Defined as “The lapse of humankind into a state of sin ascribed in traditional Jewish and Christian theology to the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis”
Throughout history many civilizations and individuals have experienced a seeming and often sudden fall from grace. From the very beginnings of the Twentieth Century, modern civilization, particularly in Europe, seemed to shatter and fail. Few cities experienced a more prolonged version of this than St Petersburg where in the words of Akhamatova “But along the legendary esplanade of the Neva, the Twentieth century approached, not the one on the calendar, the real one”
In the world today there exists an almost constant anxiety about when and in what form it will reappear. Underpinning the fear and anxiety is the fear of survival, loss and death, a background noise of hysteria, drama and paranoia fueled by an invasive media that appears to have an almost hypnotic hold over the populace. In selecting subjects for these sculptures I found myself drawn by films and novels set in cities during periods of struggle and transition, societies and cultures that underwent seismic upheavals. Those histories provide the lessons for today and can serve as examples that in the absence of living memory function as a guard against what can be a complacent amnesia. For each century there is a complete turnover of population, no living memory, replete with the visceral nature of experience to stand against the slow and stealthy erosion of the hard won gains of social progress. Individuals and societies are underpinned by complex historical narratives, narratives that can be re awakened by populist leaders seeking to exploit submerged divisions and grievances. A consequence of this can lead to “The bloody wedding of repression and terrorism” as Albert Camus once said.
The sculptures in this exhibit illuminate the inversions of twentieth century history as illustrated and defined by some of the period’s leading novelists. Those novels were then taken a stage further and staged as cinema. “Barbaric, mystical, bored: here is the last century in summation. A schizophrenic, self-mutilating era in which man flew higher than was dreamed possible and plumbed depths unimaginable; slaughter beyond measure coupled with advances beyond comprehension; collective insanity and individual rationality.” Darragh McManus. Societies throughout history have grappled with the tensions caused by the progressive edge of a culture seeking to evolve humanity at a faster rate than the other half of the populace is ready for, the Twentieth Century illuminated this to a degree unknown in the past. “To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world – and at the same time that threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are” Marshall Berman
The sculpture of Berlin, The Berlin Alexanderplatz based upon the novel of the same name by Alfred Doblin, set in the Berlin of 1928 is essentially about the fall of an individual, Franz Biberkopf, amidst the pressures of a deteriorating city. The sculpture of Amsterdam, “The Fall” investigates the notion of post war European guilt in the guise of it’s main character Jean Baptiste Clemence. If Franz Biberkopf is ultimately crushed through the corrupt society in which he exists, then Jean Baptiste Clemence seeks to become the bad angel, the ultimate corrupt being who embraces universal guilt and the idea that all are guilty. These two sculptures essentially bookend the traumatic years of the Europe of the 1930s and 1940s. The Berlin Alexanderplatz presented a society in which human society was severely compromised morally and ethically and as such created a portrait of a city and nation in which the conditions for the horrors of Nazi Germany were evident.
The sculpture “Moscow, The Master and Margarita” has an interior comprised of tattoos collected by prison warder Danzig Baldaev from 1930 to 1980. The tattoos present an inverted mirror of soviet life “As in a mirror everything the country has gone through has been reflected in prison and camp life” Baldaev. The Master and Margarita, by Bulgakov is set in the Moscow of the 1930s and is a satire of Stalinist Russia, the fall of mankind is illustrated by the tale of Pontius Pilate being forced to acquiesce to the evil passions of the excited mob to allow for the crucifixion of Jesus. The film by Rainer Fassbinder of the novel “Querelle” by Jean Genet creates a closed hermetic world in which the young sailor Querelle inhabits a world turned upside down, where evil is treated as sainthood. Querelle is described by Genet as “The angel of the apocalypse”
The moral order of the prison world is inverted, the most ruthless are on top, power is exercised through the threat of violence. In most stable societies this underworld is kept firmly in place but when corruption pervades a society there is often little difference between the two. It is as though the shadows have infiltrated the culture at large. In many countries most human interactions are tainted and ordered by an invasive corruption. In many of those societies it is only a matter of time before things fall apart.
The sculptures in this exhibition set elements of film, posters and stills within the cartographic landscape of the cities in which they are set. It is almost as if the city forms provide the stage set for the cinematic imagery that has been fragmented across the surfaces.