Urban Sculptures

“Cities bring together culture and ideas, convert human power in to form, energy in to civilization, they are like brains directing and developing civilized life”
—Joel Kotkin.

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 civilization. Some cities will reflect one of more of these factors to a greater degree than another. London for example, reflects an organic economic growth and a pluralistic political power structure in a manner not often seen in continental Europe. The Baroque European cities look back to the Marcus Vitruvius Pollio notions of the radial concentric city and his famous design for Rome. The European cities were designed to radiate out from the central power of the church or political center and possessed the centralized autocratic political structure to permit this. Most influential of these being Haussmann’s Paris, widely imitated in cities such as Vienna, Berlin St. Petersberg, later in Mexico city, New Delhi and Washington DC. More recently comes William Penn’s Philadelphia, the triumph of the modernist grid, the template for most of the North American cities. Since then most cities have expanded far beyond these original forms, growth fuelled by ever more abundant energy supplies has led to the super metropolis of the 20th century. Future projects aim to encompass all of the overwhelming immensity of the world’s mega cities, Tokyo, Mexico city and Mumbai perhaps in the form of a walk in installation.

The historical city portraits take the current contemporary city structure and add the previous versions of the city. Every city is in a constant state of evolution, many have endured apocalyptic destruction, been radically altered by the imposition of the wills of outsiders, or suffered natural calamities. There are of course others that reflect a process that is like a long, slow organic accumulation with only occasional subtractions. The current face of each city reflects that which has been kept and preserved, much lies buried, destroyed and erased from history, existing only in archival records. The historic city sculptures present the city as a continuous visual narrative, one in which the past layers of history are allowed to be simultaneously present. Peering through the layers of the sculpture is akin to looking inside the interior structure of a civilization, which gives rise to an imagination of the former eras and the lives of the former denizens.

Accompanying the structural fabric of a city is the name and word form of the city, something that in many ways functions as a commemorative record. A record that is directly reflective of the salient moments of history, whether they be, political, economic, intellectual or military. Some cultures have placed greater emphasis on one or more of these, for example London’s name structure reflects it’s economic heritage to a greater degree than any other city. Names come and go, disgraced former dictators and generals disappear, sometimes a city is entirely renamed in another language, for example Johannesberg. The text sculptures recreate the past, make it visible, forgotten names and places re-emerge and reassert themselves in and amongst the fading layers of historical memory.

Cartography has long played a central role in my work, featuring prominently in the cracked parking lot sculptures and drawings and the ocean floor sculptures. Mapping and cartography have long held a fascination for me. Apart from the obvious opportunity for imagination of place and origin, there is the actual physical beauty of the cartographic document, a document that in itself invites sculptural interpretation. One of the most famous examples of city map making is the Nolli map of Rome. This particular map lays out the form of Pollio’s Rome in a manner in which the true beauty of the design can be appreciated. The form of Rome appears uncluttered and sharply delineated in high contrast, the sculptural properties of the map readily apparent.

These sculptures transform the two dimensional mapped image in to multi layered sculptures, seperating out the layers of communication, transportation and river systems that comprise the current city. The extraction of the lines of infrastructure from the background data allows the complex organism that comprises each city to become visually transparent. Structure and vertical space have been added to the cartographic form, the city can be visually entered, the hollow spaces imaginatively inhabited and moved through. The map has been animated and transformed, within the complex fabric of these structures our own lives can be imagined and projected.

Matthew Picton