The latest exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary puts together two unlikely subjects – the disputed territories of Israel and Palestine and some rough-and-ready cardboard mock-ups of 1960s American villas.
Galleries 1 and 2 are occupied by DAAR (Decolonizing Architecture/Art Residency) a three-person art and architecture collective based in Palestine. Called ‘Common Assembly’ the work in the show is not the most immediately accessible – my advice would be to forget that it’s an art exhibition and treat it as a more-or-less factual presentation. A series of videos, models, portfolios and installations explore some of the fascinating conflicts and tensions affecting everyday life in this seemingly endlessly fought-over region.
The first piece in the show consists of video interviews with lawyers, surveyors and residents trying to deal with the unexpected and often terrifying consequences of a felt-pen line drawn on a plan: the boundaries around the Palestinian territories agreed as part of the 1996 Oslo Accord. When blown up to life-size this narrow borderline swells to five metres wide, leaving a substantial strip of disputed land in a state of permanent legal isolation. Many people now find themselves in properties straddling this dubious boundary, not least of which is the now abandoned Palestinian parliament building – the subject of an impressively large-scale 3-D installation in the double-height Gallery 2. This work consists of a cross-sectional slice along the territorial borderline which cuts through the main debating chamber, with the floor plane apparently supported on a grid of vertical strings that dramatically exploit the height of the space. The strip as built is clearly not five metres wide, so presumably it has been re-scaled to suit the length of the gallery, although it does still highlight the broader issue of the problematic relation between the plan and reality – whether the ‘project’ in question is an architectural drawing or a political agreement.
In Galleries 3 and 4 Thomas Demand’s framed photographs are neatly lined up on the walls. Entitled ‘Model Studies’ the images are large-scale blow-ups of John Lautner’s designs for luxurious American houses – preserved in a series of models held in the Getty collection in Los Angeles. The work is interesting, but perhaps predictably unspectacular. As with ‘Common Assembly’ there are some curious ambiguities evident in the images caused by the dramatic changes in scale. Tiny details of ragged cutting and careless glueing are blown up to heroic proportions, and some take on a level of abstraction and seductive pattern-making reminiscent of cubist collages.
Interestingly the glass doors between the two galleries allow some useful comparisons of scaling between the near and distant photographs – reinforcing the link with the boundary-line scaling issues explored in the work of DAAR. This is certainly a challenging show, but overall a worthwhile experience – and it’s backed up by a substantial programme of invited speakers as well as other gallery activities.
The show runs from 28th January to 15th April 2012.