Images and Memory

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Immagini e memoria: Rome in the photographs of Father Peter Paul Mackey 1890-01

Sir John Soane’s Museum is hosting an exhibition from the photographic archive of the British School at Rome of the work of Fr. Peter Paul Mackey O.P., which presents a record of thecity undergoing rapid modernisation at the end of the nineteenth century. The expansion of the city and its new infrastructure horrified romantic artists in pursuit of a very late Grand Tour, but yielded vast amounts of new material for increasingly professionalised archaeologists. The tension between these two worlds, the simultaneous need to record and the desire to compose, are evident in many of the photographs, the ancient monuments seen against modern factories and before the maturing of present-day urban planting.

In his excellent catalogue essay Dr. Robert Coates-Stephens (Cary Fellow at the BSR) places the Dominican scholar Mackey’s images in their historical context of ‘Roma Capitale’, and the social context of the expatriate community of clerics, archaeologists and aesthetes, a society in which the word amateur still had its original meaning. The atmospherically staged exhibition continues at the Soane Museum until 12 September.

At present CiA staffer Eamonn Canniffe is researching a similar complementary collection of material, that of Captain J. Douglas Kennedy, held at the John Rylands Library in Manchester. The collection presents a haphazard but enthusiastic account of the same dilettante milieu.

SANAA: Serpentine Pavilion

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It is hard to put in words the effect of this extraordinary intervention by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa at The Serpentine Gallery in London (until 18 October). A sinuous silhouette characterises the slender reflective roof suspended on tentative mirrored columns above a simple screeded floor. Those are the bare facts.

But the impact of these simple gestures are magical. The rhyming of columns and trees is a commonplace of organic design but is here given literal depth with the doubling of the column height through reflection. The depth of the visual field collapses through the folding in on themselves of covered and uncovered spaces. The implicit gravity of light from the sky is brought into doubt, as it is revealed to be a reflection from the ground. And just momentarily one experiences a figure ground reversal, when a solid leaden summer sky contrasts with the light and space seen on highly polished surface.

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For a different view of another work by SANAA, their NewMuseum of Contemporary Art in New York see this film by recent MSA graduates.

Stone of Venice

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CiA staffer Sally Stone has successfully obtained Erasmus Intensive Programme funding for a student project studying the relationship between architecture and archaeology in north-east Italy. The experimental workshop, run in partnership with IUAV (Venice) and ETSAB (Barcelona), will focus upon the protection of key archaeological sites in the territories of the Veneto and Trentino.

The project will kick-off the CiA BArch programme for the autumn term at Manchester School of Architecture and will result in proposals for shelters, buildings and other interventions that relate directly to the sites of archaeological interest. Staff and students will be on site in Italy for two weeks in late September.

Sally Stone coordinated the Manchester School of Architecture application collaborating with Margherita Vanore from IUAV and Pilar Cos from ETSAB for the Erasmus Intensive Programme funding. Sally and Pilar have previously worked together on the Interventions Project, an international project for students from Manchester and Barcelona.

Illustration from ‘Venice for Modern Man’ published by Italia Nostra

Jeremy Deller’s Procession

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Jeremy Deller’s Procession, Manchester, 5 July 2009

While the commissioning of an art event might not have the authentic resonance of a traditional urban ritual (such as the Roman Triumph, or Holy Week in Seville), this populist production for the Manchester International Festival had much to gladden the jaded urbanist’s heart. It had a Roman road, Deansgate, to process along between the castrum origins and the later medieval core. It had an eager and appreciative crowd gathered along the route. And it had a series of familiar and unfamiliar sections evoking some mythic scenarios.

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The Rose Queens of Manchester’s largely defunct Whit Walks traditions were joined by a robust outing from The Ramblers. The all-singing, all-dancing, mock-baroque of ‘The Adoration of the Chip’ contrasted with a fleet of hearses commemorating closed but legendary nightclubs, from The Hacienda to Rotters. The Big Issue Sellers and Unrepentant Smokers (followed by a sobering health warning) provided the smudge of ‘gritty northern realism’ but the procession concluded with the crowd gleefully following along Deansgate. The pied pipers were, alas, not the Shree Swaminarayan Gadi Pipe Band from Bolton, but the equally delightful Caribbean steel band Steel Harmony, sweetly syncopating the works of The Buzzcocks and Joy Division.

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Perhaps the performance of Procession did not have the transcendent qualities of a great urban narrative reenactment, but it said more about the notions of civic pride and place than the banal receptacles of spectacular consumption which form Manchester’s recent cosmetically enhanced cityscape.

The post-event exhibition runs at Cornerhouse Manchester July 9 – 23 August.

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