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7th December 2015

Review: Model Behaviour

MMU’s Holden Gallery reminds us that when it comes to housing the maquette precedes the market

Before going to the Holden Gallery’s latest exhibition, my mental image of model houses was based on the twee scenery of English country villages, exactly like Bourton-on-the-Water’s Grade-II listed 1:9 scale model of their Cotswold village, so lovingly shrunk that you can see pews inside their St. Lawrence church. A full-time stonemason does the rounds to make sure the slate-roofed homes and the town’s whirring watermill remain safe from giant tourists. You won’t see this bucolic calm on show in ‘Model Behaviour’. Most of the artists here use maquettes as the basis of their work because they are a way of viewing the original social contract, made between designer and developer, before the housing market reduces it to either a redundant or extravagant shelter of capital.

James Casebere’s Landscapes are photographs of a slightly sterile model recreation of American suburbia, based on affluent Duchess County in Upstate New York. They show long, placid lawns of white houses and an involved community spirit: baseball courts, parked bicycles and a yellow school bus driving along the main road. The only thing is that no-one is around; the whole town is deserted with nobody to enjoy the numb prosperity of the place. Instead there are unnerving signs of danger littered across the sloping hills. Piles of logs are stacked outside the homes, as though some scaremongering telecast has told them to stock up, and the town’s distant bit of pine forest, encircled by a wind farm, is quickly catching fire. If this is suburbia build on sub-prime credit, then the sulphurous economic revenge is coming.

This exhibition also has its protesters to match. Jordi Colomer’s ongoing work in progress, Anarchitekton, consists of four videos based on his visits to four cities: Barcelona, Bucharest, Brasilia and Osaka. As a series they form a video travelogue of one man’s outcry against hegemonic power. He acts through a madman alter ego, Idroj Sanicne, and runs around the cities, all the while holding a miniature version of the surrounding architecture e.g. the advertisements plastered over buildings in Osaka, the dull exterior of Ceausescu’s grandiose palace. He is alone; there are no crowds of fellow campaigners, no banners or even text to explain his wild jeering.

Not all of the work is an anti-capitalist demo against the illusions we have about out homes and cities. Some of the artists maintain a romantic awe of the modelesque. Luis Lambri’s photographs are highly formalist interior shots of museum homes like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin House and the rebuilt auditorium of Turin’s Teatro Regio. She stalks through the buildings and snaps narrow views through windows, the nooks of the opera house’s ceiling. They are too formalist in my view, the light and shape are framed for brief decorative pleasure and are photographed too preciously. Oliver Boberg’s Night Sights cast a blue-tinted look at an unusual subject: Industry. His short films, looped every 30 minutes, are practically motionless views of deserted factories and alleyways late at night. Their stillness is interrupted only by the hum of machinery and the occasional gust of steam. Industrial buildings, it seems, have their rhythms and they are made to appear filmic, seductive.

Throughout the majority of the works, the exhibition analyses the architectural contract that is made up before we ever come to inhabit our homes. They can be highly prettified, delicate contracts or they can hint early on at the dangers, greed and oversight of investment. Model houses appear during the period of securing a sale, during the times of spotless presentation before any filthy bricks are laid or foundations dug, and this show keeps us on the edge of unbuilt possibility.

Closes 11th December 2015. To find out more visit:

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