Background

Metropolis becomes Apocalypse

The concept of “urban decay” as a consequence of too many people sharing too little space and resources is at the core of my work.

Informed by a strong interest in rapidly growing and urbanising human populations and in the growth of city centres that expand steadily while outskirts become desolate and inhospitable urban sprawls, I translate ideas and visions of a society divorced from nature, emphasised in my work by the monochrome use of black and white.

Skyscrapers drawn on the limited space available on miniature wooden pegs become metaphors for the inherent question associated with the subject: could our cities, with their multiplying populations and new living spaces shooting up like mushrooms, become abandoned temples of excess in the future, similar to those of ancient civilisations?

The Metropolis series, with its inhabitants confined to cramped living quarters, leads to the inevitable conclusion depicted in Apocalypse, a growing disorder with crumbling and

tumbling buildings. “Apocalypse” is employed as its own, very specific metaphor: it is like the view through a window beyond which we see a constantly growing city where space for families is restricted and where industry and mass-consumption have taken over.

I compare the dangers of our growing cities to the consequences of the batting of a butterfly wing, which we define as chaos theory, where the collapse of one of the ever-growing buildings could result in the collapse of an entire city. The beginning of an apocalyptic fall was for me marked out by images of the 9/11 destruction of the Twin Towers, images that have been omnipresent in my subconscious and that I have been unable to erase ever since.

In an earlier photographic series entitled “Ghost” (2003–04), I highlighted society’s growing acceptance of urban landscapes disfigured by the detritus of modern life, as well as addressing that which I consider to be detrimental to the environment. For example, Ghost II is a photograph of Tokyo’s skyline, digitally

rendered into a skeletal “ghost” by erasing all steel and glass and transforming concrete into negative space, yet leaving a few trees fighting to survive; and, in Hong Kong I and II, clothes hanging out for airing are substitutes for a human presence. The eeriness of Ghost II makes it probably the most successful of this series, and, considering the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, it now feels like it might have been a vision of the future at the time I produced this work.

In general terms I consider my work to be an expression of the unconscious. Jungian psychologist Aniela Jaffé discusses in her essay “Symbolism in the visual arts” that everything can assume symbolic significance. We unconsciously transform objects into symbols; that is, the artist gives form to the values and concerns of his time, which in their turn form him or are an expression of what goes on in his subconscious. The work of contemporary artists reflects continual social change but what remains as a constant are the very few categories they allude to, such as the sociopolitical, concerns related to life or death, beauty or nature.
(cont. page 122 ⇒)

Could our cities, with their multiplying populations and new living spaces shooting up like mushrooms, become abandoned temples of excess in the future, similar to those of ancient civilisations?

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