Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Urban Pastoral

This illustration is taken from a 1950s book for children designed to excite their interest in the wonders of the new post-war world. There’s a didactic tone – take note, idle child, of the complexity of our modern environment. Despite being a picture of a busy urban scene the deep-frozen presentation evokes an almost rustic calm. It’s the work of Cecil Bacon and despite a certain charm, the artist’s limitations in respect of the human figure are rather cruelly exposed. There’s a game to be played imagining how this scene might look today. The labourers would be wearing hard hats and Hi-Vis workwear and ‘improving the image of construction’, in the service of Serco or May Gurney instead of the local authority. The hole in the road would be protected by safety barriers and traffic signals with vehicles compelled to travel in convoy behind a quad bike. The passing constable will today be word processing reports in a back office – his place taken by another yellow jacket, a Police and Community Support Officer. Refuse disposal has become waste management and the dustbin has been succeeded by the wheelie-bin - the contractor will be Viridor or Veolia. The gent on the left (with a passing resemblance to Marcel Duchamp) would now require an ‘enhanced disclosure’ from the CRB before accompanying the small child on an expedition to the post-box. The Royal Mail clings to existence as a state-owned company but its days are numbered and private sector vultures are preparing to feast on the corpse. The K6 telephone box is highly unlikely to have survived into the mobile phone era. The corporation bus will have long since disappeared, services now operated by the likes of Stagecoach or Worst Bus. The orgy of outsourcing has probably had more impact on the scene than new architecture. Many buildings of this type and age are still in use but almost every activity on view has been transformed by the destruction of the public sector.

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