My first solo European exhibition in Firenze looked at the richness and variety of stone in architecture and statues found throughout Italy and the pigeons that coexisted with them. I noticed it was almost impossible to look at a building or sculpture without a pigeon being included as part of what I was seeing. Rather than ignore the ever-present bird life, I accentuated the relationship between the two as a metaphor for the echoes of the past and the living present.
I also marvelled at the selective vision that catered to tourists seeking a nostalgic journey to the greatness of ancient times. I resented their brief, voyeuristic encounters with monumental antiquity: they had no place for the evidence of the recent and the present that coexisted with the commodified dream of a glorious past.
Rather than just document the things I saw, I looked past the obvious to depict the isolation yet reverence that surrounded these artefacts. I was convinced that only the birds truly “lived” in (as well as on) them. It was a documentation of coexistence and overlay. This series I named Wings over Firenze.
The city as landscape
I was told of a survey about a decade ago that asked a wide group of people from all over the world what picture they would choose for their lounge room wall.
An overwhelming majority chose the image of a picturesque ruin in a landscape. What was it that made the landscape more desirable with the inclusion of a ruin? I suspect it has something to do with finding comfort in the concept of nature taking over.
This comfort may stem from the discomfort many of us might inherently feel living in the modern technological city. Perhaps by their sheer size and nature of materials, geometric rather than organically shaped, cities are no longer situated in the landscape – but have become the landscape. Our way of navigating that environment is also very different: we are now so accustomed to thinking in grids and zones that perhaps the organisation of hills and valleys has become alien to us.
Rather than seeing softer organic shapes, natural colours and the textures of nature, we are becoming conditioned to the even surfaces of buildings, roads and footpaths; black cement, grey cement and red brick; and, of course, the inevitable advertising. Our cities are environments that need to be read in order to be navigated. The German sociologist Georg Simmel in 1911 proposed that architecture is the embodiment of the struggle between man and nature, and that a completed and sound building is only a temporary triumph over nature. Ruins could then be seen as a fleeting instant of majestic balance between humanity’s reaching for the sky and nature’s beckoning back to dust and ashes, and are thus capable