Magazine article Art Monthly

Sean Edwards: Maelfa

Magazine article Art Monthly

Sean Edwards: Maelfa

Article excerpt

Spike Island Bristol 22 January to 10 April

'Town and country must be married,' wrote Ebenezer Howard in his 1902 treatise Garden Cities of To-Morrow, 'and out of this joyous union will spring new hope, a new life, a new civilisation.' The utopian ideals of Howard and other architectural visionaries such as Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright have left an indelible mark on 20th-century urban planning. Yet, repeatedly, their promises of clean, modern and functional living environments transmuted into the sour reality of crumbling tower blocks, poor living conditions and intractable social problems. Sean Edwards, who grew up on a Cardiff council estate, knows well the disappointments and frustrations associated with failed municipal developments. For this exhibition he presents a series of works revolving around the Maelfa, a dilapidated shopping centre in Llanedeyrn, close to his childhood home. Opened in 1974, the Maelfa was intended to function as a thriving community hub, providing shops and amenities for the residents of the nearby high-rise flats. However, as with so many municipal buildings of its era, the centre was compromised by poor build quality, ungenerous proportions and other cost-cutting measures that contributed towards its inevitable decline. Though designated for demolition, the current economic climate has put redevelopment on hold, leaving the Maelfa hovering precariously in a state of semi-abandonment.

The Maelfa's bleakness is reflected in many of Edwards's drawings and works on paper, though it is felt most keenly in the four enormous giclee prints pasted directly onto Spike Island's capacious walls. Selected from hundreds of photographs taken during the artist's 2009 residency at the Maelfa, these grainy black and white images--which appear to have been degraded by a photocopier--present overlooked fragments and details. In Tiles, 2011, a corner of a doorway is just visible, while in Note, 2011, we see a portion of an ageing hand-written sign; elsewhere, high above us in Daylight, 2011, sunlight pours through a graffiti-daubed window. Whereas these works seem rather cold and detached, others introduce us to the autobiographical elements of Edwards's project. Take, for example, the photographic work Tea at my Father's House (Parts One to Thirteen), 2011, which documents a second-hand furniture shop passed regularly by Edwards while visiting his father who still lives nearby. Running like a filmstrip along the length of one wall, this line of close-cropped images, taken as the bright afternoon sun struck the shop's window, disorient our gaze with their multiple reflections and off-kilter framing. …

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