Birmingham is a city in constant change. The city centre is, as it ever was, a hive of construction and reimagining, with cranes like vultures overhead, swooping down to pick at carcasses. It is also a city of imaginaries and storytelling, both in the cultural history of the place – from cinemas (see 00035) to Peaky Blinders, Mela to metal – but also wrapped up within the architecture that remains or has been lost, the proposed futures within evolving place and fixed monuments, and the ghosts of past futures now compressed within a new story.
That notion of ghosts within the machine for living in is explored in the current exhibition in the city’s Ikon gallery. Horror in the Modernist Block takes on the ambitious task of considering the relationship of horror and post-war urban architectures, though doesn’t set out to pull focus just on Birmingham itself but pan wider into distant territories and places in search of a deeper meaning between fear and suspense with modernist construction.
Shadows also recur in works by Karachi born artist Seher Shah in Notes from a City Unknown (2021), a portfolio series of screen-prints amalgamating short concrete poems and dark patterns. Riffing off Italo Calvino’s musings on Venice in Invisible Cities, it conjures various readings of New Delhi as a site of hidden tragedy and sectarianism, each page presenting a different city: CITY OF QUIET SOULS; CITY OF THE BORDERLESS FLOWERS; CITY OF SURVEILLANCE; CITY OF 1947. In works elsewhere in Ikon’s spaces, Shah’s Unit Object etchings (2014) transmogrify the well-worn images of Le Corbusier’s Unité d'Habitation buildings, turning the typology into an unidentifiable other, flat but also seeming to leave imprint and cast irregular shadows.