The Cold White Heat of Today

The powerful impact of a new installation in London by Russian architect Alexander Brodsky

Tony Curzon Price
Tony Curzon Price
6 October 2012

Remember the children’s book, Madeline? It has a group of perfectly dressed but not so perfectly behaved little French girls visiting London to a doggerel script. Twelve little girls with twelve identical beds all in a line. An image of perfection.
A very similar image, but sinister, greets you in Alexander Brodsky’s “White Room”. The cold white room, each end mirrored to recreate its content to infinity, has a row of miniature beds in it, all of them identical. The miniaturisation makes you think of childhood, maybe of an institution - hospital, school, prison … the infinity of reproduction, loveless reproduction. So maybe the giant you have become is coming in on a set of the Handmaid’s Tale rather than Madeline. The mirrors are just slightly off-parallel. So the infinity of beds is in a loop. But as well as that, there are a few feet in the space when you can avoid seeing yourself - a trompe-l’oeil gets you out of the picture.

Shuffle from the cold white heat into the “Black Room”. As your eyes adjust, you discover it is not black. There is a hearth at the heart of “Black Room”. You are drawn towards it. Clay humans, each identical, each posed identically, dressed - or is it undressed - identically; they sit in concentric, rising circles staring at a pit. And in the pit is the flicker of a flame. Zaroastrians, then - devotees of Ahura Mazda, the first monotheistic creation of human society - the god/force of both good and evil represented by the flame.

Turn away from the pit and the room really is black. Frighteningly black. Turn away from the flame and you’ve got no idea where you’re going, when you’re going to hit a wall. No wonder, then, that humanity should sit in a circle at night, entranced by a domesticated flame in a pit.

You now have to return through the White Room to get out. Where does that entrancement take us? Well … right back to the present, to the ice-white heat of technology. We are promethean all-right … but what have we done during that 4 thousand-year trance? What have we produced?

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