13 December 2010

Piraensi as "Pre-Postmodernist"

Dr Teresa Stoppani, author of Paradigm Islands: Manhattan and Venice, Discourses on the City, gave a series of talks at the University of Manchester and Manchester School of Architecture recently. I was fortunate enough to attend her presentation entitled "Piranesi's Rome: Vague and Viral (And Parasitic)" and have been musing on a number of comments she made during it - that I thought were worth sharing.

Veduta Del Tempio Di Ercole Nella Citta' Di Cora, 1769

In a wide ranging presentation that outlined the life and work of Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) in two (it should have been three but sadly time was against us) parts - Questions of Architecture and Viral Culture - Dr Stoppani made the observation that, in his drawings, Piranesi was a "Pre-Postmodernist." By this she meant that as an artist his etchings examined existing conditions ("from within") and didn't look to create any form of utopia on a tabula rasa - as a 'Modernist' of the early 20th century would - as opposed to any other postmodern references of wit or ornament. Also evident in Piraensi's work are everyday people and objects, these aren't drawings glorifying architectural objects, instead they examine their implications on contemporary conditions (of the 18th century) - quite a contrast to the 'baby photographs' of buildings published in architectural journals across the globe, devoid of living characters. The affects of time are clearly displayed and exemplified in Piraensi's etchings.

 Urban Chiaroscuro 2: London (after Piranesi) 2007, Emily Allchurch

On a slight aside Dr Stoppani (talking about viral culture and the terrain vague) introduced the audience to the work of Emily Allchurch, an artist who has created a series of digital collages "exploring the social restriction in the modern European city" that mirror the Carceri d'Invenzione (Prisons) of Piranesi - the Urban Chiaroscuro (2007). This fascinating series re-frame these impossible spaces and fill them with contemporary objects from the 21st century - security cameras, traffic signs and bottles of Peroni.