Modernity, laid bare in all its beauty

The other day I had to collect my resident’s parking permit from the Hammersmith & Fulham Council.

I resented having to go: they were supposed to post the permit to me, but hadn’t. However, I was amply rewarded for the bothersome trip. Thanks to it I learned what modernity is about, a knowledge I’m happy to share with you for didactic purposes, and I hope you’ll be thankful.

The Council building is an architectural tribute to Corbusier’s fascist brutalism. Hence the building sits on pillars acting as piles, and there’s no ground floor.

Corbusier’s idea was to have traffic moving underneath buildings, which in this case it doesn’t. Since the Council is located at the intersection of two streets, with plenty of traffic on one of them, the architects were plainly after an ideological statement, rather than a functional one.

The Council confirms this impression by using one of the pillars as a sort of poster board. The pillar, about ten feet high and seven wide, serves as a cogent exegesis of modernity.

Each of its four facets is densely covered with poetic statements of the Council’s take on modernity, which word they use interchangeably with modernism. Rather than quibbling about this lexical imprecision, I was so impressed with the messages that I whipped my phone out and photographed them for posterity (and your benefit).

Facet 1

So modernity is about wiping out national borders and universities. The latter will be moved out of campuses and into the streets, where, by the sound of them, the authors of this message were educated. It’s also about magic and Spanish guitar music. What, no rap? I feel deprived.

Facet 2

My poetic sense isn’t acute enough to understand much of this. As far as I can tell, rather than crying in our sleep, we should dream about free education and racial equality. Since I’m unable to police my dreams, I’ll have to go on wetting my pillow every night. Pity.

Facet 3

If the the first part means anything at all, which it doesn’t, it certainly has little to do with modernity: the message does confirm that the Earth is ancient. The second part insists on the beauty of wind turbines (a matter of taste, I suppose, or rather absence thereof) and suggests, in a rather surreal way, that their vanes be used to give Mr Trump a haircut. Since one doubts that the vanes can achieve the requisite accuracy, we must be talking not about coiffure but about beheading, which is fine because Mr Trump is a troglodyte. Alas, he’s a short troglodyte compared to wind turbines, so I see physical problems here. Never mind: the message is pure metaphysics.

Facet 4

In addition to free education and racial equality, we are advised to dream about fair (meaning extortionist) taxation and gender equality. No civilisation is possible without all of the above, and therefore none has so far existed.

I’m so happy to see that not all our taxes are used for crass material purposes. I also now understand why the Council messed up my parking permit. Who can worry about petty practical details when his mind is occupied with higher, philosophical concerns? I certainly can’t, and neither can the Council.

You have your marching orders now. Go and get your dreams in order, modernity commands. And, since none of us is capable of the same poetic subtlety and philosophical depth, we must obey – even those of us who don’t fall under the jurisdiction of the Hammersmith & Fulham Council.

3 thoughts on “Modernity, laid bare in all its beauty”

  1. Where is William Topaz McGonagall when you need him?
    Seriously folks, architects should never leave large blank flat surfaces within reach of the illiterati because the inevitable graffiti will make their buildings even more unsightly. They should however affix their names, addresses and telephone numbers to their buildings.

  2. Depressing as this is, my spirits used to sink still further whenever I had to visit Cambridge City Council buildings. Their “Customer Services Unit” is based at “Mandela House”. That’s somehow worse than any amount of daft slogans on boards.

  3. I recall the first time I saw Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer “text-based” artworks I felt dismay…is this what we call art now? To me it has as much to do with aesthetics as Rap has to do with music. So, when I see text based works I move on; “go write your poem in a book and not SCREAM it to me!” (and learn to draw).

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