Tuesday, 6 May 2014
Lisa Barnard - Chateau Despair
From the book Chateau Despair, 2013
Lisa Barnard’s photographic practice is connected to both fine art and documentary genres. Her work connects her interests in psychological aesthetics, the limits of photographic film alongside the documentation of both the real and the imaginary.
32 Smith Square was Conservative Central Office from 1958 to 2004.The building is synonymous with Margaret Thatcher smiling and waving out of the window on the 2nd floor after winning the elections of 1979, 1983 and 1987. However, by 2004 the building became known as ‘Chateau Despair’ to its inhabitants, prior to the Conservatives’ move to Victoria Street. They left behind a mausoleum containing nearly 50 years of their political history, etched on its surfaces and discarded in its corners.
This book features previously unseen photographs of the interior documenting the dulled shades of corporate blue, stained carpets, peeling paintwork and discarded iconography of past alliances. Carefully choreographed portraits of a smiling Thatcher, unearthed in an old cupboard, punctuate the book, jarring with the shabby interior. The book also includes photographs of the objects, or remnants, Barnard found in the building including a blue rosette, an internal envelope, an ornate silver spoon, a balloon and a strip of film negative.
Barnard makes some surprising discoveries in the abandoned building: a forgotten pair of shoes, a tear in the shape of a laughing mouth cut into a studio backdrop, or, what appears to be, a bright red rocket leaning against the wall. These photographs, subtly humorous yet still matter-of-fact depictions of an interior space, are strongly reminiscent of the work by the Canadian photographer Lynne Cohen. Despite the lack of people in these images, the presence of man is emphasized by these quirky interventions.
Looming over this body of work are a number of scanned images depicting the former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Her status as political and ideological icon in the UK is emphasized by including several seemingly identical images of her. Although in each image she is shown with the same bright red lipstick, the same immaculate hair, and the same confident smile into the camera, each image differs slightly from the others, as well as to the extent it has physically deteriorated. Watermarks and dirt are creeping up on them, while a fingerprint gives an indication on the actual size of the original photograph. The decline of the building is thus mirrored by the imperfections represented in the damaged portrait of Thatcher.
Inasmuch as the photobook documents the remains of a once-thriving party headquarters, the project also alludes to Thatcher’s immense impact on political, economic and social issues in the UK. Her knowing smile not only affects our reading of the interior photographs of Chateau Despair, it equally affects our understanding of current debates such as those on housing, social security, immigration, foreign relations or economic policies. Her presence is akin to that of a phantom. This is particularly the case with regard to the current Conservative-led coalition government that consistently tries to locate its own position in relation to the Thatcher years.
In spite of the re-emergence of Conservatism in the UK, the photographs strongly allude to the collapse of an ideological and political framework. The abandoned rooms at 32 Smith Square perhaps evoke comparisons with representations of other fallen regimes such as Daniel and Geo Fuchs’ photographic series on STASI buildings in the former GDR. To the back of the book is a collection of fifteen scanned images of objects Barnard has found in the building. Chateau Despair fulfills the archaeological function of archiving a vision from the past.
Chateau Despair by Lisa Barnard from GOST Books on Vimeo.