Photographer Ruth Lees Luxemburg talks about her work recently acquired by the Museum of London
“I made my first body of work around London in the mid-1990s. The work was titled London – A Modern Project and was published as a photobook with a text by Michael Bracewell.
I was compelled to find evidence of modernism in the city, on the Westway and in the East-End high-rise housing estates
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Like the novelist JG Ballard, who I discovered later, I was drawn to these sites because they represented tensions but also potential.
There was a dynamic presence in these places: of transformation, possible events and encounters. I used euphoric titles, such as ‘Meet me in Arcadia’ or ‘Vertiginous Exhilaration’, to amplify my sense of this London.
I use a large-format 5×4 analogue camera. Photography is a very useful medium to give presence to an idea, as well as to an observed situation.
Photography is a powerful tool to question received notions of representation. It has the potential to give visual pleasure, as it appeals to the eye.
It is an expansive and ubiquitous medium that can be a forceful instrument to question the dominant narratives of our age and therefore give presence to that which could emerge.
Photography is too often narrowly conceived as a medium that captures the past. But it also has the capacity to critically deconstruct the here and now. Can photography be an active image generator of another future?
My second endeavour to photograph London, Liebeslied/My Suicides, in 2000, became an opera about photography.
The mood had changed to ‘Liebeslied’ – in English: lovesong or lovepoem. Inspired by German poetry, I engaged London in a rather more lyrical mode.
I was drawn to abandoned empty spaces in the city, which I termed ‘Das Offene Schauen’ (Viewing the Open).
The river, to me, became a ‘wandering depth’ or an ‘in deeper’. The language I used to name these works was joyfully blown apart by the philosopher Alexander García Düttmann, who I had asked to write about these London photographs.
He challenged my romantic ‘Liebeslied’ with an acerbic ‘My Suicides’ and gave the works the necessary dose of irony any representation of London always should have.
London Dust looks at the upheaval at the heart of the City of London, where the forces of rapid architectural transformation – powered by capital and visualised as shiny Computer Generated Images (CGIs) – currently abound.
Architects, designers and developers utilise CGIs to model new buildings to seduce and promote their version of the luxury future city. Several-metre wide CGI horizons, flaunting luminous blue and golden, unusually rainless and perfect London skies, are arranged on temporary walls in the public spaces of the city. Their polished and convincing presence oscillates between promise and despair.
The final architectural realisation of these visions is, however, not always fulfilled. London Dust focuses on one of those future buildings: The Pinnacle.
Designed with an aspirational flourish, this future apex of London is an alluring image. Projected to be 300 metres tall, it has stopped at a mere seven stories: a failed object of an incomplete dream, represented here in its only reality as a stained CGI form on its abandoned building site.
Yet this ruin and its tarnished image give presence to another form of seduction: the seduction of matter, of base material, manifested by the stains and gritty marks accreted on the image by the everyday urban grind like dust breeding.
London Dust challenges the image as bearer of a cleansed urban future by focussing on the remnants of the real: the dust and dirt, the dense, disorderly and overwhelming material reality of the everyday.
Taking as its cue the sociologist Richard Sennett’s argument for the uses of disorder, it observes the complexity of the city in all its material and joyously filthy reality.
Aplomb – St Paul’s
This shows the CGI produced for the promotion of a proposed City of London hi-rise, The Pinnacle. However, the building project has stalled, and the everyday gritty reality of London is leaving its traces on the idealised CGI wrapped around the hoardings.
The CGI becomes a backdrop; the city a studio. A glimmering sand sack disrupts the CGI with its leaden reality.
What is considered worthless – a sack of building sand used to provide gravity – takes on a metaphorical role that speaks of accumulation and spoils, thus interrupting the manufactured promise of the urban image with its material reality.
It is the presence of the overlooked and dismissed that interests me. The sack might only be a detail in the wider cityscape, yet its omnipresence and abundance make it a powerful and resistant marker of our particular time.
Walkie-Talkie Melted my Golden Calf
I used the city as a studio and as the backdrop a CGI, which uses St Paul’s cathedral to give scale and history. The golden trickles running freely are water that I poured on the urban furniture.
The title refers to the unintended iconoclasm that the new architecture in the city seems to be capable of. In this body of work I am exploring not just the way the city is changing, but also how photography has changed.
The images of London on construction hoardings are CGI ‘photographs’, which are not photographs in the traditional sense but images that are entirely constructed, where the pixel is used as a building block to build a ‘vision’ of a future city for imaginary city dwellers.
In my work on the city I am trying to show how photography permeates the public territories and infiltrates our lives with questionable representations.
The position of the Museum of London, at the centre of the city, with its vicinity to the ancient remnants of London Wall and its proximity to the burgeoning new London, is compelling.
I am thrilled that my work on contemporary London is part of the museum’s collection and will be given a platform so close to the locations that have such a hold on me.
London Dust: Photographs by Rut Blees Luxemburg was at the Museum of London until January 10 2016.
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