Wednesday, 7 July 2010


Cyprien Gaillard, Cenotaph... (2008)


7 October – 16 November 2008

Cyprien Gaillard (b. Paris, 1980), is one of the most significant young French artists to have emerged in recent years. Working across a range of media (including video, photography, sculpture, etching and live performance), he explores the notion of ‘landscape’ with reference to the slow decay or sudden destruction of post-war Modernist buildings, and of the set of Utopian principles on which such structures were founded. Geological time, here, rubs up against the moment, and pastoral idylls are punctuated with episodes of sudden, jarring violence.

In the Hayward Project Space, Gaillard presents a series of photographs that depict the aftermath of the demolition of high rise social housing in Glasgow and the Parisian suburbs, shot and printed using similar methods to those employed by German ‘Düsseldorf School’ photographers such as Andreas Gursky and Thomas Struth. As the titles of these works suggest, these mounds of rubble resemble Bronze Age cairns — structures erected to mark a burial site and, according to some archeologists, to ensure that an interred corpse remains underground. The violence of controlled detonation (to architecture, to a community, to a dream) is echoed in the video The Lake Arches (2007), in which we see two young men relaxing by a man-made lake in the shadow of Ricardo Bofill’s extraordinary post-modern, viaduct-like housing project at Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France. Jumping into the water, one of them bloodies his nose on the shallow lake-bed, as if the landscape has met his aggressive energy with its own.

Gaillard’s sculpture Cenotaph to 12 Riverford Road, Pollokshaws, Glasgow (2008) is made from 15 tonnes of concrete salvaged from the remains of a Glaswegian Modernist social housing project demolished in advance of the city’s hosting of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, transported to London and then cast into an obelisk. Placed within a wasteland-like ‘secret garden’ in Hubert Bennet’s iconic Brutalist Queen Elizabeth Hall (1967), the work, unlike Cleopatra’s Needle directly across the Thames, is half-hidden from the public, visible only through the internal windows of the concert hall’s foyer, or on an organized tour. Not a display of colonialist spoils, then, but rather something close to a resurrection or reincarnation.

The word ‘cenotaph’ betokens a monument to someone or something whose remains are elsewhere, and at first reading this seems an inappropriate designation for this obelisk — it is formed, after all, from the leavings of the building it memorializes. Perhaps, though, what is being remembered here is not the physical stuff of concrete, bricks and glass, but rather a devalued history, and a devalued dream. The fortress walls of the Queen Elizabeth Hall (a building, unlike 12 Riverford Road, unlikely to be condemned to destruction any time soon) afford Cenotaph… a level of protection uncommon to works of public sculpture. A major chapter in the history of British Modernist architecture enfolds a ragged footnote, and a second, half-secret life is eked out. Looking through the windows of the concert hall’s foyer, the casual visitor might imagine that Gaillard’s obelisk (with its trans-historical form) has stood in that space since the building’s birth — a reminder of death, right at the start of things; a memento mori, before the work of remembering has begun.

Curator: Tom Morton

Assistant Curator: Siobhan McCracken


Map Magazine interview with Cyprien Gaillard on the occasion of 'Glasgow 2014'

frieze magazine Interview with Cyprien Gaillard

Exhibition review from Curating Discourse

Hayward Gallery / Southbank Centre website


Cyprien Gaillard, 'Glasgow 2014' installation shot

Cyprien Gaillard, 'Glasgow 2014' installation shot