Untitled Document Contacts

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 to adapt.
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.'[1] 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 into kitsch.

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.'[2] 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 the future.

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.'[3] 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.'[4] All of the artist's respond to the difficulty of finding truth by working with opaque and artificial materials.

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.'[5] 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.'[6] Corbusier's proposal responds to the needs of the city and provides an answer to an environment which is more than capable of causing chaos.

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.[7]' 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).[8]

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[9]' 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.'[10] 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.[11]"' 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 '…a structural 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"'[12] 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.[13] 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.'[14]

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 lip.'[15]

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.'[16] 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'[17] 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 through machines.

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.'[18] 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.'[19] 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 mutations.

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 the future.

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[20]. 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 lived experience.

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.

Charlotte Shinerock
London, UK
Febuary 2005

[1] Ian Dawson, www.grandarts.com/exhibits/IDawson.html
[2] David Burrows, 'New Life' exhibition catalogue edited by Caroline Douglas, Simon O'Sullivan and David Burrows, Mead Gallery, The University of Warwick 2004
[3] Ibid p89
[4] Jeffrey Deitch, Artifical Nature, editeded by Jeffrey Deitch and Dan Friedman, Deste Founation, 1990
[5] Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger, London:Routledge, 2002, p200
[6] Peter Hall, Cities of Tomorrow, Blackwell Publishers 1988, p207
[7] Dominique Laporte, History of Shit, Cambridge, mass, London:MIT Press 2000, p29
[8] Dominique Laporte, Ibid, p31
[9] Dominque Laporte, Ibid,p38
[10] Dominque Laporte, Ibid p38
[11] Dominque Laporte, Ibid p79-80
[12] Celeste Olalquiga, The Artifical Kingdom, Butler and Tanner Ltd, Frome and London, p237
[13] Mary Douglas, Ibid, p197
[14] Mary Douglas, Ibid, p91
[15] J G Ballard, The unlimitef Dream Company, Johnathan Cape Ltd 1979, p31
[16] J G Ballard, Ibid, p35
[17] Susan Stewart, On longing, Duke University Press 1993, p146
[18] Prince Charles, Vision of Britain, London Rouledge, 2002
[19] Ibid p.91
[20] Susan Stewart, Ibid, Pg136


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