slightly allegorical realism

slightly allegorical realism



Drawing From Cities of the Dead with Monument to the Living 1986


“Walter Benjamin, the great Marxist critic, spoke of allegories as being in the realm of thought and knowledge what ruins were in the realm of things: no longer alive, yet possessed of a continuing power by virtue of their very fixity; a salutary or cautionary symbol. Are there genuinely living shared ideas in contemporary society, or are they illusions, congealed allegories better seen for the ruins they are? In this rumination the metaphor of architecture is very striking …

The installation format is in some ways a successor to old popular traditions of tableaux, a kind of walk-in artwork that creates a temporary architecture for its panorama or frieze of life. Courbet called his vast “Studio”, with its vista of society, “A Real Allegory” … and I would take the entire installation [of Lies in Ruins] to be an allegory of the city today where “edifice” has decayed into platitude and flatness, where a succession of heroic claims upon hope and history have failed, or simply been overtaken by the relentless economic process … corrugated iron used to be called by the Situationists “the character armour of the council” – or indeed of the real estate operator.

There is something in it of the emptiness of a painting by de Chirico, but if there is some sense of loss that is being registered in this work it is not simply that of the poetic verities of classical culture but the whole possibility of life in the city …

Benjamin once said: ‘There is no document of civilisation that is not at the same time a document of barbarism.'”

Bleak Houses Brian Hatton
Building Design No 787 May 16 1986


“Glyn Banks and Hannah Vowles construct anti-advertisements for the architecture and urban culture of our times.

They are talented window-dressers in command of a wide range of signs and references, but unlike the usual window-dressers, whose job is to show goods in the best possible light, Banks and Vowles cast dark spotlights of doubt and pessimism over the items they display; the windows that they dress are those of cultural undertakers, the tableaux that they mount are those from cities of the living dead … in an only slightly allegorical form the deathliness beneath the mask of glamour by which our society – a society of publicity and spectacle in which capitalism like counter-reformation catholicsm, wins ascendancy by means of addiction to spectacular images – hypnotises, captivates, and pacifies us.

They imply that our public life is a simulation, a sort of zomboid condition in which both nature and culture are replaced by an artificial mimicry of one by the other … drawn on the one hand from what was once avant-garde art borne of cultural negation and resistance, and on the other from the intimacy and warmth of what was once was common experience and knowledge and now pushed back into subjectivity and domestic privacy …

Each of their recent tableaux have represented these three basic data – the evacuated and zomboid public realm, the devalued tokens of a bankrupt artistic avant-gardism, and the debased kitschery of domestic life – in the format of a kind of capriccio.”

Painting it Black Brian Hatton
Building Design No 822 Feb 6 1987


“The capriccio is a neglected genre. It connotes a kind of picture in which the conventional order of things – generally an architectural or urban order – is shaken up and the familiar furniture of its scenes and settings moved around … in Goya’s etchings the capriccio took an altogether darker turn. The installations of Glyn Banks and Hannah Vowles could also be called “dark capricci.” There are ruins, disarrayed townscapes, displaced consumer products and junked cultural items, among which wild beasts wander … local material also provided some of the subjects for the surrounding murals. These mix the familiar with the grotesque and the alien … drawn in a deadpan black and white line in the manner of Jannis Kounellis … so that one seemed to be looking at an existential toytown from which the inhabitants had fled …

The whole ensemble is like a stage set and the scenario it summons up is not difficult to imagine; indeed, the scene it represents is not so different from that confronting the visitor who leaves the show and goes out into the streets … It is a demolishers’, a ‘developers’ (sic) capriccio, a limbo from which all common culture has been drained, alienated and commodified, leaving a public realm cluttered with junk and populated by simulacra of art and nature … For what appears at first to be a work of bizarre fancy turns out in fact to be a work of sombre and only slightly allegorical realism.”

Road to Ruin Brian Hatton
Art Monthly No 101 Nov 1986


see also:
Progetto Venezia: Rocca di Noale Commune di Noale Italy
Venice Biennale of Architecture curated by Aldo Rossi 1986: Catalogue
Art in Ruins: Road to Ruin Review by Desa Philippi
Artscribe International No 61 Jan/Feb 1987
‘Die Grosse Oper’ Review by Johannes Reinhardt
Artscribe International No 69 May 1988
Im Museum der ruinierten Absichten Review by Sigrid Feeser
Die Rheinfalz 10 February 1988
Recent History Project by Art in Ruins in
Architectures of the Near Future
Ed. Nic Clear. 2010. Architectural Design, London
Incredible Tretchikoff: Life of an Artist and Adventurer
Boris Gorelik. Art | Books 2013