Heinzmann, Uni-Solar, Trek (Unité d’Habitation de Briey-en-Foret to Unité d’Habitation de Rezé) Trek 7300 Bicycle, Heinzmann Electric Drive (200W), 3 x Uni-Solar Solar Panels (32W each) at Unité d’Habitation de Rezé, 28 August 2000 consists of seven colour photographs shot during a bicycle journey of almost seven hundred kilometres undertaken by the artist across France. Starling embarked on a cycling trip from the Unité d’Habitation de Briey-en-Foret, Lorraine, to the Unité d’Habitation de Rezé, Pays de la Loire, two almost identical housing projects designed in the 1950s by French architect and pioneer of social housing Le Corbusier. As the detail of the lengthy title indicates, Starling rode on a Trek bicycle, fitted with an electric Heinzmann engine powered by the solar energy produced by three Uni-Solar solar panels which he laid out on the side of his tent each day to recharge. In the work the considerable distance that separates the housing blocks is negated by their apparent similarity, turning the journey into a series of absurd acts.
The sequence of seven images are exhibited in a row, starting and finishing with shots of Starling’s bike, standing loaded with camping tent and equipment, in front of Le Corbusier’s buildings which fill the background. Departing from the Unité d’Habitation de Briey en Foret in Eastern France, the journey and the photographic sequence culminate when the artist reached the Unité d’Habitation de Rezé in Western France. The five images in between document stages along the journey with the artist’s tent – the three solar panels hung on its side – bicycle and equipment arranged in almost exactly the same configuration in a changing landscape. The distances between the different locations seem to collapse because of the similarity of the images. For the artist the work ‘is a journey that begins and ends exactly in the same place, in a sense, collapsing geographical distance – another type of detour – and all powered by solar energy’ (quoted in Roelstraete, Manacorda and Harbord 2012, p.32).
Starling’s use of photography to document the journey suggests different readings. On the one hand, the photographs – with their uniformity of colour and composition – seem to deny the distance between a series of different locations, connecting both them and the various elements that powered the trip. On the other hand, photography – in its use of light – connects both with Le Corbusier’s own use of sunlight in architecture and with the sun captured by the solar panels to power the bicycle’s engine. Light thus ties the different elements of the project together physically and metaphorically.
Conceived as solar machines and known also as ‘Cités radieuses’ (or ‘radiant settlements’), Le Corbusier’s post-war housing units were designed and oriented so that each apartment would be flooded with sunlight all through the day. Starling has described them as ‘a great concrete sundial marking time on the bucolic French landscape’ (quoted in Roelstraete, Manacorda and Harbord 2012, p.29). The first of these constructions was built in Marseille on the South coast of France between 1947 and 1951. Similar principles were applied to the Unité d’Habitation de Rezé, built in 1952, and later to the Unité d’Habitation de Briey, built between 1959 and 1960.
Heinzmann, Uni-Solar, Trek (Unité d’Habitation de Briey-en-Foret to Unité d’Habitation de Rezé) Trek 7300 bicycle, Heinzmann Electric Drive (200W), 3 x Uni-Solar Solar Panels (32W each) at Unité d’Habitation de Rezé, 28 August 2000 is representative of the artist’s practice, which often involves travelling to other countries, a fascination with iconic works of modernist design and a poetic logic informed by circular returns and a great investment of labour. His carefully staged encounters with modernist practice, which establish dialogues between past and present, and between his own work and that of others, raise questions surrounding production, consumption and sustainability.
‘Francesco Manacorda in Conversation with Simon Starling’, in Dieter Roelstraete, Francesco Manacorda and Janet Harbord, Simon Starling, London 2012, pp.7–39.
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