London is on fire! This is the scene that artist David Best desired to create when he came up with the idea dubbed ‘London 1666’. This is not the first time that David has created something that he would later burn but it is definitely the first in making a creation of such huge proportion. To bring to life the London 1666 project, and having enlisted the help of volunteers, David oversaw the construction of wooden structures that represent various buildings in London in the 17th century. The huge sculpture was not supposed to give a visual of how London looked like at the time, but to provide an image of the skyline. 2017 marked the 350th anniversary since the Great Fire of London and David Best has done his part in remembering the tragedy.
This expression, although not in words, told the story of the historic event. When you imagine the loss that was incurred by thousands of people then, what David is burning does not even come close to comparison. According to historical records, the fire consumed 13,200 houses, 44 livery halls, 87 churches and 400 streets. The wooden recreation was 120-metre long and comprised of 190 miniature buildings. Observers could see structures of churches, factories, homes and schools that were mounted on barges before being set ablaze to burn away as drifted the course of the Thames river.
In 2017, the anniversary of the great fire was commemorated on September 4th. While the fire is deliberate this time, it is a reminder to everyone that lived through the tragedy, heard stories from relatives who did or was witness to the devastation in the aftermath that such cannot happen again. The 1666 fire began on Pudding Lane from Thomas Farriner’s bakery and it is rather ironic that a place where people went for comfort and solace would be the result of misery, to the effect of plunging 65,000 people to homelessness.
David has offered up the work to volunteers. Over months of hard work and commitment, scores of young people from various locations in London have been involved in hard work for the project. Within various placements and workshops, the structures to be used have taken shape and gained validity for use in the anniversary event. Such a historic event would not be complete with a great audience and to make that happen, it was directed by Tim van Someren and presented by Lauren Lavern, familiar faces for those who watched the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony.
Wenceslaus Hollar’s “Prospect of the Citty of London, As It Appeared, In The Time of Its Flames” shows the Great Fire of London as seen from across the river, in Southwark.
HULTON ARCHIVE / GETTY IMAGES
London 1666, Replica of 17th-century London, River Thames, London
London 1666, Work In Progress, designed by David Best
Video interview with David Best
Carsten Höller – Test Site, 2007, New Museum, New York – Exhibition: Experience, 2011
Carsten Höller is well known for playfully including his slide installations in major museums across the world. Höller, who is formerly a scientist with a degree in agronomy, is famous for repurposing components of the real world, such as slides, for art spaces. The majority of his works feature aesthetics that are relational, meaning that the projects created are inspired by the relationship that people have with their social contexts. The end result of Höller’s incredible work is an experience that resembles part playground and part lab, which is a crowd pleaser.
Alfredo Jaar – A Logo for America, 1987/2014, Times Square, New York, 1987
The Times Square in New York is characterized by an epic display of contemporary consumerism; it is flooded with tourists from all regions of the world and filled with numerous electric billboards displaying services and a range of products for sale. If you are going to install an art exhibition, and a successful one at that, there is no better location that offers as much visibility as the Times Square.
Thomas Struth – Pantheon, Rome, 1990
Thomas Struth is one of the most critically acclaimed contemporary photographers of our time. He is renowned for his black and white photographs of cities such as Düsseldorf and New York, as well as his family portraits. The artist who lives in Dusseldorf acquired his inspiration for his series of Museum Photographs while he was residing in Naples and Rome, where he discovered that there was a connection between paintings of art and religion and how these paintings connect audiences to their spirituality. The Museum Photographs, which was showcased at the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, marshaled in a new visual language in the field of photography.
In his series, Struth photographed the art and the visitors viewing it, as well as the viewer observing other audiences. As such, with the many layers of observation, Struth’s intention was to assess the museum’s control of their audience and the criteria that each museum has for exhibiting pieces in the way that it does. The purpose behind the Museum Photographs was to remind people that the iconic subjects of his photographs were once just unfamiliar paintings done by ordinary individuals.
For instance, his Galleria dell’Accademia I, Venice piece shows regular tourists in shorts and casual clothing as they wander around an exhibition hall that is dominated by Paolo Veronese’s 1573 painting The Feast in the House of Levi. Struth’s color print is as large as Veronese’s painting, yet the scene in his photograph is reminiscent of memories of an outing on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. He specifically selected Veronese’s interpretation of the Feast in the House of Levi as a subject because it had a feel of a regular dinner or lunch and it depicted a rather large party atmosphere where people have gathered to drink and make merry. As a result, his photograph of the feast allows today’s audiences to look upon the masterpiece with a new energy and perspective, just like the first time it was put on public display.
For the project, Struth utilized a European 13×18 camera, and he positioned himself strategically so that every photograph he took, whether inside a museum or in the crowded streets of Paris and Vienna, rendered onlookers in random areas, which gives his pictures more power.
In the end, he managed to create a dialogue between photography and paintings, where his choice of paintings echoes his earlier black and white work in Düsseldorf. He effectively manages to bridge the gap between space and time, where the figures in the painting and the figures observing the paintings are connected despite how much time has passed since the paintings were first made public or the space that exists between them.
Thomas Struth – Pergamon Museum I, Berlin, 2001
Thomas Struth – Pergamon Museum II, Berlin, 2001
Thomas Struth – Pergamon Museum III, Berlin, 2001
Thomas Struth – Pergamon Museum VI, Berlin, 2001
Thomas Struth – Stanze di Raffaello 2, Rome, 1990
Thomas Struth – Art Institute of Chicago I, Chicago, 1990
Thomas Struth – Art Institute of Chicago II, Chicago, 1990
Thomas Struth – Galleria dell'Accademia I, Venice, 1992
Thomas Struth – Kunsthistorisches Museum III Wien, 1989
Thomas Struth – Louvre 1, Paris, 1989
Thomas Struth – Louvre 4, Paris, 1989
Thomas Struth – Pergamon Museum IV, Berlin, 2001
Thomas Struth – National Gallery I, London, 1989
Thomas Struth – National Gallery II, London, 2001
Thomas Struth – Alte Pinakothek, Self Portrait, Munich, 2000
Olafur Eliasson – The Weather Project, 2003, Monofrequency lights, projection foil, haze machines, mirror foil, aluminium, and scaffolding, 26.7×22.3×155.4m, Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, London
Photo: Olafur Eliasson / Tate, London
Olafur Eliasson has created a gigantic installation which in 2003 took over all space in Tate Modern, London. The artwork, a sun rising out of a mist was bound to keep any visitor in awe. In this project named The Weather Project, the Scandinavian artist recreated the sun and the sky to occupy the Turbine Hall. The whole space was covered with a fine mist that seeps into the whole space like it was coming from the outside space. Looking ahead to see if the mist escapes into the outer space, visitors saw in place of the ceiling, a replica of the space below – like a mirror. There were 200 low-sodium mono-frequency lamps at the extreme end of the hall as well. Mono-frequency lamps are mostly used in street lights and the frequency at which they emit light is so low that any other colour besides black and yellow are invisible. These lamps therefore change the view and landscape of the environment into one with two tones.
Meekyoung Shin – Crouching Aphrodite, 2002
Meekyoung Shin, a South Korean sculptor, became popular for her Translation series, using soap as her medium of art. Trained in the tradition of European sculpture, her statuettes are made factoring in the Western and Eastern style of relief. Her works are usually made from palm oil, a vegetarian soap.
Jeremy Deller – It is what it is- Conversations About Iraq, 2009, at Joy in People at the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre
Photo: Linda Nylind
In the Imperial War Museum in London, surrounded by some of the most powerful military hardware of the last 100 years rests a rusting, crumpled car. This is a clear example of what war does. The car is a piece by Jeremy Deller, and was a car that was contorted in a street bombing that killed 38 people and wounded many more at Baghdad’s Al-Mutanabbi book market. Al-Mutanabbi book market was at the heart of the Baghdad’s cultural and intellectual life.