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Contemporary Canadian photographer who uses maquettes to construct Neo-Classical buildings of a vast scale with humans dwarfed by their surroundings.
For over two decades my installation and photographic practice has explored the ideas of architectural fiction, utopianism and the Neo-classical architectural style. Initially conceived as means to address a growing interest in architectural spaces, I developed a process in which I constructed and then photographed architectural maquettes. Over this period of time, my practice has grown from a point where everything was analog to recent years when just about everything, except the maquette, is digital.
My first photographic exhibit developed out of an interest in the monumental buildings that were fashionable in the period leading up to WWII. While the series purported to document civic buildings from my home city's ( Hamilton ) past, none of those buildings actually existed. Furthermore, these oversized make-believe buildings ( depicted in the banned Neo-classical style of the German Nazi party ) were generally accepted at face value and for the most part warmly received. No doubt appealing, like all utopian schemes, to deeply entrenched instincts, such spaces do seem intertwinded with our most basic, almost reflexive, desires for community, order, security, or sense of permanence.
This was followed up by a similar series that looked back on 19thC British prototypes, that, not surprisingly, were often attached to progressive ideas with widespread cultural or social ramifications. Amy Levy, a writer in London in 1889 remarks that the recently constructed Reading Room in the British Museum ( at the time housing the second largest dome in the world ) was a space that cut across social boundaries of class, nationality, gender and could even be thought of as a shelter or refuge. Similar views about the role of architecture as an all-encompasing shelter were expressed by Edwin Lutyens, a late-Victorian architect, whose massive unfinished Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral would have surpassed St.Peter's in size. In his new building he envisions a refuge for Liverpool's largely poor immigrant population.
My current photographic series - titled "Cold City" in some ways continues and in other ways departs from previous series. In one respect, I'm still essentially exploring facets of Neo-classicism. I was especially interested in the period after WWII, as Neo-classicism's progressively iconoclastic representations transitioned into the rudiments of Modernism. Caught between the old pre-war culture and the one that was mushrooming in the early stages of the Cold War, it was a style that seemed somehow paralyzed, cut off from the discredited past, but having nowhere to go in the no-future era of the hydrogen bomb. One such notable shift occurred in the Soviet Union as Stalinist-styled Classicism evaporated in the cold light of new Post-WWII economic and military realities.
"Cold City" was developed around the idea of large Soviet or East Bloc industrial and military sites known as "closed cities", many of which were situated in remote or arctic locations and only recently accessible to outside interest. In cities like Norilsk, that literally exist at the end of the world, everything is at once reductive and marginal - distilled into a kind of survivalist purity. Even time seems to have bunkered itself away.
Carl Zimmerman (11 November 2014)
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