TATE MODERN 22.4.11
Today with the sun well and truly out and the temperature in the mid 20s, the 2011 Southbank Festival opens, the beginning of four months of fun and games to celebrate the 60th birthday of the Festival of Britain. It was a happening planned and built to inspire and encourage a war-ravaged nation.
What has this to do with the squat, sharp-angled, uncommunicative not-particularly-joyful picture on the left?
It’s a scale model of Peruvian military HQs, which, during the Fujimori presidency, became notorious for the torture, murder and disappearances orchestrated by the secret services. In a section called States of Flux: Architecture and Power Tate Modern is drawing attention to the way architecture is used by the state to shape our environment - and so shape us.
Martinat’s sculpture glowers in the corner of the room. a squat, blind, repressive structure. Inside, a computer searches the internet for references to Brutalismo/Brutalism, and picks up extracts about Latin America and global dictatorships – and that form of Modernist architecture called Brutalism. It spits out random scraps of paper which flutter like white butterflies to the floor. The ones I picked up were in what I think is Spanish.
This harsh piece by the Peruvian artist José Carlos Martinat made me think of other conflicts between the artist and the state. WeiWei’s sunflower seeds fill the Turbine Hall downstairs. They are the work of a beguiling and persuasive artist who has recently been arrested and is in custody in his homeland, China.
In the 50s when the Southbank was developed, Brutalism was fashionable because of its 'honesty', its uncompromising, anti-bourgeois style and the fact that it looked like sculpture. It was good at shouting at the top of its voice new age Utopian aspirations. No cosy domesticity here, nothing integrating and protective.
Which made me think of what has happened to those Festival of Britain buildings built in ‘brutalist’ concrete by the river 60 years ago. They've worked brilliantly, with the help of much care and imagination over the years. By the 90s the Royal Festival Hall had become one of the busiest concert halls in the world. Now the Southbank Centre is one of the most capacious free-and-easy places in London where you are welcome to sit all day, picnic, use the cafes and bars, dig into a book or your laptop, hold a work meeting, conduct interviews, hold tutorials, run a mother-and-baby group – and that’s all in the public space – while concerts and dancing and jazz and poetry are going on around you.