Urville 2006 is one of a group of three large-scale black and white photographs on aluminium of the abandoned and derelict Second World War bunkers that punctuate the Normandy coastline of northern France. The other two in the group are Azeville 2006 (Tate P80083) and Biville 2006 (Tate P80085). Each photograph is named after its location and records a single structure, the huge scale of the image reflecting the monumental impact of the architecture depicted. The forlorn state of the bunkers is apparent; long since used in the defence of territory, they are now besmirched with graffiti, litter and the detritus of illicit activities.
Azeville, Urville and Biville were first shown in an exhibition titled Sealander at Haunch of Venison in Zurich in 2006. They were displayed alongside a three-screen video installation that cuts between footage taken by the artists of the bunkers, and found underwater footage of the rare vampire squid, which has the largest eye proportional to its body of any known creature.
Much of Jane and Louise Wilson’s work has involved filming and photographing architectural spaces ‘where there is a pathology attached’ (Virginia Button, The Turner Prize: Twenty Years, London 2003, p.158). They are sensitive to the powerful emotional affects generated by certain kinds of architecture and they have often made work about locations made notorious by recent political history. For example, Stasi City 1997 (Museum of Modern Art, New York) was filmed in the abandoned headquarters of the German Democratic Republic’s Stasi intelligence service and in a former Stasi prison, while Gamma 1999 (Tate T07698) was filmed at the decommissioned American missile base at Greenham Common in Berkshire. Similarly, the bunkers in these photographs are remnants of another time, now severed from their former use. They also have a troubled history: built by the Germans on the coast of occupied France, they are visible symbols of an invader’s presence. As Darian Leader has written in the catalogue essay for the Zurich exhibition: ‘Built by an occupying army, they aimed to defend a territory that was never their own to start with. They were signs of both possession of a space and the fact that this possession was never secure.’ (Darian Leader, ‘The Architecture of Life’, in Haunch of Venison 2006, p.2.)
Jane & Louise Wilson: Stasi City, Gamma, Parliament, Las Vegas, Graveyard Time, exhibition catalogue, Serpentine Gallery, London 1999.
Jane and Louise Wilson: Sealander, exhibition catalogue, Haunch of Venison, Zurich 2006, p.2, reproduced p.22.
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