Alexander Brodsky

The Factory

2012

Not on display
Artist
Alexander Brodsky born 1955
Medium
Clay, wire, metal trolley, LED light, perspex
Dimensions
Object: 1650 x 1810 x 690 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by Calvert 22 Foundation London 2013
Reference
T13939

Summary

Created by the Russian artist and architect Alexander Brodsky, The Factory 2012 is a large model of a factory building made of a metal skeleton with an unfired clay surface and covered with a Perspex case. The model resembles those made and used by architects; however, unlike the pristine surfaces of those structures, Brodsky’s The Factory is crumbling and dilapidated. Nor does the model represent any particular building, but instead serves as an archetypal example of mid-twentieth-century industrial architecture prevalent in the post-war Soviet Union.

By referencing a standardised building type from the Soviet Union, The Factory relates to Brodsky’s activity in the Russian group of ‘paper architects’. The movement was initiated in the late 1970s as a defiant response to the state-sanctioned, homogenous, low quality architecture of Soviet times. Its members sketched utopian, fictional designs for buildings they knew would never be constructed, such as the series of etchings entitled Projects 1981–90, which Brodsky produced in collaboration with Ilya Utkin (Tate P14564P14598). Rather than imagine a new building, The Factory shows the officially sanctioned style in a state of degradation, falling apart like the ideology it represented. Likewise, the specification that this is a factory refers to the failure of the communist state. As such this work, along with that produced by the paper architects group during the communist regime, acknowledged the power of architecture to shape society and lived experience.

The use of models or miniatures is a persistent motif in Brodsky’s sculptures and installations. This can be seen as an extension of the work of the paper architects group; allowing space not only to imagine new and different buildings, but to stage their destruction and explore the ideological function of architecture. In his 2000 installation Coma at the Guelman Gallery in Moscow, for instance, he created a maquette of a city sinking slowly into dark oil, commenting on the saturation of contemporary Russian society and politics in the oil industry. Miniature dimensions allow the viewer to analyse more closely the gap between architecture’s grand aspirations and the sometimes prosaic and disappointing reality of its execution. Brodsky has explained, ‘I wanted to show [the city] as if it was in a hospital on a surgeon’s table’ (quoted in Galilee 2007, accessed 3 June 2013).

Brodsky’s pessimistic and nostalgic visions are often reinforced by the use of evocative materials, like plastic bags, ice or oil. In The Factory the artist used unfired clay, a material that recurs in many works because of its vulnerability. This has important metaphorical ramifications for Brodsky, particularly in relation to architecture as a political tool. He has commented: ‘It is very fragile, and fragility is an important quality for me. It may become dust at any moment, but if you don’t touch it, it stays forever.’ (Quoted in Moore 2012, accessed April 2013.) In this way the unfired clay and the debris-stricken surface of the work contrasts with the form of the architectural model, which traditionally serves as a starting point for construction. This is a model ruin, which although never built, falls apart. Many of Brodsky’s works, including his early collaborations with Utkin, celebrate decay and entropy. His sculptures and installations appear on the verge of collapse, triggering a bitter reflection on unrealised ideal cities and failed modernist utopias.

Further reading
Beatrice Galilee, ‘Alexander Brodsky’, Icon Magazine, no.54, December 2007, https://www.iconeye.com/404/item/2848-alexander-brodsky-%7C-icon-054-%7C-december-2007, accessed 3 June 2013.
White Room/Black Room: Alexander Brodsky, exhibition catalogue, Calvert 22, London 2012.
Rowan Moore, ‘White Room / Black Room: Alexander Brodsky – Review’, Guardian, 7 October 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2012/oct/07/alexander-brodsky-white-room-black-review, accessed April 2013.

Kasia Redzisz
April 2013

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