Monday, 15 June 2009

Architecture of Failure II

This is, apparently, the only colour photograph of the Crystal Palace still in existence. To me it has a number of resonances;

It looks exactly like the kind of photograph that people manage to find ghosts in, the slight lack of focus, the over-saturation of the colours, the proliferation of life-like objects, they all seem to contribute to the atmosphere in which the shadow of a long-dead face appears in the background. (Note that 15 workers were killed in the 1854 construction of the C.P. at Sydenham, when scaffolding collapsed - could it be one of them? spooky!)

It is busy with objects and yet strangely empty, more than a little forlorn, which by all accounts was the condition in which it spent its last remaining years, as this quote, from Bell-Knight's homage to the C.P. will testify:

a most woe-begone picture, peelings and sun blistered paintwork, the glass grimy, ironwork encrusted with rust and stonework suffering from erosion. Overall was a film of black dust that seemed to invade everywhere, caused by the cinder ash which arose in clouds from the racing track [...] . It really was a sad and sorry sight – as if the old palace was about to give up the ghost (as indeed it did not very long after) – but at least it went out in a final ‘blaze of glory’.

If this is the case, this would qualify it as an example of the sublimity of 'rattling around', of being stuck with a space that can never again be filled in the way it was designed to be. This is a jarring, unheimlich feeling however, as if we haven't lived up to ourselves, our own promise.

Speaking of which, it also looks a bit like some old work of mine, how uncanny. For those of you who don't already know, my thesis project (which I finished drawing exactly a year ago, the realisation of which fact sent a shock of horror down my spine, oh what a year it's been since, oh boy!), was a rather pathetic attempt at approaching a few problems, problems which I thought were architectural, but were mostly cultural all along, problems of memory, the archive and melancholy, and how they relate to space, through the medium of a very forlorn iron & glass palace that spent a very short time on this earth before being torn down and sold for scrap. The resultant project was a soup of conflicting and overstressed ideas, basically three or four projects all occupying the same bloody space, but then, what can you do... Anyway, if you look closely you can see similar columns in the background, and also the rather dejected looking chairs, framing empty, under-utilised space, where something once, maybe, might have happened, under Benjamin's 'dirty and sad' light. I could have done with more flags in mine though...


Robert Doyle said...

AFAIK There are six known photographs in the set, and the colour is considerably better preserved than in that image...

Murphy said...


Robert Doyle said...

I did laugh at your original Derrida line, honest. (It was meant to be funny wasn't it?)

But then I lost two hours of my life that I will never be able to recover actually reading "Archive Fever" when I discovered that the full text was now on Google Books.

And for that I am forced to punish you with anglo-saxon empiricism in every comment.