Whitehot Magazine

February 2010, Bamberton: Contested Landscapes @ Open Space

Cedric Bomford, Nathan Bomford, Bamberton: Contested Landscapes, 2010
Installation Detail; Courtesy of the artists and Open Space; Photo: Dallas Duobaitis

Cedric Bomford, Nathan Bomford
Bamberton: Contested Landscapes
Open Space
510 Fort Street
Victoria, BC, Canada
V8W 1E6

Nathan and Cedric Bomford's current show at Victoria's Open Space is the third iteration of their salvage-based, space-dominating installations. The white cube meets its match here, as austerity is consumed by a confidently roughshod convolution of platforms, rooms, ladders, walkways, bleachers and even, in the present instance, a pulpit. The brothers previously transformed the Or Gallery with For Fools and Traitors – Nothing, and a section of the Vancouver Art Gallery with The Office of Special Plans. While The Office more generally alluded to architecture's role in defining social arrangements, For Fools and Traitors specifically referenced an historic architectural event of deep social tension: a 1927 theosophical colony on Vancouver Island that took on cult-like characteristics and ended in lawsuits against its founder. Similarly, Bamberton: Contested Landscapes is based on an event of local history, though one of more personal significance. The communities surrounding Bamberton, the site of an defunct concrete factory, were thrown into debate in the mid 90s when large-scale development was proposed. Despite being pitched as a 'green' project, it was believed to pose a significant threat to the local ecosystem and was vehemently opposed by many, Nathan and Cedric’s parents included. The intensity of this period is an enduring childhood memory for the artists, and serves as the inspiration for their latest project.

Contested Landscapes is extremely physical work. The material—timber, plexiglass, corrugated steel—is unflinchingly present and completely unashamed of its raw construction. It looks, without a doubt, hand-made. It can easily bear the weight of many people, and clambering up into it, over it and through it is the only way to experience it to a meaningful extent. But it is also a very cerebral piece that provokes exploration, meditation, social interaction and memory. As you move through it, different visual facets and psychological perspectives are continually emerging. You are always aware of, and abrubtly encountering, others. Long, amphitheatre-like bleachers with an open view invite you to sit and observe; a tucked away 'boardroom' encourages conversation in small groups. It's a playground big enough for adults and exciting enough for children (kids love it), and in this sense age becomes somewhat nebulous: adults may be recalled to the fort-building days of their youth in a circular response to the Bomfords' childhood memories that inspired the structure; children are able participate in the 'grown-up' concept of a gallery show on their own terms. This flowing interplay between physical and psychological, and structure and viewer, is the work's real strength and the key to absorbing its more politcal dimensions.

In Bernard Tschumi's essay Violence of Architecture he describes the manner in which our bodies interrupt the purity of architectural form with their linear, extra-conceptual presence, while buildings prescribe specific actions and behaviours on us, both by imposing physical limitations, and via our own imaginative understanding of a room's function and how we should act within that space. Contested Landscapes creates a microcosm in which this interaction can be readily discerned. The gallery setting establishes an environment in which we are prepared to think about what's in front of us. A moment's reflection informs us that the structure is a fundamentally different conceptual entity when it is filled with people as opposed to sitting empty; a moment's observation reveals the extent to which the flow of people and the exchanges between them are shaped by the design of the walkways and the specific architectural spaces referenced (boardroom vs cottage vs amphitheatre.) We could, of course, observe this phenomenon almost anywhere, anytime—but generally speaking, we don't, and therein lies part of the work's value. As Tschumi clarifies: "By 'violence' I do not meant the brutality that destroys physical or emotional integrity but a metaphor for the intensity of a relationship between individuals and their surrounding spaces." The implications of this relationship being set, as it is by the Bomfords, in the context of commercial development and protest highlights the degree to which debates over local construction are in fact conflicts over power mechanisms that will have deep impact on the manifestation of a given social landscape.

Cedric Bomford, Nathan Bomford, Bamberton: Contested Landscapes, 2010
Installation Detail; Courtesy of the artists and Open Space; Photo: Dallas Duobaitis

The work also begins to approach Ilya Kabakov's concept of the 'total installation'. In a conversation with Margarita and Victor Tupitsyn held at the 1991 opening of Robert Storr's Dislocations, Kabakov stated: "Of special interest to me is the type of installation that transforms the room down to the smallest detail, so that it is reconstructed, painted over, and so on. All the parameters of the space are re-created anew; a cosmos of sorts is brought to life." Open Space has not been repainted and is still recognisable, but as described above, it has taken on qualities of a unique 'world'. Further references to his work are found in an architectural exploration of memory. For example, Kabakov's Labyrinth (My Mother's Album) is an immersive maze of corridors hung with photographs taken by the artist's uncle. According to the Tate, who purchased it in 2002, its shabby construction and dingy finish recall the bleak conditions of Soviet Russia in which Kabakov began his career, while the photographs punctuate this dystopic urban memory with personal historical moments that affirm a fundamental human ability to find light in darkness. In terms of its formal elements the Bomfords' piece functions in an almost inverted sense. The overall atmosphere is very open to interpretation - it could be seen as bleak insofar as it is rough and unfinished, but it does, as discussed, also convey a strong feeling of memory, play and community. As far as additional media, newspaper articles and pamphlets relating to the Bamberton debate wallpaper a narrow silo structure, and this is the only definitive source of any pre-defined tension. These two works are, of course, far from directly analogous but in both, there is exchange between memory and structure, and in 'viewing' them you are entered into a cosmos inspired by the artists' personal experiences.

It's both possible and useful to situate Contested Landscapes in a theoretical, art-historical context, and the pulpit (as a reference to dogma) and pamphlets that are incorporated serve to emphasise its political references. But to go back to the idea of play, it also operates well simply in terms of reflecting a basic, human enjoyment of building and creating as an end unto itself. The unfinished character is a continual reminder of process, and one suspects this would have been quite a fun one, especially as a collaboration. (And the collaborative element extends back to the the Bomfords' friends and family helping them collect the salvaged materials.) This installation also reflects the basic sense of satisfaction that can be derived from existing and interacting within the structures we create. From the act of construction to the act of viewing Contested Landscapes is a self-confident meditation on the relationship between individuals, community and architecture, and it will be interesting to see how the brothers conceptually and formally develop this style of work.


Cedric Bomford, Nathan Bomford, Bamberton: Contested Landscapes, 2010
Installation; Courtesy of the artists and Open Space; Photo: Dallas Duobaitis