Barnraising & Bunkers

8 May - 29 June 2013

Angharad Pearce Jones, <i>“This Way Please ….” / “Ffordd ‘Ma Plis….”</i>, painted steel, painted MDF, 4 x 5 m. Photo: g39
Angharad Pearce Jones, “This Way Please ….” / “Ffordd ‘Ma Plis….”, painted steel, painted MDF, 4 x 5 m. Photo: g39
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On the periphery of the city centre a warehouse has been re-purposed, its industrial past still apparent but replaced with construction of a different kind. g39’s new premises supports the idea that the built environment is a process, not a fixed state and despite the desires of architects and planners its growth happens organically at the will of its inhabitants. If Barnraising epitomises collective action and co-operation, Bunkers suggest the opposite, a singular act. The exhibition Barnraising and Bunkers looks at our impulse for shelter, and how we choose to build. It’s a thematic jumble of pathways, shelters, structures and art. It features work by artists who engage with architectural or physical structures through their construction and our navigation within them, around them and through them.

At the centre of the show is Uriel Orlow’s film Holy Precursor, a meditation on the cycle of presence and absence, the after-life of traces, and nature as a solemn witness of history in the present. The film is set in and around a Kurdish village which was built on the site of the ancient Armenian monastery of Surb Karapet, one of the most important sites of Armenian pilgrimage. Partially destroyed during the Armenian genocide in 1915, the monastery was finally reduced to rubble by the Turkish military in the 1960s as part of an ongoing practice aimed at erasing all signs of Armenian cultural heritage in Turkey. The village was built using the stones of the blown-up remains of the monastery. Orlow’s film moves from a lament and stills of the re-constructed houses to a closing sequence of flowers being harvested, but the sequence is shown in reverse, with each plant finding its place and its roots in the soil again.

At the centre of the room, towering above us, Rich White has created a new work. It is his process that most closely resembles a barnraising, involving physically altering (or appearing to alter) existing architecture in public and exhibition spaces. These architectural interventions are developed specifically for their location through research and site visits; responding to the architecture, history and current happenings in the area. The piece GBU-28 Deep Throat refers to the nickname of a bomb known as the bunker buster, a needle shaped torpedo that was used to break through reinforced concrete. The work was built on-site from materials found or reclaimed from the last exhibition and the existing architecture. Growing and changing during its construction it has been wrapped in blackout cloth and the structure becomes a void, a shadow that outlines the area of destruction.

We build up. We tear down. With each new incarnation the places we inhabit inherit the name of their previous life. Cardiff today is not the Cardiff that was a crop of farms, or the Cardiff that exploded into being on the profits of the Industrial revolution. With each incarnation our paths change as perimeters are re-drawn. Three of the artists deal directly with navigation and pathways. Angharad Pearce Jones’s sculpture This Way Please is an extreme version of controlled or restricted movement. Jones’s art practice crosses the line between sculpture and civic commission and she frequently appropriates industrial techniques and conventions. There are three routes through this interactive mix of metalwork and gates, a straightforward route is disrupted by a series of barriers and turnstiles that make swift passage impossible. It becomes a fetishised installation of frustration that challenges the etiquette of communal movement.

Richard Powell’s photographic series Desire Lines is a document of the paths that we create to get us from a to b. The paths emerge as shortcuts where constructed ways take a circuitous route, or have gaps, or are lacking entirely. These lines are often in contrast to the right-angled perimeter paths of planners. Powell’s anthology of photographs collects behaviour patterns as well as locations and conditions.

Carving out alternative paths, Dan Griffiths sails through the streets at speed on a skateboard. He makes fragmentary film documents of his encounters with the messy urban sprawl and the buildings, paths and street furniture become part of the journey. At once flaneur-situationist, showing us that the bleak rationalism of the urban environment can be resisted, its cultural signifiers reclaimed to create a more fulfilling set of daily encounters. In motion, the city passes in front of him, a playground in the built environment that celebrates lived experience. As he travels, the skateboard beneath his feet is scuffed and marked, leaving skims of paint at each jump. For this work it is not an ordinary board though – this board is usually hung on people’s walls. It is a Damien Hirst special edition and Dan puts its value firmly out of the private collectors hands and returns its function. The board is exhibited in a museum vitrine, although it will be periodically removed during the show and used – oscillating between art and function.

At the heart of the city life can gain anonymity, we can disappear. As the city grows, the buildings grow and the barriers between one place and another grow. Commerce is the dominant force and high street chains multiply and increase in size. Alongside these developments a fringe society grows and sub groups exist outside this mainstream. There is an urban survival instinct that exists in contrast to our clean and ordered plazas. Geraint Evans’ work focuses on these groups. Through his drawings and installations he acknowledges their worth. For this show he has recreated one of the hand-built, one-man alternatives to commerce in Trolley, a sculptural reinvention of a street trader’s stall, though the texts and details of the objects have been altered. Portable and compact, it is part-shop, part-shrine. Above all it is mobile and human in scale.

Alongside this Jonathan Powell’s work When We Build Again depicts den-like structures; as if created by children, cobbled together out of the building blocks salvaged from the remains of the previous buildings and cities. They are flawed buildings of the future, constructive as development of the regeneration process leaving a trail of derelict, crumbling buildings which themselves will eventually become monuments to past failures. The title is taken from the 1940s Birmingham regeneration manifesto designed to improve people’s quality of life by clearing the slums and re-housing the poor, which ultimately led to the building of High rise flats that engendered a legacy of social, constructive and economic problems. Future developments offer a chance to redesign and improve upon those unsuccessful outdated projects and to meet the needs of a new generation.

A succession of these repeated forms appear in Abigail Reynolds’ series of images. She scoured used bookshops and flea markets to recover images of architecture, landmarks, monuments and landscapes printed at a similar scale and shot from approximate vantage points by separate photographers at different points in time. Then and now are merged through a series of incisions and folds, which result in an undulating three-dimensional honeycomb like surface in which the entirety of each page is preserved. By making montages of historical images she creates a continuum and alludes to a lineage linking past with present, linking growth and destruction within one image.

We often think of urban and rural being in opposition – the former synonymous with presence and the latter with absence. As our basic need to create shelter gave us our first dwellings, so these clustered to form villages and eventually cities. But urban dreams of utopian living and social cohesion do not always survive the accelerated and fragmented organic growth of the places we inhabit. When the dividing line between public spaces and private spaces is drawn so distinctly society will find ways of redrawing the line – or at least blurring its edges.

  • Uriel Orlow, <i>Holy Precursor</i> (2011). Courtesy: Lux
  • Jonathan Powell, <i>When We Build Again</i> (studio shot), Bitumen, oil on unframed canvas
  • Abigail Reynolds, <i>Devaluation</i> (2012), book pages 29.5 x 21cm
  • Rich White, <i>GBU-28 Deep Throat</i>. (c) The artist. Photo: g39
  • Angharad Pearce Jones, <i>“This Way Please ….” / “Ffordd ‘Ma Plis….”</i>, painted steel, painted MDF, 4 x 5 m. Photo: g39
  • Geraint Evans, <i>Trolley</i> (2013). Photo: g39
  • Dan Griffiths <i>
  • Dan Griffiths
  • Richard Powell, <i>Desire Lines</i>