Go For Gold!
Civilian Art Projects
Essay by Al Miner
Gesche Würfel challenges us to question the present. Her photographic series Go for Gold! and Farewell from the Garden Paradise deliver visual eulogies for East London’s Lower Lea Valley. With the eye of a trained urban planner and the lyrical lens of her camera, Würfel examines dormant spaces caught between a residential past and a grand future as sites for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.
In Würfel’s Garden Paradise, irony is in full bloom. We tiptoe through sheds in this former community garden on the precipice of destruction. What will soon be a footpath for the “green” Olympics, were obviously once green spaces themselves. Petal pink upholstery and peeling poppy red paint recall the vibrant colors that were once cultivated here, yet floral wallpaper and fabric are all that remain. Somewhere under this rubble, the core of the Eden’s apple lies buried.
The sinister side of urban renewal is revealed in Go for Gold!. Pink pylons and a lapis blue, concrete wall are futile barriers against progress. As the blue wall fades into the sky behind an orange construction fence, the battle is almost lost. A roadside billboard advertises only decay, peeling paper from ads long faded beyond recognition drips down the surface like tears. Other images offer even fewer clues about the region’s almost eradicated history. The primordial ooze of evolution resembles a river of jade and gold, but is ominously enclosed by a grey moldy roof, while in another piece only trees survive. We must rely on the artist’s titles, like the text on forgotten tombstones, to tell us the fates of these seemingly blank canvases.
Gesche Würfel’s work tells not of the competition between athletes, but rather between urban generations and, indirectly, between cities that vie for the wealth and power of hosting the Olympics. By deleting human presence in her images, much as the Olympic construction has in these spaces, Würfel allows us to imagine what came before and quietly contemplate if regeneration requires the erasure of even the faintest palimpsest or guarantees that we will come out better on the other side. A swansong for the local communities that this global event is destroying, these poetic images will remain far longer than their subjects.
Al Miner is the Assistant Curator at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
Opening Reception: Friday, February 19, 7pm
Gesche Würfel’s multi-year project Go for Gold! depicts the transformation of London’s landscape in preparation for the 2012 Olympic Games. A trained urban planner, Würfel began the project in 2006 as an investigation into globalization and how it disrupts relationships between residents and their natural and built environment.