Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Ruhrgebiet in Close-up

The photos here were taken on a recent visit to the Ruhr – following the Industrial Heritage Trail. When the impact of globalisation and cheap foreign imports of coal, iron and steel products destroyed the viability of mining and heavy industry in the 1980s and 1990s, de-industrialisation rapidly took place. The local authority’s response was to preserve the most impressive industrial sites and open them to the public as educational and recreational resources. These photos come from Duisburg, Essen, Bochum and Dortmund. In close-up these structures offer compositions that in colour, surface and mass often resemble the sort of abstract formalism that can be found gracing the walls of Modernist art museums. It’s a conceit of course – the appearance of these structures was entirely dictated by their utility. The aesthetic input was zero. It is artists and photographers who have developed an aesthetic response to industrial spectacle and created the concept of the Industrial Sublime. A list of the guilty parties would be long and certainly include Charles Sheeler, Carl Grossberg, Albert Renger-Patszch and Bernd and Hilla Becher.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Road Surfacing 1909

Parisian highway maintenance – a sightseeing tour around the city with added work gangs. Much back breaking manual labour – levering paving slabs, spreading bitumen and laying cobblestones. No hi-vis clothing and no steel toecaps and tasks that, to this day are often carried out by hand. It’s a refreshing way to visit the City of Light. Cards issued by Liebig in 1909.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Cork Flooring

The High Altar in the apse at St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral in Cork rests on a mosaic floor designed by William Burges. Crustaceans, molluscs and amphibians in mosaic form share the space with artisans, scholars and parfait knights. The initial inspiration for this piscatorial fantasy came from St. Matthew, “.... the kingdom of Heaven is like unto a net that was cast into the sea and gathered of every kind”. There’s a useful account of the mosaics in J Mordaunt Crook’s William Burges and the High Victorian Dream – Crook is well disposed toward the mosaics but clearly regards them as a minor aspect of Burges’s achievement. Crook tells how they were manufactured in 1877 by Burke & Co. in Paris by a team of Italian craft-workers from Udine using Pyrenean marble fragments. The imagery has a light and playful character that is not something routinely found in a High Anglican place of worship but one of Burges’s many redeeming features was an appetite for fun and a liking for puns. The latter inspired him to include bobbing corks (unfortunately not visible in this selection) in his aquatic fantasia.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Streetcar Propaganda

At first glance these postcards seem to be an expression of an aesthetic impulse to embellish the harsh rectilinear forms of a streetcar with the soft and organic forms of floral decoration. Japanese visual culture places the highest value on refinement but something else appears to be going on here. More sinister and militaristic imagery appears on closer inspection, alongside a profusion of national flags and naval ensigns. Airplane cut-outs could be taken as celebrations of technology but there’s no ambiguity about the slender forms of falling bombs. A formidable armoury has been deployed in floral disguise including aircraft propellers, torpedoes and artillery. The best guess is that this is a souvenir of a morale-raising street procession to remind the local populace of their patriotic duty to submit to the war effort. Which would date these postcards to the early 1940s.