critical reflections
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Eric de Maré: Fishermen’s’ huts, Hastings (1956) © Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Eric de Maré: The Extraordinary Aesthetics of the Ordinary
2021
Iannis Xenakis: score for Syrmos, for string orchestra (1959) © Editions Salabert E. A. S. 17516
Iannis Xenakis: Music, Architecture and War
2021
United Visual Artists: Etymologies 2017 © United Visual Artists
United Visual Artists
2020
Margaret Howell: Campaign 2020 © Margaret Howell
Margaret Howell
2020
Palaces of Darius and Xerxes, Persepolis, Iran
The Plans of Antiquity
2020
Cristobal Balenciaga: Skirt Suit, 1964 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Cristobal Balenciaga
2020
Mathias Goeritz: La serpiente de El Eco, 1953 © Sothebys
Mathias Goeritz: 'Emotional Architecture'
2020
Richard Serra: Weight and Measure 1992 © Richard Serra
Weight and Measure
2020
Tony Smith: Playground, 1962 © Tony Smith Estate
Art and Experience
2020
Highway Construction © Caterpillar Archives
Landscape and Infrastructure
2020
Frank Gohlke: Lightning Flash, Lamesa, Texas © Frank Gohlke
Grain Elevators
2020
United Visual Artists: Etymologies, 2017 © United Visual Artists
Etymologies
United Visual Artists 2017
United Visual Artists
I find most of what is called ‘public art’ artistically banal and patronising to its audience. I think that it denigrates the public realm in which it is placed, and exposes the limits and drawbacks of patronage by bureaucratic administrative organisations. The works exist only to gain funding from these organisations, who are happy that they have something administratively acceptable to fund. The so-called ‘interpretations’ of social relevance that often accompany ‘public art’ could easily replace the works themselves, thus rendering the work of art pointless.

On the other hand, I think United Visual Artists have produced the best art for public involvement in recent years. I first became aware of them with 'Swarm', exhibited in a window on the Euston Road of the wonderful Wellcome Collection in 2011. 'Swarm' consisted of a display of lights controlled by an algorithm that represented and mimicked the swarming of birds, with sensors that responded to people on the street. The Wellcome Collection consistently hold outstanding exhibitions on architecture, in many respects more interesting that architectural galleries.

This prompted me to visit 'High Arctic' at the National Maritime Museum the same year. 'High Arctic' was an interactive exhibition of fixed wooden blocks representing icebergs and video projections of maps and icebergs on the floor, set in a black box. Sensors tracked people's movement, to which the video projections responded by bringi in images and texts. This was a time when the National Maritime Museum saw its purpose as exhibiting martime objects rather than political posturing.

'Momentum' at the Barbican Gallery in 2014 was deservedly popular, with long queues to enter. It consisted of continuous rain that was controlled by sensors to avoid people underneath. It was a wonderful sensory experience, transforming our appreciation of rain which typically seems to fall only on ourselves.

The strength of this work, I think, lies on the one hand in its sensory and corporeal nature, and on the other in the interaction of physical and electronic processes. It's so refreshing to not have to put up with 'social relevance' or 'personal expression', typical of ‘public art’.

UVA may be found here. For the avoidance of doubt these opinions are my own.
United Visual Artists: Swarm, 2011 © photo © Thomas Deckker 2011
United Visual Artists:Swarm, 2011
photo © Thomas Deckker 2011
United Visual Artists: High Arctic, 2011 © photo © Thomas Deckker 2011
United Visual Artists: High Arctic, 2011
photo © Thomas Deckker 2011
United Visual Artists: Momentum, 2014 © photo © Thomas Deckker 2011
United Visual Artists: Momentum, 2014
photo © Thomas Deckker 2011
Thomas Deckker
London 2020