Developments made in technology have granted us countless opportunities
to alter ourselves and our surroundings. In the age of technological
advancement it is time to consider whether this processed world is actually
an improvement over the unprocessed world. A conflict of opinions have
arisen in regard to its ever changing profile, some people are becoming
more comfortable in the simulated world where as others are not willing
In this essay I will be using the show Daydreamers to explore the idea
of nature as abject or at least as misinterpreted as it. I will pose
the question; 'can our instincts in relation to our own abject be traced
and held responsible for the way society chooses to structure their
cities and architecture'? Focusing particularly on society's sensibility,
I will make a study of how it reflects itself through architecture and
art. The selected artists for the show Daydreamers are Adam Humphries,
Ian Dawson and David Burrows.
Adam Humphries is the youngest out of three artists chosen. Humphries
mainly works in polystyrene, paper and tin foil. All these materials
are associated with waste or are at least disposable in value. By coupling
materials like recycled paper made from old card board boxes, tin foil
and Polystyrene Humphries is drawing upon things which we almost stumble
upon in the urban environment. When we come across detritus in the city
we are comforted by the knowledge that we no know it will be taken away,
such materials have awkward short lived lives on the roadside yet Humphries
gives authority to them by only using waste as his material. By doing
this he eliminates any sense of awkwardness.
Humphries deals with a very pure/ raw type of beauty which can only
compliment and reflect his desire to convey the idea of a remote/ simple
state of existence. A state of existence that could be compared to the
humble/ porous status of a weed, in the way they can grow and will grow
anywhere, needing no stimulus weeds can stem from "nothingness."
Lacking any kind of self awareness waste becomes pure, free from desire
and conscious thought, rubbish is as are weeds virtually inescapable.
Seemingly blown by the wind rubbish becomes an untainted force which
in its illogical entropic way is sure to manifest itself into being.
The artist Ian Dawson has focused on plastic as a material. The process
in Dawson's work often seems to be the subject matter. Dawson relates
this back to waste and plays with our relationship with waste/ bi products.
In his assemblages Dawson supplies a vision which helps us imagine what
would happen if waste was left to its own devices. Dawson confronts
us with the vision we would find if no one ever threw the trash out.
He creates large scale sculptures made from mass produced plastic objects
that have been transformed and reconfigured by the exposure of heat.
The notion of entropy is evident in his work, as Dawson asserts, 'I
build and destroy in one neat cycle.' Echoing process art and the
use of the found object Dawson address's the relationship between painting
and sculpture. Through a colourful pallet the abject is transformed
David Burrow's is another example of an artist who has carefully selected
his visuals. TV presenters heads made of chewing gum, clownish cuddly
toys and fashion accessories are all things deliberately chosen to portray
the superficiality of society. Made from plastic, foam or anything artificial
Burrows is focusing on a mentality which should be abject. A flattened
plastic heart is displayed on a wall. Wild arteries pump and spray pure
superficiality and he entitles it 'The Modern Spirit Never Again.' Burrow's
says himself 'My work is as empty as I can make it.' I believe that
in the work there is a definite avoidance of using anything genuine
or timeless. Fashion fad plastic soles of shoes remain and are left
to become shells of the living, in a scene that suggests disaster. I
suspect that this humorous depiction of disaster is more than just a
dodge from reality. David Burrow's has spoken of his last exhibition
New Life as a kind of low tech time machine made so that we might escape
In Burrows exhibition catalogue for the show 'New Life' there is a manifesto
written by Simon O'Sullivan and in this manifesto it is revealed that
this work '
is a future fragment projected backwards in time. Stuttering
and stammering we call forth the new clown-like people as recipients
of our practice.' Glimpsing into the future we see that only representations
remain to remind us of what we have lost. It is as though Burrows feels
he must exaggerate and literally accelerate into time to validate his
truth. We get to see the truth through the artificial since according
to Burrows these clown-like people are our future.
Jeffery Deitch in his essay entitled Artificial Nature recognises the
artist's struggle to find truth in nature. 'The environment has become
so artificial that the traditional aspiration of the artist to "to
reveal the truth" in what he or she sees may have become impossible.
The true has been twisted into the false.' All of the artist's respond
to the difficulty of finding truth by working with opaque and artificial
In this show I believe there is a common question raised which relates
to the issue of nature's genuine presence in today's society, it is
a theme which runs through all the selected artists work. This is communicated
through the plastic quality which is apparent in all the works. The
idea of the death of nature is realised through the use of the manufactured
artificial materials chosen to represent it. Due the illustrative use
of imagery, these works could be misinterpreted as mere realisations
of a science fiction fantasy about life in outer space but I believe
at the heart of them there is something deeper. A universal observation
is formed through the use of artificial. Its presence for me is the
recognition of the control fixated age we live in, an age where it possible
to challenge nature's chancing strategies and apply technological ones
of our own. As viewers we are confronted with the disappearance of the
natural world by its very absence.
These artists have been brought to M K G to represent an emerging contemporary
movement of artists working in London. A movement of artists who deliberately
invest into a hand crafted low tech way of producing work using the
notion of Landscape as their source of inspiration.
Milton Keynes is perhaps of all places in England the most interesting
and ideal place to exhibit such a group of artists for as a town it
is a symbol for the issues they are indirectly reacting against. Milton
Keynes is a newly built town, built from scratch in the early 1970's
it lacks the history and character we associate with most British towns.
It is the actual structure of the town the makes it seem distinctly
non British, this is due to an enforced divide between work and residential
homes. All homes are purposely situated miles outside of the town and
because of this the life style of the Milton Keynes inhabitant is directly
affected, impinging on and altering the life style of the worker, walking
to work is no longer be part of the luxury of choice.
Other than the exception of a few man made parks Milton Keynes is completely
flat and made of concrete. All buildings seem to be constituted out
of mirrored glass reflecting an absence landscape. The word 'contrived'
seems to spring to mind. Labelled areas of recreation are designated.
For instance there is an allocated theatre district which to me only
signifies the lack of patience the planners must have had in regards
to the formation of natural heterotopias. This is the classic symptom
of contemporary living. Too big for its own boots we have become a society
that has invested our future's livelihood in the hands of technology.
Demanding and expecting the luxury of diversity wherever we go has led
us to the crucifixion of true spirit. I am afraid to say that Milton
Keynes aura as a town parallels with the concept of the simulacrum and
lacks the same spirit other British towns are so richly blessed with.
By having the show Dreamers in Milton Keynes the works will manifest
more consciously hopefully making their viewers more aware of the sterility
of Milton Keynes.
It could be said that architecture is the physical back bone of society.
Interacting with the routines of daily living it can dictate to some
extent how we behave in an environment. Armed with the power of technology
we can manipulate our surroundings accordingly and I believe it is in
construction that our sensibility as human beings is locked through
our own indecisiveness. Mary Douglas in her book Purity and Danger declares
how 'The yearning for rigidity is in us all. It is part of our human
condition to long for hard lines and clear concepts.' The wish to
surround ourselves with such ideals seems to be a denial of the very
qualities that binds us to the natural world.
I believe the theory of this denial is particularly expressed in the
modernistic philosophy of Corbusian architecture. 'We must decongest
the centres of our cities by increasing their density. In addition,
we must improve circulation and increase the amount of open space. This
paradox could be resolved by building high on a small part of the ground
area.' Corbusier's proposal responds to the needs of the city and
provides an answer to an environment which is more than capable of causing
Corbusier is responding to the needs of an over populated environment
but at the same time I can not help but suspect that underneath all
of Corbosier's rationality there is something very instinctual and personnel.
I believe his sensitivity of placement and the need for open spaces
has come from more of an instinctual origin that starts with our relationship
with our own abject.
Julia Kristeva explores the relationship we have to our own filth in
her book Powers of Horrors, An Essay on Abjection. It is no revelation
to claim that as humans we have the innate response to feel repulsed
by our own shit. What I will claim is that I believe that this as an
instinct has been allowed to seep into and form the logic of how we
devise spatial structures. The appreciation of the Corbusian aesthetic
is more that just a superficial love for a minimalist uniform ideal.
It is the fulfilling of an instinctual need for order, a subconscious
disgust of the natural self which yearns to extinguish the very things
that make us human. To achieve this it is thereby disclaiming our vulnerability
to the world. The theorist Dominique Laporte in his book The History
of Shit traces the first attempt made to distance ourselves from our
own shit. 'The 1539 Decree, requiring that every individual or individual
family hold onto personal waste before arrying it out of the city.'
This initial assertion then triggered further changes to the structure
of every day living. For example all animals were no longer permitted
in towns and were escorted to fields outside of cities limits (this
did not apply to domesticated pets).
Could our preference regarding the placement of our shit be responsible
for initiating the first structural divides between nature and city
life? Laporte states how 'The city surrendered itself to sight, bowing
to the demands of the gaze' Laporte continues to argue how the presence
of smell is something which interferes with the concept of the city
as a sight. The philosophy of Immanuel Kant pronounces that 'The beautiful
does not smell.' To smell bad would break the gaze of city as object.
I believe Milton Keynes is a subsidiary result of this way of thinking.
As a town its human scale is defeated by high glass buildings. Any sense
of intimacy is lost by the overbearing openness that consumes and surrounds
all of the architecture. This introduces the idea of the city as a sight.
The rigidity and isolation of Milton Keynes has resulted in a scentless
lifeless town. What could be more fitting than the gesture of giving
them cleansed abject through the form of art.
The workers commuter belt acts as mechanism for this theory by inhibiting
life within the town centre, a possible attempt to distance itself from
its inhabitants as if in fear of being intoxicated by the stench of
the living. It is this type attitude that has helped play a part in
the removal of the landscape leaving cities and towns as places that
lack any trace of the natural world. If a city could be a living thing
with a psyche I believe it would resemble the essence of Bourgeois society,
particularly for their obsession to mask the all signs of the natural
self. A futile plight to '
claim: 'I was never born', 'bodies placed
in the theatre of representation no longer speak spontaneously, no longer
"betray there origins."' What the senses cannot detect
will not harm us is what Leporte essentially claims.
In this light it is interesting to observe the way in which current
society has devised the accepted plumbing system. Notice how we prefer
to keep our drain pipes opaque, a detail that does not add to the function
or design by any means. Why not have translucent pipes like our windows?
Our tactic's to disguise our own abject is something the Victorians
have also attempted to combat. Celeste Olalquiaga in her book The Artificial
Kingdom references how in 1851 the Crystal palace '
feature whereby the wooden planks of the palace's floor were left slightly
separate so that the dust could fall through them, and a bizarre "vacuum
coffin guaranteed to prevent decay"' This affirms a loyal objection
to dirt yet does not explain why we find its existence so offence.
Mary Douglas speaks of dirt/debris as something that threatens the instinctual
need for order. Douglas comments on the fear and disgust we experience
when recognising any thing that has been cast a way. 'It is unpleasant
to poke about the refuse to try to recover anything, for it revives
identity. As long as identity is absent, rubbish is not dangerous
where there is no differentiation there is no defilement.'
In Ian Dawson piece titled Plastic 2000, bins over flow and explode
onto the white gallery wall. Strangely its affect do not feel dirtying,
this is due the use of fresh unblended colour, streaks of plastic that
intertwine against each other but avoid merging. As a work referencing
a bin it could not be much cleaner. Often appearing in Dawson's work
is the motif of the bin, bins which spurt a mess of plastic yet show
no sign of actual rubbish. Inside the mess of plastic you may find layers
of coat hangers dribbled in plastic yet nothing you'd actually associate
with the bin. This same attempt to dislocate the meaning of the signifier
is also evident with Humphries use of raw polystyrene, through the time
he invests in the material its status as an art form is enhanced. Beauty
is used to separate the throw away material from the abject.
Another question to ask is can a city be made too clean? Do we as creatures
from the natural world still instinctually require dirt's presence to
assure ourselves of our own relavance within an environment? The indexical
quality abject has to our existence is emphasised in J G Ballard's The
Unlimited Dream Company.
In the story an unlicensed pilot crashes a light aircraft and dies in
a dreary suburb called Shepperton. Through his own death the hero is
magically transformed into a spirit. Ballard's writings indulge and
embrace in all the things that bind us to the natural world. This is
hilariously illustrated through his frustrated sexuality. 'I wanted
to examine these at my leisure, savour the scent of her armpits, save
for ever in a phial hung around my neck the tag of loose skin on her
Ballard as well as this does address a more serious issue. The idea
of the death of nature is addressed through the invention of the spirit.
By writing this book Ballard has recognized the depletion of nature's
presence in the suburbs and there does seem to be the desire to shift
this sad state of affairs by introducing the hybrid, sex obsessed narrator.
In this book nature is transformed into the extraordinary and I assume
that this is because in reality it really would take a magical force
to turn around the sterile suburbs we have made for ourselves. The narrator
even says himself how 'The notion of my death in some deranged way fulfilled
a profound need perhaps linked with their sterile lives in this suffocating
town- anyone who came within its clutches was unconsciously assumed
to have died.' Interestingly enough David Burrows titles his catalogue
for his show New Life the regretful '
Modern of the spirit of the
age, Never again.' Through strictly sticking to artificially basics
materials he captures the mentality of the age and the absence of the
true spirit of nature.
The awakening and role of the suburban spirit in Ballard's The unlimited
dream company and its reaction to its environment makes us reflect on
suburbs as environments in general. I believe that the role of the spirit
plays a similar part to the works selected in the show for Milton Keynes
the artists are selected to represent all the London artists who romance
over the idea of nature and landscape. Genuine nature for these artists
has become as Jean Baudrillard writes in Le Systeme des objects, 'that
the exotic object, like the antique, functions to lend authenticity
to the abstract system of modern objects, and he suggests that the indigenous
object fascinates by means of its anteriority' It seems to be evident
that genuine nature due to its absence has become something extraordinary
almost mystical for city artists.
Responding intuitively to their immediate urban environment and what
it is essentially lacking, nature has become a source of inspiration.
The recent show called Expander which was on at the Royal Academy is
an example of artists of a certain type being banded together. Interestingly
enough all of these artists have implemented a low tech way of working
enabling them to engage at levels of intimacy which cannot be attained
The importance of human touch in architecture is also stressed by Prince
Charles. The Prince is someone who also has noticed the alienating qualities
of modernist architecture and its influence on today's buildings. The
Prince condemns the architects of the 1960's and 70's as the guilty
party, too keen to reflect the technology of the age he believes they
have sacrificed the conveyance of true spirit within architecture. Stressing
the important of intimacy within architecture the Prince believes its
absence could be destructive to mental health, 'Deep down in our subconscious
an uneasy feeling persists that there is something missing if we sacrifice
ourselves to the altar of progress, and live and work in buildings which
only reflect the technology of the moment.' These architects like
our selected artists have embraced the artificial, the clean and glassy
alienating surface yet they apply it to the construction of an environment
in aid of reflecting the times that we live in.
The fundamental difference with architecture is that we find ourselves
in a far less of reversible situation. As an answer to the dilemma of
today's architecture the Prince proposes that a more crafted approached
to the details of architecture should be reintroduced. 'We need to reinstate
architecture as the mistress of the arts and the crafts
. The results
should be part of all new architecture, helping it to enrich our spirits.'
Interestingly enough this is exactly the approach taken in all of the
selected works. These artists in round about ways have highlighted this
need for detail and human touch by the way they manipulate the artificial.
Our obsession for order and the need to portray progress in technology
through architecture is now working against our fundamentals needs as
humans. Society's perfectionist need for order has caused the permanent
scaring of our landscape. Due to the lack of value placed on our contact
with nature we now reap the delayed consequences that come with it.
I believe the architect's role now is to engage and be aware of our
current and latest technology but not to feel pressured to prove its
existence. Purposely disengaging with technology is now becoming more
relevant for both the artist and the architect.
A difficult situation to find your self in is when a city needs to be
totally built from scratch. Milton Keynes is an example of a wasted
opportunity in which we failed to acknowledge the need for crafted architecture.
Yet even with Prince Charles's proposal there are problems. With Prince
Charles urban villages there is an overly selective process which is
too concerned with the look of the natural aesthetic. I am told that
(for I have never seen it myself) his project in Poundsbury, a small
village in Dorset doesn't quite live up to his expectations and the
results are kitsch.
Ian Dawson and David Burrows as artists purposely celebrate an overly
seductive beauty which verges on the ridiculous. Forms inspired by nature
cluster themselves too perfectly and become unnatural. These artists
demonstrate another example of how we as humans chose to erase, mask
and sterilise the natural so that all we are left with are stagnant
Despite this it is still true to say that there is an attempt to revive
genuine nature and bring back the human touch. This is most successively
achieved in Humphries work as he does not attempt to mask the materials
he uses. Even in the Prince's hopes for architecture there is a longing
for the past.
Appearing in M K G fifty miles outside of London these works are transformed
into samples from the past. Presenting themselves as souvenirs of our
depleted natural world, cleansed from life and transformed into souvenirs,
it makes me think back to Burrows and his imagery which glimpses into
Susan Stewart in her book On Longing claims that souvenirs are objects
of desire. Belonging to another realm we can no longer enter, the souvenir
is cursed with an innate sense of incompletion. This sense of incompletion
is found in the way Humphries, Dawson and Burrows compose an assemblage.
Their take on process art can only ambiguously suggest a posed step
towards something, a kind of hopeful longing to re-root itself in its
new surroundings. Positioned against the concrete floor they do not
reveal their initial place of origin. The irony of this type of life
form is that the very material it is formed from denies the idea of
Surpassing the notion of death, artificial life takes the place of the
natural only to imitate its highly reactive sensibility. Caught in suspension
all of the pieces are works made from materials that are not capable
of self mutation. Plastic, foam and Polystyrene do not react to the
natural environment, hence the ubiquity of plastic in today's society.
As objects they request the aid of man if they are to become anything
and this is exactly the kind of control we like to have over the abject.
In an attempt to hide from our own shit we have sterilised our architecture
and abolished genuine nature. In this show I believe that it is art
that helps us realise this insight into man's sensibility. We as a society
need to find a balance between the need to distance ourselves from the
abject and literally living in it. Otherwise this desire to suppress
our abject could, I fear put us at risk of loosing ourselves with it.
 Ian Dawson, www.grandarts.com/exhibits/IDawson.html
 David Burrows, 'New Life' exhibition catalogue edited by Caroline
Douglas, Simon O'Sullivan and David Burrows, Mead
Gallery, The University of Warwick 2004
 Ibid p89
 Jeffrey Deitch, Artifical Nature, editeded by Jeffrey Deitch and
Dan Friedman, Deste Founation, 1990
 Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger, London:Routledge, 2002, p200
 Peter Hall, Cities of Tomorrow, Blackwell Publishers 1988, p207
 Dominique Laporte, History of Shit, Cambridge, mass, London:MIT
Press 2000, p29
 Dominique Laporte, Ibid, p31
 Dominque Laporte, Ibid,p38
 Dominque Laporte, Ibid p38
 Dominque Laporte, Ibid p79-80
 Celeste Olalquiga, The Artifical Kingdom, Butler and Tanner Ltd,
Frome and London, p237
 Mary Douglas, Ibid, p197
 Mary Douglas, Ibid, p91
 J G Ballard, The unlimitef Dream Company, Johnathan Cape Ltd 1979,
 J G Ballard, Ibid, p35
 Susan Stewart, On longing, Duke University Press 1993, p146
 Prince Charles, Vision of Britain, London Rouledge, 2002
 Ibid p.91
 Susan Stewart, Ibid, Pg136