Dan Munn – 1 March, 2015
Cullen's casual hand-made maps, models and diagrams express in a highly theatrical manner a cynicism regarding the use-value of these planning tools, and also a frustration with the peculiarities of clear-cut taxonomies of objects. In doing so they enact the death of spatial planning, incorporating in themselves a site-specificity that is difficult to quantify or retrieve.
Survey with incomplete models
1 December 2014 - 31 January 2015
“In a grain of sand in the hem of Emma Bovary’s winter gown, Flaubert saw the whole of the Sahara.” (1)
Paul Cullen is currently building a model of our solar system inside a piece of luggage. The miniature, representing immense heavenly bodies and millennia of human discovery, becomes itself a globetrotter. The artist spent December and January on residence at ZK/U, a laboratory for practices ‘at the interface of urban research’ in Berlin’s Moabit, at the end of his stay presenting a series of sculptures inspired by his walks around the locality’s twenty-five bridges.
In the installation Survey with incomplete models, translucent painter’s drop-cloth covers the floor and is hung on wooden posts supported by hand-poured concrete bases to form a display booth of sorts. A modest assortment of chairs, tables, pencils, folding wooden rulers, outdoor masking tape, and Plasticine are used in a series of sculptures that sit alternately alongside or on top of maps and diagrams.
Cullen studied science first and then landscape design, his studies funded in part through an enterprise producing sandals from car tires. This background appears integral to the artist’s practice which is deeply influenced by institutional, industrial, and laboratory design aesthetics. The fragile, hand-made constructions configure a small vocabulary of objects in various ways, often, in a stack of interlocking pencils impersonating a folding ruler or tape built up like moulding putty, misusing the tools involved in their own production.
Cullen has produced a number of hand-made maps by tracing his computer screen, on which he numbers each bridge in the order he visited it. He also created a set of diagrammatic drawings from his photographs of the area. Both formats contrast the subjectivities of the artist-on-the-ground with the objectively-framed surveys of satellite mapping. The artist mentioned seeing a much less developed Moabit in a 1945 Google Earth image, and like his previous projects dealing with waterways, chemical elements, and gravitational forces, Survey with incomplete models incorporates a touch of classical essentialism. The internal logic of its groupings extends this essentialism in line with Harman’s (non-exhaustive) “objects [that] withdraw from relation.” (2)
On moving to a new city one encounters a landscape with constantly shifting emphasis, for example even the most scenic of bridges soon merges seamlessly with the roadway. Heidegger takes this further (3), using the bridge as a defining example of the art of building, reframing as it does a multitude of both natural and social relations simultaneously. Early urban planning theory, defined as ‘physical’ (ie. not social or economic) planning and thereby apolitical, has been drastically challenged since the mid 20th Century by Jane Jacob’s 1961 attack on its modernist origins (4), Lucy Lippard’s 1997 espousal of multi-centred ‘narrative landscapes’ (5), and its current menu of ‘community, ecology, governance, multiculture, citizenship, arts and media’ (6).
Cullen‘s casual hand-made maps, models and diagrams express in a highly theatrical manner a cynicism regarding the use-value of these planning tools, and also a frustration with the peculiarities of clear-cut taxonomies of objects. In doing so they enact the death of spatial planning, incorporating in themselves a site-specificity that is difficult to quantify or retrieve. As an abstract micro-cosmos, Cullen’s studio constructions reframe the relations between objects familiar to his practice, affording them a luxurious pause from their function of defining product and place.
(1)The Rings of Saturn (1995) by W G Sebald
(2) The Quadruple Object (2011) by Graham Harman
(3) In Poetry, Language, Thought, (translated by Albert Hofstadter, Harper Colophon Books, New York 1971) by Martin Heidegger
(4) The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) by Jane Jacobs
(5) The Lure of the Local (1997) by Lucy Lippard
(6) Centre for Urban and Community Research (CUCR), Goldsmiths, University of London, http://www.gold.ac.uk/cucr/ (Accessed 18 February 2015)
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