IT’S LIKE A FUSION OF A DISNEYLAND CASTLE WITH A NUCLEAR REACTOR
Callum Morton, Medieval World, from the series Tomorrow Land (2004). Samstag Collection, University of South Australia. On display, level 3, School of Art collection area, City West Library, University of South Australia, Adelaide.
JUST after India’s independence in 1947, prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had the grand vision of creating from scratch an ideal city that would reflect the nation’s modernity.
To realise his dream of a planned city ‘‘ unfettered by the traditions of the past’’, he commissioned renowned Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier.
The outcome was that Le Corbusier designed Chandigarh, about 250km north of New Delhi. Built between 1951 and 1963, it is a controversial example of modernist architecture applied to urban design.
Le Corbusier and his team built and designed everything in the city — from the door handles and manhole covers to prominent buildings and monuments such as the Secretariat, the Palace of Assembly, the Tower of Shadows and the Open Hand monument.
It is these buildings that have provided inspiration for artist Callum Morton, who was born in 1965 in Toronto but is now based in Melbourne.
Morton grew up with a large photograph of the Palace of Assembly on his living room wall. His father was an architect and Morton went on to study architecture before turning to the visual arts.
Morton continues to have a connection to architecture, however, and it has had a profound effect on his work.
In his photographs and sculptural installations, he transforms the motifs of modernist architecture into dysfunctional spaces that are indifferent to their inhabitants.
He also transforms celebrated buildings. Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House becomes a convenience store, Adolf Loos’s house for Josephine Baker becomes a strip joint, and Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh is transformed into an eerie, futuristic theme park in the Tomorrow Land series.
Tomorrow Land consists of four digitally manipulated photographs, Medieval World, Tomorrow Land, West World and Roman World. The series was first shown in 2005, when Morton was chosen to represent Australia at the 11th Triennale India in New Delhi.
One of the images, Medieval World, is on display at the University of South Australia, in the City West library.
It is part of the university’s Samstag Collection, and when I visit Adelaide I’m shown the photograph by the director of the Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art, Erica Green.
Looking at the work, it is evident that Medieval World is an ironic commentary on the relationship between people and the built environment.
It references Le Corbusier’s Palace of Assembly, but this isn’t a conventional building; rather, it’s like a hi-tech fusion of a Disneyland castle with a nuclear reactor. There are even pools of blood in the moat.
Green explains that Medieval World comments on Le Corbusier and his architectural vision, but also refers to the theme parks featured in Michael Crichton’s 1973 sci-fi thriller Westworld.
‘‘ By effectively adapting the fantastic escapist worlds of Westworld, Medieval World is a charged statement about Chandigarh itself,’’ Green says.
‘‘ At once visually entertaining and deceptively simple, Medieval World is in fact rich in underlying critical commentary and ironic associations, not least that Westworld’s essential culture is, at heart, robotic.’’
Morton takes a disaffected and critical view of modernist architecture, according to Green. ‘‘ Morton has described Chandigarh as a theme park, and Chandigarh has subsequently revealed itself as flawed and dysfunctional, Le Corbusier’s ambitious ideas attracting criticism for their negative impact on traditional urban spaces and their effective isolation of society’s poor.
‘‘ Morton’s longstanding artistic project represents a similar critical view.
‘‘ With considerable ambition, humour and imagination he takes great and iconic architectural buildings and refashions them in inventive digital-image and sculptural forms as failed modernist projects, their utopian character overwhelmed by commercialism and mundanity.’’
Digital print on paper, mounted on aluminium.
Edition of 12. 94.5cm x 169.5cm