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As the world becomes increasingly urbanised our lives become more characteristically urban in experience. The sensory experience of urban living and its architecture in its evolving forms is a recurrent theme in contemporary art. Sophie Hoyle looks at the 2d and 3D architectural reflections in the work of Neil Ayling and Frauke Dannnert
Our understanding of the urban realm is in part mediated by visual representations of it; photographic and moving image technologies are used to record a ‘sense of place’ and in turn (re)construct an understanding of the place itself. Photographic and moving image media are assumed to have a greater ability to represent the ‘real’ as a mechanised, objective replication of reality. Yet there also many limitations for these media to convey lived experiences of places, where these forms have been manipulated by artists through techniques such as photocollage to de-construct the technical processes at work, and to produce more innovative or personalised forms of expression.
In the twentieth century, with the onset of urbanisation and the introduction of film and photographic technologies, a new aesthetic was formed in response to a new consciousness and new ways of seeing. Early photocollage and film montages are techniques that were formed to try to reflect the newly fractured and disrupted way of living...
Photocollage has since been ‘neglected’ in art discourses (after Salie, 2011:64), often being relegated to a certain period in art history with its peak in the early to mid twentieth century. Yet both the medium and subject matter continue to have significance, and the manifestation of this evolves. There are a number of contemporary artists who manipulate urban imagery in their art work, from Toby Patterson to Abigail Reynolds, but I will look specifically at two young artists who have responded to the London landscape in their recent work: Frauke Dannert and Neil Ayling.
Neil Ayling and Frauke Dannnert use 2-D architectural photography in their work, and incorporate it into 3-D site-specific installations. Their work uses the common reference point of post-war Brutalist architecture in London, in which they both studied (Ayling took Sculpture at the RCA and Dannert completed an MFA in Fine Art at Goldsmiths).
Yet it is not only the use of the medium and subject matter that connects them, but the character of their work which is bold, angular and dynamic. Their use of 2-D imagery evokes the sculptural without necessarily being sculptural in form. In the act of taking a photograph a 2-D image is made which ‘flattens’ the space of the architectural object being documented; through incorporating the images into site-specific installations the artists re-spatialise the 2-D representation, expanding and re-forming the photograph to mimic its original 3-D form. Their work involves a series of dislocations of place and scale in reducing architectural objects to 2-D images, and their recontextualisation in the gallery space.
In Flection (2011), Ayling applies a vinyl photograph print onto a surface of flat steel. As the image distorts along the form of the steel sculpture, the elements within the photograph are re-configured in relation to one another. Within these de-contextualised sculptural fragments, there is an ongoing tension between weight and void, and between image and object. Banner (2010) is unlike traditionally displayed photographs in that it is now visible from all angles, where the viewer has new spatial relationship to it in being able to see it from both sides, walk around and re-orientate oneself towards it.
From Dannert’s photocollage series including Serpentine (2011), compacted layers of imagery are contained within a framed edge. She then expands outside this more traditional wall-based format to use layers of OHP projections in Collage City (2011), where the images are fainter and more ephemeral than the densely built-up 2-D collages and the geometric carpet pieces.
In South Bank Graff Reconfigured (2011), Ayling cuts up and reassembles hoardings that have been left in public space and subject to graffiti, and incorporates parts of it into the gallery itself in Creep (2011). His installation work extends to using moving image in L-Saber (2011), following a logical progression of experimentation with 2-D photography, a combination with 3-D elements and then a video projection which scans across a large angular sculptural form acting as a ‘blank canvas’ for the projection.
Contrary to the perception of architecture as being heavy or static, Dannert’s Serpentine (2011) re-forms architectural fragments to produce a suspended, buoyant structure. Despite the use of concrete and steel in Ayling’s work their forms are made to seem light and dynamic, where this mis-match creates a sense of ambivalence or dissonance. Towards a less literal use of architectural photography, Ayling uses more obscure imagery in Verge (2011), where rough black and white prints are incorporated more into the object surface, rather than being superimposed onto it. There is a juxtaposition of larger architectural forms, a structural fragment or potentially the outline of a whole building, with close-up images of the texture of concrete.
Both artists have a similar approach towards physicality, a recognition of the ‘real’ and the prosaic and an attempt to express these in art forms similar to the collage aesthetics of the Independent Group contemporary to the New Brutalism architectural movement. Yet the work of Neil Ayling and Frauke Dannert contain a certain drama to them; they are hyper-real landscapes, distorted and emphasised to be more ‘real’ than reality itself. They successfully express experiences as an individual in the city as a series of fragmented, disjointed experiences where one gains only a partial and situated view of the built environment.
Though Brutalist architecture manifests certain ideologies contemporary to its design and construction, they are continually re-framed through our experiences of them in the present. With its many ideological associations, from utopian town planning to its failure and subsequent social discontent, Brutalist architecture is a highly contested and potent ground for ideological de- and re-construction, enacted analogously in the artists’ physical de- and re-construction of architectural imagery.
With the pervasiveness of digital technology in everyday life have come somewhat generalised discussions of dematerialisation and ephemerality, where newer media such as electronic music, video and Internet art with their apparently more ephemeral qualities can be seen to be more appropriate to express contemporary experiences. These technological changes don’t necessarily negate physicality but re-evaluate it, and makes us look at it in different terms; they are currently still partly rooted in material space through the materials of computer hardware and so on, where photocollage and sculptural media are still as relevant to discuss contemporary living as any other.
It is a certain approach to materiality that exists in their work, not as a reactionary backlash to changes in technology, but as a recognition of something that still presents itself in everyday life. As such architecture continues be pertinent as part of our everyday experience, particularly of Brutalist architecture with its visible and definite though highly contested presence in the British urban landscape.
The work of Neil Ayling and Frauke Dannert manifests a meeting point of a range of discourses on the photographic image, architectural ideology and urban experience, where they have re-asserted the relevance of these issues through their novel use of forms, and their re-evaluation of the ‘known’ in an original way.