Monday 28 July 2008

Building Bridges

It’s interesting to note how often images of bridges under construction graced the covers of Machine Age magazines for boys of all ages. The 1930’s must have been exciting times for lovers of bridges as increasingly ambitious projects were designed and realised. Somehow in the age of budget air travel, the idea of spanning the void by means of something as banal as a bridge has very limited appeal. The excitement of being poised in mid-air on a thin ribbon of tarmac supported by a network of cabling has all but evaporated. I have to assume that most air travellers are immune to the sense of incarceration and the pervading climate of anxiety and silent terror that air travel induces. Otherwise the great bridges of the world would rapidly be overwhelmed as vast human populations crossed back and forth on their endless global migrations. If there were a bridge over the North Atlantic, I for one would be happy to spend 3 months crossing on foot. I might then be, in the words of Fats Domino, “Walking to New Orleans”.

Today’s images exploit the visual drama inherent in conquering space and distance with massive aggregations of welded and bolted metal. Delicate manoeuvring of heavy objects, precision calibration and a vulnerable workforce exposed to extreme danger without even basic safety procedures all contribute to the spectacle. The sculptural qualities of half completed structures and prefabricated sections hoisted aloft by cranes and jibs create emphatic marks upon the landscape. For engineers, the genius is all in the design and build but for artists, bridges exist as vehicles for the imagination and a rich source of metaphors. The late Michael Andrews painted a haunting image of New York’s Triborough Bridge (Lights VI: The Spa, 1974) spanning the sea front at Scarborough in a memorable geo-political fantasy.

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