Pub­lic works

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts - Bron­wyn Wat­son


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

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