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Nicolas Grospierre // The City Which Does Not Exist


When Charles Fourier was building his vision of an ideal city, he based it on the belief that co-operation and concern for the common good would result in a successful society. Fourier began from the premise that man is fundamentally good and that in order to bring out the best in him it is necessary to provide him with functional life-and-work spaces.  The theoretician based his design of a  Phalanstère, the building to house the ‘phalanx’, a perfect co-operative community, on a clearly delineated division of spaces which performed specific functions. Each building served a particular purpose, which fostered the development of optimal human traits. Fourier theoretised that it was poor housing conditions that was at the root of the poor state of society. The reference to the utopian socialist Charles Fourier is not coincidental. His blueprint of the perfectly planned city had been amongst the ideas which had inspired modern movement architects. They believed that a good design can affect people’s behaviour and that architecture can shape a new, and different, society.

In his exhibition The City Which Does Not Exist, Nicolas Grospierre creates various narrations around the theme of the ideals of modernist architecture. He constructs his statement in parallel to that of the architect, who creates his vision of a city on paper. The artist creates non-existent buildings. He brings to life an actual city, meant to represent utopian premises, never before fully implemented. Grospierre documents realised utopias, the effects of theoretical and architectural fascination with modernism; an attempt to create a better reality.  He photographs buildings which had been supposed to confirm human authority and potential. In the photographs, we will be able to see the architecture of Brasilia – a perfect example of putting into practice the modernist ideals of a modern city, Soviet architecture, which aimed to create perfect living conditions for the New Man, as well as images of Polish modernist churches, testimony to the implementation of a new chapter in the life of the Roman Catholic Church, following the Second Vatican Council. To the utopian projects, the artist has added the ingredient left out – seemingly – by the utopian dreamers: flesh-and-blood man, with his passions, drive for power and inclination towards anarchy and destruction. Such unusually-constructed works as K-Pool and Co. or Volkenbrasil are precisely the realisations of those utopias, testimony to the possibility of creating that which is impossible in practice. However, the state of bliss is only fleeting, as the buildings turn out to be anything but comfortable to live in.

What we will see at the exhibition is ‘modernism applied’, architecture as she is used and worn. As political trends change, buildings fall into disuse and oblivion; become objects that nobody knows what to do with. The artist takes on board the architecture-on-paper, the town as an ideological concept, and a caricature of a utopia which has lost in confrontation with humans.

The exhibition at Bunkier Sztuki will be a narrative about two aspects of our reality – about being lost in the trap of modernism, and about the failure of utopia. The artist has structured the exhibition along the progression from euphoria and fascination with the novelty of the form, via confusion and feeling lost, to the failure of hope. In fact, we are not entirely sure whether the reality that we are dealing with here has been thought up by the artist or perhaps by an architect. Is what we see solely a theoretical and utopian vision of urban space or is it, indeed, its dystopian application?

Nicolas Grospierre (born in 1975 in Geneva). Photographer, graduate of sociology. In 1997-1999 studied at the Institut d’Études Politiques in Paris and graduated from the London School of Economics and Political Science in Russian and Post-Soviet studies. Since 1999 has lived in Poland. Considered a ‘new documentalist’. Recipient of the Award of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage (2009) and the Golden Lion at the 11th Architectural Biennale in Venice for the best national pavilion. Lives and works in Warsaw.