Friday, 19 September 2014

In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories have been chosen by Maria Pirkkalainen.

Brutalism back in fashion

There probably isn’t a West Londoner without an opinion on the infamous Trellick Tower over at Golborne Road. It’s bold, tall, exposed with concrete and designed for the socially affordable future in the late 1960s as part of the British New Brutalism movement. After decades of bad press and demolitions, these brash concrete buildings are now back in style with more respect and admiration than ever.

Brutalism is currently featured in a special series by Dezeen, starting from the basics of the architectural movement and continuing with for example an excellent list of the lesser-known concrete gems, chosen by Michael Abrahamson, the editor of the Fuck Yeah Brutalism blog. And there is an extensive programme of art events presented by Bow Arts at one famous Brutalist piece by architect Erno Goldfinger, the Balfron Tower, all the way up to mid October 2014. For example this weekend during the Open House London event, the building opens its doors and over 20 apartments to the public before its extensive renovation.
Image: Wikipedia

What makes brutalism fashionable after all these decades of negligence? Is it just the fact that nostalgia has finally reached even the most controversial architectural movements of our times? The article in Dezeen suggests that one of the reasons could be that the Brutalist buildings were designed with future in mind and the progressive socialist idealism behind them still appeals to the public as well as designers. Although at first perceived as idealistic, in the 1970s many of these Brutalist housing buildings were met with increasing crime and poverty that led to the failure of the movement.
Although the movement is gaining new-found respect, a long road still lies ahead. While for example Balfron Tower is a listed building due to its architectural and historical value, the same has not happened to its neighbouring Robin Hood Gardens. What is the reason for this? It is interesting to follow how the Brutalist buildings - especially Balfron Tower after its renovation - will develop in the following years. And before that, to see what happens during the open doors at Balfron Tower, when over 20 artists open their flats and exhibitions to the general public for free. This and te whole Balfron Season has in fact been thanks to a housing scheme by Bow Arts Trust, which offers artists temporary residence in emptied flats - an excellent idea as well!

Reclaiming our rivers and harbours for public use
What about diving head first into the water and greeting the busy City while swimming? As a part of the official program for the London Design Festival, Urban Plunge, an exhibition at the Roca London Gallery, ponders what kind of architectural proposals could enable urban swimming spots in downtown London, New York and Copenhagen. Some of these suggestions have already been put in, such as the Harbour Baths in Copenhagen, while others could be either years or decades away.
For the past few years, the idea of reclaiming our water spaces has generated a lot of successful responses in Helsinki, Finland. A popular way to do this has been with the addition of a sauna.  Kulttuurisauna, situated in Merihaka, has gained an almost institute like status among the inhabitants in only a year. Another good and quite different example is Sompasauna, a wooden heated self-service public sauna at the developing Kalasatama district, which is free for everyone to use.


What in the idea of urban swimming attracts the wide public? The curator of the Urban Plunge exhibition, Jane Withers, tells in an interview at Icon Eye in September 2014 how in general the idea stems from better urban development. Water spaces are often vast, but un-used spaces in the most central locations of our cities. How could we make them a more accessible part of our everyday lives?
The other reason behind the attraction lies in experimenting. Jane Withers describes how urban swimming gives a sheer thrill of water-level urban perspective. And it’s easy to add how with the right use of design, such as with Helsinki’s Kulttuurisauna, these urban swimming spots can easily gain even more visibility and importance within a city’s structure and planning.

However in reality, the steps needed to create urban swimming spots don’t always come so easily. The article in Icon Eye states how for example in Copenhagen, urban swimming has been enabled over the past 15 years by modernising the sewer system to improve water quality. When would this be possible in London?

The Finnish Institute’s very own neighbourhood in King’s Cross is featured in the Urban Plunge exhibition as well. The idea of King’s Cross Pond Club, a man-made natural pond in the middle of London’s largest construction site, explores how we could re-introduce natural cycles into the urban environment. Another idea the exhibition plays around with is a romantic bathing pool at Blackfriars. What do you think of these and what are your own ideas or favourite urban swimming spots?

The exhibition is open at the Roca London Gallery until the 10th of January 2015.

Electronic women at the forefront
For every year from 2010, Wysing Arts Centre’s annual one day music and arts festival has aimed to focus on what’s currently interesting in visual arts, and to tease the fine line between experimental art and music. With a 17th century farm house, a gallery and three stages nine miles west from Cambridge, the set-up of this year’s Space-Time: The Future Festival on the 30th of August focused on the future, with that being in female electronic artists.
Wysing Arts Centre has provided an alternative environment and structures for artistic research, experimentation, discovery and production for the past 25 years. The centre’s thematic residency programme aims to support the artists’ possibilities to explore new ways of working and the centre has welcomed Finnish artists such as Pilvi Takala. And with the help of its own music and arts festival, this publicly funded arts centre has succeeded in turning its premises into a playground for the wider public as well.

Image: Johanna Vakkari

With this year’s focus being on women, the line-up consisted of superb artists and live performers such as Yola Fatoush and Sue Tompkins. The acts included live music, performances and the festival also had a marquee for the independent traders. The director of Wysing Arts Centre, Donna Lynas, states in an interview in the M-Magazine in July 2014 how the event’s theme continues later in Futurecamp, a series of fortnightly talks, discussion, screenings, performances and workshops that all address the way we live and create now and how this might evolve and affect the future.
Lynas continues how in general, music has been an important part of the creative process for visual artists, but for a long time it hadn’t really been written about and talked about. The yearly event wants to bring the distinction between these two different disciplines - or the lack of it - to the table.
In addition, the event raises two other big questions. Are women in electronic music still not gaining enough spotlight? And what is the role of a festival for a remote arts centre? With the press and international visitors, an event such as Space-Time: The Future gains extra visibility that can be seen to lead to larger funding and new audiences for the exhibitions and artists as well.


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