Let Us Build

Richard Galpin Solo Exhibition
Hales Gallery, London

October 14th - November 19th, 2011

London 2011. A scattering of tall buildings, most of which have been in planning for nearly a decade, have begun to rise. Despite the world economic crisis, these huge beacons of power and wealth continue to be built in anticipation of the next financial upturn. The London skyline changes...

From a studio in the narrow back streets of the Bankside area (an area itself scheduled for a staggering five million square feet of office development) Richard Galpin makes regular forays through the city to monitor development. Drawn to the army of cranes and the emerging skeletons of building structures, he sets his camera tripod before the hoardings of the The Shard, The Pinnacle, The Leadenhall Building, NEO Bankside...


However, the pictures which emerge from the studio after the film is developed, the prints enlarged, and their surfaces scored and scoured by hundreds of scalpel blades, show an altogether different future city. Post and prop, brace and cross-brace. A ferment of horizontal, vertical and skewed elements, seemingly built with a great excess of material, with haste, and the crudest of means. No space frames, no lift shafts, no glass facades. Half built, half collapsed; emerging forms threaten to fall...

But parts of this u/dys-topian scene, this 'world behind the world', have been seen before. Lurking in the works are Iakov Chernikhov's architectural fantasies, incorporating thrusting machine forms (1925-1933), and Constant Nieuwenhuy's New Babylon project for a post-revolutionary society (1959-74). And Galpin's haunted future never gets very far from the present, due to the partial nature of the erasure. Each remaining photographic element, every building block of the new city, is a ruined fragment of contemporary London...

'Come, Let Us Build Us a City and a Tower' say the people of one language in the story of the Tower of Babel. Does Galpin's work warn of the hubris of human ambition? Is it a critique of the current trend of starchitecture icons? Perhaps, but the work is foremost a celebration of the sublime, heroic, romantic aura of attempts to build a better world (however ill-fated those attempts turn out to be). It seems to call out, in the oft-quoted words of Samuel Beckett's 'Worstward Ho',"Try again. Fail again. Fail better."*

*e.g. Zizek on Lenin in 'How to Begin from the Beginning' in The Idea of Communism, Verso,2010.

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© 2017 Richard Galpin