Friday, 9 October 2009

thinking about the Tate Modern

A friend of mine was telling me about Lo-Fi architecture and how he’d like to learn more about it. The outline he gave was that it has to do with the re-interpretation of an existing space that has had a previous function. This made me think of a few things: Lo-Fi culture in general, John Ruskin and the Tate Modern.

When I visit the Tate modern, I am struck by the beauty of the shell of this old power station. Something about the fact that it is made of brick and is at the same time so enormous makes it extremely powerful, even aw inspiring. This enormous, utilitarian structure is perfect to hang the new glass fittings and pure, white art gallery walls, seemingly just squatting in the huge space.
Then I think of Ruskin’s criticism of these old factory buildings: De-humanising, impersonal, vulgar affronts to art and architecture. Ruskin’s architectural philosophy valued the natural growth of structures as they adapted to fulfill their latest requirements. He heartily disapproved of the Victorian building practise of hastily fabricating the grandest structure possible, always looking ahead at the next rung on the ladder, without ever glancing back at what has been left behind. This Attitude, I believe, is in agreement with the Lo-Fi philosophy.

Lo-Fi is a combination of the use of any available resources to create (among other things) art, film and music that is accessible and attainable to all and the deliberate use of low-tech solutions to creative problems. The latter principle is, in many ways, a protest against the exclusivity of cutting edge software and technology. However, it is also, in its own right, a celebration and appreciation – a ‘rediscovery’ if you like - of the technologies humanity has developed and discarded in the name of progress. It is a re-humanising of formerly impersonal tools of industry.

This is why the Tate is so beautiful. It is a perfect example of Lo-Fi architecture. What was once a faceless, uncaring, industrial monolith has been reincarnated as a housing of art and culture. It is a celebration of humanity, rather than a destroyer of it. In agreement with Ruskin’s arguments, this building, though at the time it had seemed ready made for its ultimate purpose, has grown into a new structure. One I think he would have been most pleased with.

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