Sara Callahan

Matthew Picton: Postwar Landscape, An Urban History

In his 4th exhibition with Howard House, Matthew Picton continues his investigation into the way history, both physically and metaphorically, shapes our landscapes and cities. Over the last few years Picton’s sculptural works have become more and more complex as different eras of the same city are layered on top of one another, creating intricate patterns of cities as markers of history and memory; both linear and organic, planned and improvised.

Picton writes:

“The organism of a city is a distinct entity that has been shaped by social, political, economic and topographic factors and is illustrative of the systemic pattern of human civilzation.”

Postwar Landscape, An Urban History, is perhaps Picton’s most ambitious gallery show to date. The exhibition focuses on places with particularly traumatic histories where events have left visible ruptures and rifts in the city architecture; Berlin, Hiroshima, Warsaw, and Baghdad are all cities that conjure up images of destruction and horror, but also of reconstruction and hope. The symbols of the two principle power players in the post-war era; Washington D.C. and Moscow are also included, the former depicted in an imagined future, the latter at three crucial stages of its history: 1808, 1906, and 2007. The state of Israel, perhaps the archetype of geographical trauma, is shown at two of its crucial historical junctures; 1936, 1967, overlaid with a contemporary map of its current borders and delineations.

Picton provides us with a visual history lesson of sorts, and his work raises questions about permanence, violence and rebuilding. The supposed objectivity of cartography as science is placed in sharp contrast to the human lives that hide between the lines, both literally and figuratively. The ghetto in Warsaw, the traumatic drawing and redrawing borders around and within the state of Israel, the divided city of Berlin, are all physical manifestations of the millions of tragedies and fates that are lost and forgotten. Picton’s meticulously built sculptures are clean and still, yet they remind us that life is both subjective and messy, and that history is as much about what is left out and not depicted, as what is.