere when America became the playing fields for 20th century architects and designers from Europe. After this you can see a close up of a window cleaner washing the glass exterior. Morris’s paintings can also be viewed as closeups where substructures of banks, hotels, agencies, and famous locations such as Las Vegas in 2001, Beijing during the Olympics in 20087 become even more relevant outside of film. These close-ups are important to the way structures have always existed socially as well as architecturally with the ambitions of the time - in groups, unions, societies and trusts.8 In Morris’s series of paintings, films and book Capital 1999, Isabelle Graw (2001) in her article All that glitters sums up a close-up of Morris’s work: ‘Power and glory feed into each other. People with power- politicians, pop stars – exude a ‘glossy’ radiance and the glass facades of powerful conglomerates also seem to be bathed in lustrous gloss. Power is evidently an indispensible condition of a certain type of ‘impressive’ aura. The gloss power is also a salient feature of Sarah Morris’s paintings. Ordinary household gloss lends them their glossy appearance. Their surfaces are so glossy that they prevent us from seeing into them. Its hard to tell whether this is their way of laying claim to power or whether, conversely, the traces of a ‘powerful’ position are inherent in them.’9 I’m trying not to end this as some kind of a depressing poem. The Wilsons suggested that the yardsticks for measuring and engineering are not always going to build utopians for us and that the town of Pripyat that was in ruins and now presently uninhabitable in a short period of time is the reality of future ruins. My original question was ‘What do buildings see?’ could possibly be answered with a simple ‘us,’ but today in 2013 what does it mean to be FREE, MONUMENT, ANONYMOUS, FILM, RUINS…?



Visit Sarah Morris s website brilliant website, as it structures around the installation view in galleries, exterior spaces and also gives you a chance to view some close-up photography of film stills:


Jacobs Oud 1890-1963, Dutch architect also apart of the group De Stijl 1917-1931 see: Jaffe, C.L.H, De Stijl 19171931 p.70-71 De Stijl from De Stijl manifesto, I, p.25.


This was the article written by Graw, I published by München: Kunstverlag Goetz, 2001. This can be viewed as PDF online also Capital published by Oktagon Verlagsgesellschaft mbH 1999 and produced by Morris, S 1999.


What do buildings see?  
What do buildings see?  

Thoughts and response to Jane and Louise Wilsons show at the Whitworth Gallery Manchester 6th october 2012- january 27th 2013 For more see:...