TALK: ACAHUCH + CCPD: Langlands & Bell - Ideas of Utopia

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Theo Blankley

    Join Professor Alan Pert (MSD) and artists Ben Langlands and Nikki Bell to discuss their latest exhibition at Charleston, “Ideas of Utopia” as part of Critical and Curatorial Practices in Design 2022.

Image Credit:  Langlands & Bell, Alibaba, Hangzhou, 2018; Photo: Stuart Whipps

    Langlands and Bell PortraitLanglands & Bell are two artists who work collaboratively. Ben Langlands (born London 1955) and Nikki Bell (born London 1959), began collaborating in 1978. Their artistic practice ranges from sculpture, film and video, to innovative digital media projects, art installations and full-scale architecture. Their work focuses on the complex web of relationships linking people with architecture and the built environment, and on a wider global level, the coded systems of mass-communications and exchange we use to negotiate an increasingly fast-changing technological world. The Turner Prize nominated British artists have never shied away from delving into risky subjects, especially those that reopen the old wounds of human history. For the artists, architectural structures bear witness to the political, cultural and economic events that have shaped our world. The very survival of these structures serves as moments of truth for times that have since come and gone.
    Throughout their four-decade career Langlands & Bell have consistently revealed both the beauty and violence behind some of the world’s most historically challenging structures. This includes their Turner Prize-shortlisted interactive work The House of Osama bin Laden that was commissioned in 2002 by London’s Imperial War Museum to document and investigate postwar Afghanistan as part of the aftermath of September 11, 2001, and which saw the artists venture inside the former home of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. In 2020, Langlands & Bell created work inspired by British architect Sir John Soane for their show Degrees of Truth (4 March 2020-3 January 2021) at Sir John Soane’s Museum in London exploring the complex web of relationships between people, architecture and today’s technological systems of communication. As the artists continually demonstrate, the historical monuments of our past act as reminders of periods of history that have had an immense and undeniable effect on the realities that shape our present world.
    The largest artworks to date by Langlands & Bell are, the 2004 Paddington Basin Bridge, designed in association with Atelier One (structural engineers), an 8-metre high x 45-metre long white metal and glass pedestrian bridge linking Paddington station and the new Paddington Basin Development, London, with a capacity of up to 20,000 people per day; Moving World (Night & Day) (2007) — two 6 x 18-metre permanent outdoor sculptures of steel, glass, and digitally controlled neon at Heathrow Terminal 5; and China, Language of Places (2009), the 18-metre wall painting exhibited in English Lounge at Tang Contemporary Art, 798, Beijing in 2009. Their most recent exhibition, Ideas of Utopia, presented their work at Charleston, the modernist former home and studio of radical twentieth-century painters Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. The show presented works of art which examine attempts – knowing and unknowing – to create utopias whether domestic, religious, social or commercial.
    The exhibition also considers Charleston as an important place of early modernist social experimentation and questions a building’s power to unite us, separate us, protect us, and inspire thought and creativity.

    Alan Pert Headshot Critical and Curatorial Practices in Design, a research project led by Professor Pert, and is hosted by ACAHUCH at the Melbourne School of Design, the University of Melbourne.

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