• New Brutalist Image 1949–55: 'atlas to a new world' or, 'trying to look at things today'

Walsh, Victoria and Zimmerman, Claire, 2016, Journal Article, New Brutalist Image 1949–55: 'atlas to a new world' or, 'trying to look at things today' British Art Studies, 4 (4). pp. 1-19. ISSN 2058-5462

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Corporate Creators: Tate Britain
Abstract or Description:

The seminal exhibition ‘Parallel of Life and Art’ (PLLA) which took place at the ICA in London in 1953 continues to capture the attention of art historians and curators through exhibition histories and curatorial studies. The exhibition is a key element in defining “discourse through images (Bilddiskurs),” a longstanding practice that nonetheless experienced significant change when it encountered the image-making properties of cameras and the means for their dissemination in the press (Flusser). This change coincided with a developing awareness of iconography and the work of the Warburg circle within the Independent Group, that equally understood this form of visual analysis in relation to emerging cybernetic theories of communication and information theory.

Building on research undertaken for the Tate Britain display ‘New Brutalist Image 1949-55’ (24 Nov 2014 – 20 Sep 2015), the article argues that PLLA demonstrates how photography was put to work discursively in post-war Britain, deploying new conditions of ‘seeing’ to define a visual order brought about by the transformation of image-capture and mass reproduction technologies, by the new ubiquity of photography, and by the lure of consumer society. Accompanying unprecedented technological possibilities was a new visual sensibility – in other words, a new contemporary aesthetic - rooted in the camera’s lens and mediated through printing processes. Together, this media combination encoded a manner of communication meant to challenge the cultural and social primacy of the printed word, invoking an “Esperanto” of images. Anticipating Lawrence Alloway’s conceptualisation of a ‘fine art pop art continuum’, the article argues, that the photographic image, through its mediating and remediating qualities became a sophisticated, nuanced tool of communication across the practices of art, architecture and design. It also highlights Peter Smithson’s proposition that understanding the visual motivations behind PLLA revealed contemporary cultural conditions “like a Rosetta Stone.”

The collaborative team of Alison & Peter Smithson, Nigel Henderson, Eduardo Paolozzi and Ronald Jenkins behind ‘Parallel of Life and Art’ shared an ambition to release the expanded field of everyday day visual culture into vision and experience across the board, displacing the highly invested and ordered culture of art and architecture, one traditionally governed by elitist ideas of public value and taste.
The specificity and importance of photography as both a tool of communication and a medium of visual convergence that synthesised disparate registers, has been neglected in studies of British art, leading to misrecognition and an under-conceptualised reading of the exhibitions produced by IG members, including PLLA. As Reyner Banham, the architecture critic and theorist of New Brutalism noted when reviewing PLLA, “We tend to forget that every photograph is an artifact ... the photograph being an artifact applies its own laws of artefaction to the material it documents, and discovers similarities and parallels between the documentation, even where none exists between the objects and events recorded. Thus photographs make us see connections ...” (Reyner Banham, ‘Photography’ [PLLA review], AR, 1953)
For the PLLA team of ‘editors’, a body of photographic images taken by Nigel Henderson (who they mutually identified and awarded the role of photographer to act as their translator, mediator and ‘image-finder’) nonetheless reflects the experiments of the group, documenting their work and recording their visual sensibility. Through our selection and curation of images, the article will demonstrate how photography was exploited as a medium to bring disparate practices, spatial and temporal environments, social and cultural spaces together in the binding matrix of the photographic image.

Official URL: http://www.britishartstudies.ac.uk/issues/issue-in...
Subjects: Architecture > K100 Architecture
Creative Arts and Design > W100 Fine Art
School or Centre: School of Arts & Humanities
Funders: Paul Mellon Centre
Identification Number or DOI: https://doi.org/10.17658/issn.2058-5462/issue-04/vwalsh-czimmerman
Date Deposited: 19 Dec 2016 15:08
Last Modified: 25 Mar 2023 14:27
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/2307

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