Art and Time Travel By Sam Lewis Christie

I urge you to take a look at Rene Burri’s photographs of Le Corbusier’s,

built in Marseilles between 1947 and 1952. Look at the building but also

look at what’s around it, the cars, the people. Try to feel

the scene, deep map it, try to hear it if you can. Does it all seem to work

together or do you, like me, see a collection of different eras hanging

awkwardly together, locked in the photographs through force of

circumstance; varying stages of modernity’s maturation process?

Surely in design terms the building requires that old wartime hand cranked

Citroens should be replaced with the truly futurist lines and aspirations of

the 21st Century eco car? Wouldn’t the post ironic, Mobius Strip tripping

fashions of today work better with the beton brut? Forget the Ash

saplings, what we need here is an interesting array of strange grasses,

some of which should be black. Music wise John Coltrane might fit,

perhaps Blue Train from an open window, but that was recorded in 1957

and a pre plastic sax Ornette Coleman was just getting to grips with the

‘harmolodic method’ in 1952. While Edith Piaf’s Mon Legionnaire is of the

time (and place) it doesn’t work with the building. For this scene I think it’s

Aphex Twin.

Design, fashion, landscape and architecture don’t go together in early

pictures of Cite Radieuse and it is, of course, the building that throws the

whole thing out of whack. Created to meet the needs of a post war

Marseille, Cite Radieuse was part of Le Corbusier’s wider principle of

Unite d’Habitation. This was a radical re-think of city design and

architecture, taking the basic ‘machines for living in’ philosophical view on

architecture and modernity and making the extrapolation literally concrete.

Subsequent buildlngs have often failed to match Cite in qualitative terms

and this unique structure remains a benchmark for Brutalist ideas and is,

thankfully, very much alive and kicking; by now the photographs have

caught up.

What I wonder is why do different art forms appear to progress at different

rates? And I suppose that by rates I mean that some appear more

‘modern’ than others. Architecture has always seemed to stride

confidently into the ‘next thing’, it easily defines a new stage (at least until

the ghastly post modern 90′s) and moves, like the blocks it uses in its

realisation, cleanly from one level to the next. I would accept that

architecture has been, throughout history, touched by influences from the

past, but these seem strident and bold, “my latest work is influenced by

the Aztecs,” or “I cantilevered that in order to recall the Parthenon.”

However, brutalism, while clearly having very vague classical influences,

seems quite perfectly new.

Music flutters around, it has many more great practitioners of course and

many more genres within which to accommodate them, but it develops

and progresses in fits and starts. The truly new happens rarely, a little

glimmer: Stockhausen, Aphex Twin, Efterklang, Esbjorn Svensson, all

quickly swamped by a baseload of mediocrity. Fashion shocks from

Gaultier are moderated by Matelan, motor car design is weighed down by

the petrol it sucks on.

Perhaps the reason that some forms of art move in this way depends on

the extent the air they occupy is rarified. Maybe, at its best, architecture is

a high art form protected from the diluting forces of criticism. When a

building is commissioned and planning permission granted the debate

ends. It is at this point that all control is handed to one or two people;

great buildings are built outside democracy. Once that building exists we

live with it, we fit around it evolving at a different rate. Eventually buildings

are surrounded by the things and make the sounds that were originally

envisioned; the building waits for us to grow up.

At the staggering Royal National Theatre on the Southbank (which is my

favourite building, designed by Denys Lasdun and opened in 1976, hated

by many, including Prince Charles) they’re putting on Jean Racine’s

Phedre (1677). Meanwhile outside among the maze of twists and turns,

angular obstacles and cantilevered chins, tabbing and leaping free

runners finish the scene perfectly.

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