Realism, distance and documentarian objectivity are concepts that emerge at the first thought of photography on modern architecture. None the less, the work of Nicolas Grospierre and David Sardaña tells us much more – thanks to them we can deconstruct these concepts on five different levels.
Level one. René Magritte, with his famous pipe, got us into a semantic predicament. The same game can be used to move between levels. But if the Belgian surrealist maestro questioned works on canvas, here we are suspicious of photography itself. When we see a photograph of a building that states the word edificio (building), don’t we stop seeing it or even believing it? Even as a direct shot, the reality of the image dissolves „caused by” the word. A frame that isn’t accidental puts us in a different state, beyond words and things. Whereas photographed coloured blocks do just the opposite process, but with similar results: the photographic editing is so subtle that it cannot be detected. Buildings that aren’t buildings.
Level two. To think of modern architecture is to think of Le Corbusier. This “the most practical, democratic and visionary architect of our time” – in the words of Berger – left a widely known legacy that was extended throughout the world… very misunderstood. If the notion of modernity implies a promise of future, then why, when we contemplate these photographed buildings, do we automatically think: “How long will they last?” “Are they still standing today?” It is hard to believe that they can be examples of so called unité d´habitation; they are rather a way of transforming architecture into an efficient business that is sadly perishable.
Level three. The modulor by Le Corbusier, the human scale that should be the foundation of inhabitable architecture, is called into question when observing the vertically cramped accumulation and the urban landscape found in these photographs. Forms that one day wanted to give a neutral element to the ensemble without keeping man in mind. Now a shelter for multitudes, they have been transformed into swarms that secrete as many worlds as they do windows. Façades that house distinct microcosms. Mass-produced geometric shapes mocked by umbrellas, clothespins, awnings and plants. Decorations that are only comprehended by the free imagination of their neighbour.
Level four. It is equally interesting to think that these modern architectural forms derive from the constructivist tradition. Political and aesthetic ironies are echoed in David Sardaña’s photographs (showing this supposed modernity in full on Spanish autarchy) while Nicolas Grospierre uses architecture developed during communism as a basis. Ideologically opposed regimes that share an absolutist foundation erasing all evidence of democratisation.
Level five. Taking the selected buildings out of context is a strategy undertaken by both photographers. Used as isolated subjects, the interpretation of their reality is altered. Decontextualised works show them as elements separated from the integral whole.
David Sardaña’s work belongs to the Levantine Rationalism series, a set of photographs of the architecture from Spanish eastern coast that proliferated during the touristic boom of the 1970s, used by the regime to appear open and modern. An unhinged urban development that resulted in the accumulation of illogical and even disrespectful recreational buildings along the coast. Removed from their reality, monumentalised with frontal perspectives or low angles, Sardaña work gives them back their dignity, delves into their abstract origin, extracting their battered beauty and showing the universality of their forms.
The buildings that compile Nicolas Grospierre’s Atlas are a detailed and exhaustive game of abstraction, which only demonstrate the universalisation of modern forms. A modernity, however, seen through the cracks of its decline as a broken promise of future. If we consider the ironic wink of his Kolorobloki, we reach the highlight of our discourse: what seems like documentary photography is but a montage and clear sarcasm.
Nicolas Grospierre & David Sardaña – CECI N’EST PAS UN BÂTIMENT
@ andel’s Hotel Łódź (17 Ogrodowa St., Łódź, Poland)
Opening reception: April 6 at 7.00 PM
The exhibition will be open to the public between April 7 and May 6, 2017
Curator: Inés R. Artola
The Nicolas Grospierre and David Sardaña exhibition is organised under doc! photo magazine patronage.