28 March 2009

The Urban Crisis

One of the running themes that emerged at ARCO this year was about the expansion and transformation of urban spaces. Perhaps its not surprising that this theme was so prominent in the midts of an international economic crisis and declining real estate market. Cities around the world have experienced a boom in construction in recent years, only to see newly fabricated neighborhoods remain uninhabited. In other cases, existing urban areas are under growing pressure from expanding populations. Several photographers have focused on this problem.

Belén Uriel: Uriel’s photograph Ideal House shows a colorful billboard with the outline of a cartoon-like house in the middle of a dry, barren landscape. Her recent work has focused on the impact of abandoned properties on their surrounding environment and the marketing of hopes and dreams in the form of real estate.

José Guerrero: In a series of photographs titled Down Town, Guerrero seeks out the most mundane, and universal, aspects of urban development in London, Moscow, and Cairo, focusing his attention on unremarkable suburban apartment blocks that could be on the outskirts of any large city. 

Marina Núñez: On display at the Salvador Díaz stall were a series of futuristic digitally-constructed landscapes. Núñez employs the aesthetics of science fiction to present what appear to be ruins of a civilizations from a distant time and place. The large-scale images contain impressive photographic detail and are enhanced by their oversize-light box presentation.

Xing Danwen: In a series titled Urban Fiction, the Beijing-based artist photographed architectural models made to promote planned real estate developments in China. Her work highlights how, in the artist’s own words, “globalization has made urban landscapes everywhere similar and blurred the boundaries between them.” The archictecture of these condominium developments looks oddly familiar, but these plastic constructions, devoid of real people, are also somewhat off-putting. Danwen’s work was at the Galerie Sollertis stall.

Alexander Apóstol: Born in Venezuela, Apóstol has explored the urban architecture of the city of Caracas in a systematic and disciplined manner. His photographs reveal how utopian ideals and historical trends in urban architecture, now forgotten or discarded, can still be seen amidst the chaos of contemporary urban spaces.

Damian Ucieda: At the Galeria 3 Punts display at Art Madrid, Ucieda’s photographs provided wide-angle views of empty suburban apartment buildings at night. A red sky and absence of any evidence of human presence give the scene a sinister air.

On display at the Galerie Michael Schmalfuss stall at Art Madrid, the paintings of Stefan Hoenerloh and photo-collages of Verena Guther also involve the manipulation of architectural elements to create familiar but fictitious urban spaces.

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