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