ideas make manifestos
Penthouse and pavement.
An exhibition by Sarah Hardacre.
You work with me not someone else
Words by Sarah Feeney for
Decor Punk magazine
A 4-minute read
Sarah Hardacre: Penthouse and Pavement Exhibition at The Modernist
Until Saturday 21st March 2020
The Modernist's latest exhibition is by Sarah Hardacre.
“Penthouse and Pavement” is a series of paper collages and prints of 1970s architectural photographs and pin-up magazines.
The backgrounds of the artworks are bold and blocky blues, oranges and purples. The pin-ups are in their full-colour glory. The black-and-white photos are urban landscapes of newly built residential and civic buildings such as police stations, shopping parades, libraries, council housing and bus stations.
Both the buildings and the pin-ups are in their absolute youthful prime.
Post-war Britain is an era we’re nostalgic about.
A more optimistic time in which society believed there could be some kind of modernist-based social utopia in which homes were “fit for heroes” and the welfare state and National Health Service were well-supported.
It’s a time before digital enhancement and the age of modified beauty. The women in the artwork look very…real. Grooming was certainly more achievable and relatable back then, less homogenised. Not for no reason are we seeing stretch marks and diversity having a bit of a renaissance in advertising and social media —we’re nostalgic for this bygone era when women were portrayed as being well, women - dimples and all. No pressure.
It’s no coincidence that the pin-ups and the urban landscapes are from the same decade; it was a considered decision by Sarah Hardacre. It anchors both subjects in an identical place and atmosphere to make various like-for-like comparisons and contrasts.
The artworks highlight the difference between the pin-up's relationship with the public space in the picture and the actual reality.
In the artwork, the pin-up comfortably inhabits the space. Indeed dominates it. Their impressive scale and technicolor glory make the black and white architecture seem unchallenging, almost subservient.
The overall aesthetic is reminiscent of posters for B-Movies such as Attack of the 50-Foot Woman (1958), in which said 50-Foot Woman stands Colossus-like, astride an urban landscape, taking no shit, throwing cars around as though Dinkie toys.
In reality, the women who inhabited these modernist 1970s spaces often struggled with them and did not take the leading role. The space instead dominated and suppressed their every move.
Sarah points out that male-run practices predominantly designed the 1960s and 70s architecture. So there wasn’t much time spent thinking about a woman’s daily use of the public space —pushing a pram around it, lugging the shopping around. Back then, men just didn’t do that stuff. Not in any way male bashing here; it’s just how it was.
Consequently, there are often too many steep steps, lifts that stop lifting and sharp angles that are an absolute pain to drag a petulant, screaming toddler with a Chopper around.
Sarah sent me a great resource book that considers the urban landscape from the point of view of the women living within it: Making Space: Women and the Built Environment. It’s got some great black-and-white photographs of urban landscapes that look straight out of a punk fanzine.
Sure enough, there’s photographic evidence of women struggling up flights of steps with the pram, the baby and the shopping.
Sadly, no photos of Choppers, though.
The artworks also show a striking visual contrast between the two subjects themselves:
‘…the often stark ‘phallic uprising’ of male-dominated modernist architecture as a counter to the sensuousness of the female body...’
The architecture is formal, angular and clinical; the pin-ups soft and, curved, irregular.
They both were phallic and sensual, but it’s now 50 years later, and the viewer, therefore, realises both subjects have aged exponentially.
This highlights an inequality between the two subjects: the public demand for them as the years have passed. We admire 1970s brutalist architecture more as the years roll by. But we don’t see the same increase in demand for pin-ups as their years roll by.
One thing they both do share, however, is a certain vulnerability. We now know that some buildings didn’t make it; they were demolished. And we can guess that, sadly, some of the women didn’t make it either.
I suspect the life stories of the two subjects probably ran in parallel, and I wonder whether or not their youthful optimism was ever fully realised and how their lives panned out.
The buildings we can easily track down (so long as they’re still there), but where are the women now? Or is that just me being nosey…
They won’t be easy to find, which Sarah confirms, as they often used the 1970s, pin-up-appropriate aliases, such as Candy and Bunny, and even these would change from issue to issue.
Sarah also sent me a promotional film from the BFI archive - Prospect of Skelmersdale, a 1971 documentary about the primarily male planners and architects considering the new town’s housing, transport and amenities. Sarah tells me to watch out for the moment in the film where scantily clad pin-ups can be seen pinned to the walls of their offices.
Pictures of pin-ups and modernist architecture in the same frame —how very appropriate. Life imitating art 50 years earlier.
Thanks for your time on the phone, Sarah - and happy Wally Dog and Gossip Mirror spotting (possibly more about that later, in future works).
The Modernist, 58 Port Street, Manchester, M1 2EQ
Opening hours: Wednesday – Saturday, 11 am – 5 pm
As featured in Decor Punk magazine.
Writing by Sarah Feeney
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