Challenging the idea that architecture is a lasting achievement
The Dreamland of the Pompidou’s recent exhibition refers to the Coney Island theme park, forerunner to the Venetian canals and Egyptian pyramids in modern-day Las Vegas, built in 1904, burnt down in 1911 and never rebuilt.
This is a thoughtful exhibition on the nature of architectural dreamscapes within societies with ever-increasing amounts of leisure time. It covers a sweep of history, from the turn of the 20th century in the US to modern-day Dubai, and many of the usual suspects make appearances: Archigram on the instant city, Robert Scott Brown and Denise Venturi on Las Vegas, Rem Koolhaas on New York.
But it’s also nice to see a new generation of artists playing with Susan Sontag’s observation that tourists photograph unfamiliar places as a kind of unthinking defence mechanism. Seung Woo Back’s pictures of familiar monuments in unfamiliar locations raise the important question of whether context matters, despite the fact that the images are not staged but taken at Aiins World theme park in South Korea.
’Is the Eiffel Tower still the Eiffel Tower if it isn’t in Paris? With a more culturally loaded monument such as the Elgin Marbles, this becomes a difficult question’
Most of the work in Dreamlands challenges the idea that architecture is a lasting achievement, while celebrating the transient in both man and his environment. For what is man if not unstable, changeable? Certainly, we respond to the monolithic and conspicuously permanent in buildings, but we also need change - a sentiment taken to its most eloquent conclusion in Yin Xiuzhen’s representation of New York stitched into a suitcase.
Dreamlands responds to JG Ballard’s challenge of the endless leisure and frantic consumerism of Western spaces and mirrors the central theme of Jem Cohen’s excellent 2004 film on shopping centres, Chain: no matter where you are in the world, the typology of these spaces adheres to the same function and aesthetic.
These visions of falsified utopias, while depressing in their original context, make for fascinating viewing when set within a museum space, itself a kind of dreamland. Shopping malls and theme parks both represent a loss of traditional spatial and geographical reference points: here is the crux of globalisation.
While the instinctive reaction to all this is to suggest that architecture has some catching-up to do, how do you create a localised utopia? Utopias and dreamlands by their very nature are generalised, universal ideals. Throughout this exhibition the imaginative responses to these faceless, falsified utopias suggests that it isn’t so much the representation of the dreamland that needs re-evaluating, as the very ideals of Western society.
Where: Pompidou Centre, Paris, France
When: Closed 9 August 2010