|Pygmalion and Galatea, Jean-Leon Gerome, 1890 (source)
||Piccadilly Community Center, Christoph Büchel, 2011 (source)
The Piccadilly Community Center does not represent an instance of documentation. Its uncanny juxtaposition of both impoverishment and overabundance is both anachronistic and revealing of the center’s studied construction. The inverse of the canon of social documentary photography, those images that record and sometimes romanticize the poverty, the community center creates a dense and specific world, rather than record one already existing. It is a kind of social realism built, not captured.
And though it takes as its subject interaction between people, and studies those spaces that facilitate and house these interactions, neither does the Piccadilly Community Center, as constructed in Hauser & Wirth’s Piccadilly gallery space, represent an instance of relational aesthetics. Rather than represent a continuation of that phenomenon defined by Bourriaud as ‘a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space’, the center perpetuates, instead, a more traditional dream of mimesis and its power.
When Pygmalion created Galatea in the likeness of a woman, he hoped the divine gift of a human soul might enliven her sculpted flesh. The Piccadilly Community Center, an artificially constructed vision of a local community center built in a gallery space in posh central London, is, in its mimetic foundation, an expression of renewed faith in recreating reality and the power of these recreations. The Piccadilly project suggests that by building something that looks like a community center, the spirit of such a place, of community, might somehow descend into its shell, rendering it less a mockery of the lower classes than a functioning supplement to their social lives.
As a type of reproduced space, the artist Christoph Büchel’s Piccadilly Community Center has a dialectical agenda which is self-consciously positioned between reality and artifice. In the creation of this public space, the hosts’ (Hauser & Wirth) upscale gallery fittings are removed and replaced with scavenged furnishings and accessories that simulate a detailed but thrifty recreation facility, indicating a place that has been there for some time and is permanent rather than temporary.
This project relies on misrepresentation to define itself. While the space’s identity may originate in ‘Art’, it shies away from this label. An obvious gesture indicating an attempted divorce from the discipline’s conventions is the omission of Büchel’s name from any promotional material, implying that the community space has come into being as any other: a product of anonymous authors, possibly bureaucrats.
The uncanniness of the space results from its proclivity for mimicry but also from its programmatic tension: art fans intently gaze at carefully placed Post-it notes and disheveled file folders, as if they were trying to understand a Dutch still-life, while elderly locals bake Algerian bread. Some users of the space are there to observe, while those under surveillance may not know that they are being watched. Thus, there is a gradient of awareness amongst users as to what is really taking place in the space.
Büchel has essentially constructed a stage for ordinary people to go about their daily activities and upon which an audience can wander. Here the roles of audience and actor are fluid and can be exchanged at any given moment. This juxtaposition of program produces some uneasy effects which raises many questions (i.e. Is Büchel making fun of the center’s users and/or audience?) with unclear answers.
Ultimately, although its ambitions waver, the center successfully investigates and exposes the real potential for generating community in a highly exclusive urban area.
Erandi de Silva