â€śGerry Judah: Art from the ruinsâ€ť â€“ The Independent, review by Robert Fisk.
Gerry Judah's abstract paintings of bombed-out buildings are about to go on show â€“ and they capture the terrible price of modern warfare, from Baghdad to Belgrade, argues Robert Fisk.
Ruins hide things. Not just the memory of what they were, but the memories they still contain. For years after the Lebanese civil war ended, I would prowl the ruins of downtown Beirut â€“ as a journalist, of course, but truth forces me to admit that I was searching for something more than a reporter's stories â€“ to find that the poor had gravitated into the collapsed buildings, into the wreckage of dentists' shops and post offices and stores.
These troglodytes, whole families of them, had fled from their own ruins in southern Lebanon â€“ bombed by the Israelis â€“ to seek sanctuary in bigger ruins. They were there with their children and their grandparents, with a litter of precious pots and bowls and gas fires and damp bedding, gaunt in the winter cold as the rain guttered down the walls, sweating through the humid summers until the bulldozers came to drive them out.
Beirut, 1990. Berlin 1945. The irony that in the heart of Beirut, the city's Dresden-like ruins lay along streets named after the victors of an earlier, more catastrophic war â€“ Allenby, Clemenceau, Foch, Weygand (there was once a rue Petain) â€“ quite eluded its new occupants. The memory of the ruins of 70 years earlier clung to the bullet-holed street signs bearing these portentous names amid a new set of ruins. But destruction moves with the times. The haunted streets of Beirut were crushed beneath Ottoman lintels and French mandate balconies.
Gerry Judah's paintings â€“ for that is what they are â€“ are of a later age, the collapse of a new heritage of war, the wires and satellite dishes speaking of the death of the modern as well as of the past. Yes, they are the destruction of Jenin and Baghdad, of the Iran-Iraq war, of Belgrade, great apartment and office blocks and television stations â€“ or so my imagination slowly works them out, for I see them every year â€“ they lack the rubble-ised chaos of car bombings for they have been computerized to death.
Of course, you can re-build; the medieval Cloth Hall at Ypres in 1918, the centre of 1944 Warsaw, indeed the re-constitution of the French streets in central Beirut today, but these are individual acts of defiance. And who would want to "save" Judah's images of destruction? Look at them carefully and find one which would have been worth saving, and there are none. For Judah's structures were modern, ugly, cheap, the product of an architect-less society (think Yugo, or even Baath Party). I imagine some of them â€“ before their decimation â€“ as cheaply painted, full of empty, cracked offices and tired, unshaven bureaucrats and overcrowded families. One, all masts and giant chimney-like protuberances, might be a mortally wounded battleship, surrounded by its debris amid the waves. Without question, the ruins are more beautiful â€“ and more frightening â€“ than the buildings ever were before their demise.
And, make no bones about it â€“ bones, after all, is what we are talking about, for we do not speak of the "skeletons" of buildings without reason â€“ they draw us into them. I have explored bombed embassies long after the weeds have taken over â€“ I once found a NATO code-book behind the US embassy in Beirut years after the suicide bomber had finished with the place â€“ and in Baghdad, in 2004, I walked with a friend into what was left of the ministry of information a year after its pulverisation. It was as ugly in life as some of Judah's structures must have been before he set to work on them, all purple-painted and cheap tiles, dictator-chic, blessed now by a carpet of weeds, but amid them was a vein of silver that moved in the breeze. With my friend, I clambered up a 10-foot pile of rubble and reached out to this skein of delicate but tough celluloid. I pulled and it unravelled down from broken walls and iron bars that poked from pre-stressed concrete, metre after metre of movie film. Some pieces were 20 feet long, others only a few inches. We held them to the light. Each frame showed dozens of soldiers, some with rifles, some without. It was old, monochrome stock, from 20 years ago. But here was the memory within the ruin, the genuine article, the real McCoy, the final proof that, yes, there was human life on earth.
Back in Beirut, that other city of ruins, I asked the projection assistant at my local Lebanese cinema to splice the film together and then I sat in the front row to watch. The pictures came up cinemascope-size on the screen above me. I knew at once who the unarmed soldiers were: Iranian prisoners of the Somme-like eight-year war between Saddam and the Ayatollah Khomeini. The Iranians bowed their heads and looked sideways at the camera. The Iraqi guards eagerly forced their prisoners to march back and forth in the heat. They were being humiliated, one army destroying another army.
Then we supported Saddam â€“ this was our victory that I was watching on the screen â€“ and then we destroyed Saddam, which is how I laid hands on this film. Those soldiers, those prisoners were ruined men whose memory of suffering â€“ unknown to them â€“ had been preserved in the ruins of a later conflict, in a building destroyed a decade and a half after their war ended. This is what Gerry Judah's work asks us: was there really human life on earth?
â€śGerry Judah's Goodwood creations: towers of horsepowerâ€ť â€“ Review for The National by Marton
By Martin Gurdon, The National, 30 June 2010
Artist and sculptor Gerry Judah is matter-of-fact about an unusual aspect of one commission. "I had to create a triumphal arch to hang a Ferrari." Such is the work he is used to now. Since 1997, Judah has been building enormous, car-themed structures for the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed, held in the grounds of the Goodwood Estate in the English county of Sussex. Apart from stringing up Ferraris, he has bolted Range Rovers to giant metal structures that tower over the stately Goodwood House, and attached priceless, pre-Second World War Auto Union racers and modern Audi R8 supercars to equally huge creations that look like giant Scalextric tracks twisting and shooting into the air. These and the other installations he has built for the likes of Honda, Ford, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz and Rolls-Royce are commercial commissions, with all the delicate negotiations that this entails. But Judah insists corporate sponsorship hasn't led to corporate interference. "They all want to do something exciting and they want to market themselves well, but they're not sculptural patrons and they've given me a free hand with proposals and allowed me to be as creative as I want," he says.
Judah was born and raised in West Bengal, India, before his family moved to London, where he attended school. With a double first in Fine Art at Goldsmiths College and postgraduate studies in sculpture at the Slade School of Fine Art, he is very much a professional artist. He sculpts and paints (and is particularly proud of a series of war-themed paintings, which can be seen at www.gerryjudah.com), but has been lucky enough to have found bill-paying work that hasn't been soul-destroying or banal. "After college, I sort of moved on to do big sculptures and obviously couldn't afford to do them on my own, so I got drawn into theatre and film." Among other things, Judah has designed sets for the likes of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the English National Opera. This was in the 1980s. "It was a very abundant period. New plays were being written and we were building the sets." London's Soho district was filled with advertising agencies and television production companies, and Judah began working on big-budget TV commercials for clients such as Heineken and Benson & Hedges. "Fully paid-up things, and very exciting," he points out. It was at this point that he got to know a talented still life photographer named Charles Setterington. Judah was vaguely aware that Settrington had connections with the English aristocracy, but had never given it much thought, particularly after their professional paths diverged, until a mid-1990s phone call. "Charles Settrington was now the Earl of March (whose family owns the Goodwood estate). He remembered me from the days when I built sets, and asked me to make the triumphal arch. I thought, 'That's fine'," says Judah. Settrington had been running the Festival of Speed, a celebration of classic cars and racing, since 1993. The event was getting more and more popular, moving from a one-day event to an entire weekend and attracting tens of thousands of people. Judah successfully dangled a Ferrari under this creation and thoroughly enjoyed the commission, and was delighted when 1998 rolled round and Lord March called again. "He said, 'Oh, I've got another one with Porsche. Can you do something with them?'"
And that's pretty much how the working relationship between the motorsport-loving, festival-running peer of the realm and the artist and sculptor has continued. "There are restrictions when you're building a sculpture the size of an oil rig a few feet from a stately home, with 120,000-plus people walking underneath it. You have to know about things like wind loads," says Judah. Much as he'd love to use materials like cloth, it's for this reason that all his Goodwood creations are metal fabrications. "I work with some fantastic engineers and fabricators, so this is very much a collaborative effort." He says the huge Land Rover "boulder" from 2008 is an example of this. "I wanted to make something that looked like a massive rock, with the contradiction that you could see through it." This involved a lot of discussions about using complex joints, or sheets of steel ("like an egg carton"). In the end, giant steel tubes were chosen. "I work with people like Bill Tustin from Littlehampton Welding. He knows everything there is to know about steel, and I get the details right working it out with him," says Judah. "You need to work with people from different disciplines. They help you create an illusion and a sense of magic. Like every magician, you've got to work out your tricks so they don't collapse on you." Judah and his team of engineers and artisans haven't been excluded from the odd hair-raising moment though. In 2001, he had produced a huge installation featuring a swooping 1950s Mercedes 300SL gullwing coupe that was nearing completion when a fabricator rang to ask if it had been earthed to the ground, as a very large thunderstorm was heading its way. With visions of a rare, expensive old car and a fathomlessly priceless stately home being fried by a lightning bolt, Judah dispatched a van with a lightning rod, which was hotly pursued by the inclement weather all the way to Goodwood. Fortunately the van got there first. Despite the horror stories of trying to paint massive, extravagantly shaped steel creations in rain-lashed "force-11 gales" as deadlines tick away, he clearly enjoys the work.
"A good idea can take a long time, but a great idea can take a moment," he says. "For instance, the Audi 'Swoop' came into my head when I was on a London bus between Oxford Circus and Portland Place; so I sketched and emailed this to the engineers." He's a huge fan of the Internet and other modern means of communication as a means of quickly working on ideas with people in different parts of the country. "Often, we're pretty much designing on a Blackberry," he says. Judah says that he "loves cars", but from an artistic rather than a vehicle enthusiast's perspective. Put crudely, he likes their shapes. "Often when I'm talking to clients, I have no idea about the cars they're discussing, but every time I do one of these things, I learn more." This year's display will feature Italian car maker Alfa Romeo. It has a new model, the Giuletta hatchback - which made its debut at Goodwood - and the marque is celebrating its centenary this year. Alfa's installation will feature a modern 8c coupe and a classic P2 racing car, and will echo the marque's four-leaf clover emblem. He describes the 8c as "curvaceous," and says that he hopes the structure will pick up on this. It will, inevitably, be in "Alfa red", and Judah talks about "lines of steel dynamically moving round each other". He clearly enjoys creating these giant structures, and it's commercial work of this sort that has allowed him to produce the war paintings that he describes as "my real journey. The two sort of run in parallel". Cars often don't get great press, thanks to a mix of environmental and social issues. So it's perhaps ironic that the super-rich racing classic cars at a stately British home has allowed an artist whose worked for organisations like Amnesty International to produce some of his best-known work. "I think Goodwood is the only place where seriously exciting, adventurous sculpture is being done on this level," he says.
â€śGerry Judah: Babylonâ€ť â€“ Review for Art Slant by David Yu
The Mesopotamia Babylon was one of the first global cities. The term â€śbabelâ€ť (confusion set by multiple languages) originates from Babylon and the biblical story of the tower of Babel. The story goes that after the flood all of mankind spoke one language and decided to build a tower in Babylon to honor themselves, a monument that can attest to the feats of humankind. God was unhappy and dispersed everyone through the creation of language. The people could not understand each other to organize the build. Because of this, so much confusion ensued that everyone went their separate ways leaving Babylon and the tower to ruin.
Gerry Judahâ€™s current exhibition at Flowers East shows a modern Babylon â€“ more specifically, buildings structures with the look of 1970â€™s brutalist architecture left in ruination. The same post-apocalyptic, post nuclear fallout narrative is applied to all of the pieces on show. The only differences amount to the composition and the color. The work pulls the viewer very thin; it confuses by sitting the pieces between states of being a narrative, a compositional exploration, an architectural model (of dilapidation), a frozen vignette, a sculpture, and a painting. Perhaps the work embodies all these traits and also embodies the same conceptual framework that references the end of the tower.
The individual structures are massively impressive in their construction. The elegant lines created by the aerial antennas and communication cables leading from the tops of the buildings nicely conjures the dual imagery of an explosion of the 3D structure, when viewed from an angle, and an implosion into the picture plane, when viewed straight on. There is a nice tension being created by juxtaposing an extremely messy formation and muting it with a blanket coating of color. The installation of structures usually sat on a horizontal plane presented on vertical axis makes for a privileged birds eye view of the damaged areas. The paintings are almost like silent devastation photographs after the hurricane or post bombing, the difference obviously is that Judah has made the landscapes into hyper bas-relief. I suppose through the exhibition title one can assume that this is Judahâ€™s maquette , for foreshadowing the demise of a capitalist world. â€śThe higher the tower, the harder it fallsâ€ť.