Ian Wal­lace
The Con­struc­tion Site

17 Jan­u­ary — 28 Feb­ru­ary, 2015

Images of con­struc­tion sites, exca­va­tions and build­ings in progress first appeared in my pho­to­graphic work in the late 1960s. In this early pho­to­graphic work these images appeared as an ironic pic­turesque back­drop to a pho­to­jour­nal­is­tic inves­ti­ga­tion of the urban and sub­ur­ban land­scape. I ini­tially was attracted to the ironic logic of Robert Smithson’s com­ment that con­struc­tion sites were “ruins in reverse”; that “build­ings don’t fall into ruin after they are built, but rise into ruin before they are built.” I often looked at these “land­scapes of incom­plete­ness” as rav­aged ter­rain from a per­sonal melan­cholic mind­set. In the 1970s, I became increas­ingly inter­ested in the Con­struc­tivist move­ment in the Russ­ian Avant-garde in the early twen­ti­eth cen­tury and their opti­mistic con­cepts of the cen­tral role of art and archi­tec­ture in the con­struc­tion of the new world. The motif of the con­struc­tion site pro­vided pic­to­r­ial metaphors for poetic and polit­i­cal themes that were often con­tra­dic­tory, and thus offered a fer­tile vehi­cle for var­ied inter­pre­ta­tion and con­cep­tual mutation.

Since the early 1990s, I have made sev­eral works that focus on the con­struc­tion site. In a large five-part series titled Con­struc­tion Site (The Barcelona Series) of 1992, I pho­tographed the hous­ing con­struc­tion for the sum­mer Olympic ath­letes that year. I recently returned to that theme in the quar­tet of can­vases titled Con­struc­tion Site (Olympic Vil­lage) that showed the con­struc­tion of the hous­ing for the ath­letes for the Van­cou­ver Win­ter Olympics of 2010. Other recent exam­ples that expand on this motif include Con­struc­tion Site (The Miro Build­ing) of 2004 and Con­struc­tion Site Quar­tet of 2012.

My thoughts have since evolved to con­sider more com­plex rela­tions rotat­ing around the con­cept of a “work in progress”—relations that con­sider the every­day land­scape of the mod­ern city as a world “pro­duced” and “in progress,” which is yet unfin­ished, just as a work of art is pro­duced. Part of this theme of pro­duc­tion includes human labour, and how I like to show the fab­ri­ca­tion of my work in progress. The archi­tec­tonic for­ma­tion of an image fixes the phe­nom­ena of the dynamism of labour into an icon of tem­po­ral­ity, the for­ma­tive moment of con­struc­tion revealed as mate­r­ial his­tory. By this empha­sis on the notion of pro­duc­tion, I am inter­ested in unrav­el­ing the latent forces that inform the shape of the world in which we live. In this sense the motif of the con­struc­tion site acts as a con­crete, mate­r­ial cipher for med­i­ta­tions on the pro­duc­tion of his­tory. The pho­to­graphic doc­u­ment pro­vides a wit­ness to this his­tor­i­cal for­ma­tion, a crit­i­cal reflec­tion on the new nature of our real­ity. But embed­ded in the con­text of the work of art, the pho­to­graphic image is also a con­struc­tion, a pic­to­r­ial sim­u­la­tion of the real that is a sub­jec­tive expres­sion objec­tively pro­duced, and which has its own aes­thetic demands and con­tra­dic­tions, in which the rhetoric of the sub­lime and beau­ti­ful dra­ma­tizes this dynamic devel­op­ment of the new mon­u­men­tal land­scape of the mod­ern city and offers a motif for thoughts and inves­ti­ga­tions of the super-structural forces of mod­ern life.

— Ian Wallace