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Carl Zimmerman: Landmarks of Industrial Britain

October 24, 2007 - January 20, 2008

AWE Gallery

If you sense that something is not quite right when you first see Carl Zimmerman’s Landmarks of Industrial Britain, you are not alone. While the work bare’s an uncanny resemblance to real 19th-century buildings, they are in fact, complete fantasy. The illusion is so convincing that you may think that they did indeed exist and are now demolished, or that they were at least paper architecture and existed in plans and drawings, but you would be wrong again.

With their precise titles, atmospheric lighting, and monumental size, who would suspect that what you are really seeing are digital photographs of newly constructed models in Zimmerman’s Cape Breton studio? And while this type of clever deceit is common in Hollywood films, it is unexpected in the serious context of architectural history. The effect is one of persuasive illusion, convincing the viewer that he or she is seeing something that does or did exist, even while the evidence of the image cannot remain credible in the face of a critical examination. These buildings could not exist. Yet, our desire that they should exist seduces us into believing in them.

Zimmerman’s photographs often represent public and institutional buildings associated with a particular place during a specific historical period. He has produced a simlar project about Hamilton, Ontario, where he grew up. In this previous work, he achieved illusory effects by manipulating the object being photographed. With his new series, he uses digital technology to enhance and extend the image. The resulting digital prints, which are very long, closely resemble historical engravings of architectural elevations.

With Landmarks of Industrial Britain not only are the buildings fictional, the entire society they represent has also never existed. Zimmerman is proposing an alternative history of the 19th century, one in which the workers’ state imagined by Marx and Engels emerged, as they believed it was likley to do, in the most advanced industrial nation of the period. Zimmerman’s public architecture evokes a monumental utopian state that was never realized. These buildings are massive, and their sublime desolation is suggestive of the authoritarian aesthetic of state architecture and perennial problem of creating public buildings that people actually inhabit and enjoy.

This exhibition was curated by Robin Metcalfe and organized by the Art Galery of Nove Scotia, Hlaifax, and Dunlop Art Gallery, Regina.


Carl Zimmerman

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