exploring architecture and landscape through photographs

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Modernism is yellow, modernism is red and today the sky is blue

Centro Cultural Niemeyer, Avilés

If postmodernity, in its postindustrial sense, is a place then it can be seen in Avilés.  The imperatives of socio-economic re-vitalisation gave rise to an Oscar Niemeyer extravaganza. The centre of culture, a neo-modernist design, conjures images of the Niemeyer-designed city of Brasilía completed in 1960, and especially, Lucien Hervé’s black and white photographs of the project. Herve’s photograph of Brasilia, 1964.  A photograph that accompanies recent articles about the Centro Niemeyer seems to chime with Hervé’s space age vision, small figures against extra-planetary UFO forms. However, today’s photograph is in colour and promotes a less extra-territorial, slightly more everyday vision. Paul Richardson’s article Guardian 2011.  The Centro Niemeyer seems at once futurist and historic. Niemeyer intends the centre to be “open… to all men and women of the world.”  This ethic derives from the universalizing imperatives of modernism, a tenet springing afresh from a time before things became complicated, pluralist.  Simple shapes, in keeping with a modernist beauty of pared-down form, are composed upon a vast expanse of blonde concrete, previously post-industrial plain.  Spanish national colours meet the painter’s primary palette, seeming more like the hues forged in the early twentieth century as part of a new modernist mode of representation, a revolutionary strategy that sought to liberate humankind from the élitism of classicism.  Here, there is red, yellow and blue, as seen in the painting of Piet Mondrian and the design of Theo van Doesburg, rather than contemporary colour model RGB. The building’s colours flag a tradition of radical art.  It must be art: to endorse this idea a reclining woman poses, the artist’s model – what other subject would best support the vision of the artist of that previous time and the availability of leisure in this time? Perhaps she is a post-industrial model.  Cadmium yellow and a languid female form – the sky is naturally blue.

In Brasilía a maverick red dust blows in and around its white palaces.  The surrounding savannah, invisible in the monochrome images of Hervé and Burri, marks and measures the architecture. Traces of the ordinary inscribed in the dust disturb the super-earthly image of the monuments. Vehicle tracks cut across the grand sweeps of urban design. Footpaths in the red earth lead on and past, as always.  The red in the Centro Niemeyer is an orderly rectangle in a curve.  A dome, a banana, a tower, figures picked clean on a ground that seems as white and resistant as bone.

Photograph by Charlie Meecham

After Avilés the weather began to change. The strong light that I expected of a Spanish summer dispersed, commandeered by the jet stream and re-deployed in Northern Scotland.  Diffused light is an easier proposition technically but I missed the shape-shifting capacity of shadows, part of the landscape disappeared.