A photograph of a swimming pool is draped over a towel rail. The pool flows from the wall out into the gallery space and onto the floor, curling into a cylinder at its end. A clear sheet of PVC located directly behind the print mimics its new found form. On the wall opposite, an image of a tower block curves over a convex sheet of MDF. The rigid geometry of the building gives way to the flimsiness of the paper it is printed on.
The two photographs were taken on the Golden Lane Estate, a council housing estate constructed between 1952 – 1962 on the fringes of North London, an area devastated during the Blitz bombings.
These are two of three works which make up Tina Hage’s The Place Here, the first exhibition at Manchester’s newly titled OBJECT / A gallery (formerly Untitled Gallery). In them, Hage uses modest sculptural gestures to reconfigure the images into new entities. Attention is drawn away from the pictorial ‘subject’ of the photograph and directed towards its new found thing-ness, its material presence in the gallery space
Titled The Place Here VII and The Place Here VIII respectively, the location, history or significance of The Golden Lane Estate is at no point referenced within the context of the show. Does the artist expect the viewer to know this information already? Does she simply overlook it? Or, the subject being the materiality of the photographic image itself is it inconsequential?
Perhaps for Hage the estate has become nothing more than a mute correlation of buildings to be reworked and re-imagined. And perhaps there is some truth in that – after all, what relation does Great Arthur House (The Place Here VIII), now a Grade II listed mixture of council and privately-owned flats, bear to the Zeitgeist from which it was born?
On the partition wall at the back of the gallery a monitor displays a video created from single photographs taken on a concrete seaside promenade (The Place Here X). The result is a hypnotic panning in and out of the walkway, the more of which we watch the more we are taken back to the flatness and the rectangularity of each photo from which it is comprised.
The third and final work in the show provides some indication of how we should approach the exhibition as a whole – not as documentation of the sites depicted but as a translation, a poetic re-articulation of their ‘aesthetic’. Reading the works in this way unearths a system of subtle formal and abstract connections between them (the panning in and out of the walkway/the formal ‘in’ and ‘out’ gestures of VII and VIII).
But what do the two sites really have in common, beyond a superficial ‘Modernist’ style of simplicity, geometric harmony and exposed concrete? From reading the exhibition press release we ascertain that the place in The Place Here X is a “Brutalist”, “once utopian construction” located on Hastings’ seafront. In reality, the concrete promenade was designed in the early 1930s by the borough’s civil engineer, Sidney Little – roughly two decades before Reyner Banham’s inaugural essay on the then emerging Brutalist movement (The New Brutalism, 1955).
There has been a renewed interest in post-war Modernist architecture within the British contemporary art world. This has led to a reductive predilection on its ‘aesthetic’ and a broad brush stroked definition of its ideology. The short listing of the architectural unit Assemble for this year’s Turner Prize perhaps marks a move away from this fixation on style towards a rekindled engagement with the Modernist ‘ethic’. But with such sparse accompanying text, where Hage really stands in this dialectic, and if it is even one which she wishes to enter in to, is left open for debate.
Daniel McMillan is an artist and writer based in Manchester.
Image courtesy of OBJECT / A.
Tina Hage: The Place Here, OBJECT / A, Manchester.
25 April – 6 June 2015.