Gargoyles & Shadows

Posted on March 9, 2010


The current exhibition celebrating Gothic architecture and early photography at the V&A is tucked away in the usual spot for ‘architecture’ exhibitions, just off the main architecture/model room. The space gives the impression of a casual side thought but the work stands up for itself and I thought it to be a little gem of a collection, it seems a shame that it probably spends most of it’s life locked away in a vault somewhere while a model of blue water shopping centre gets pride of place….

Anyway, what a fantastic pairing this is, each playing on the romantic elements of the other. The spires, intricacies, chasms and shadows of the Gothic revel under the spotlight of the Victorian photographer’s lens. The photographs themselves, with their super-long exposures, remove the sky, leaving something even more infinite and mystical. Figures, even those standing still, are ghostly blurred, a familiar echo of somebody we don’t know but can be sure is no longer among the living.

Some of the work falls into a period when artists were primarily interested in abstracting light, shape and colours from the subject and so detracting from the emotional content associated with it. Whether this was the case for these photographers I don’t know but there is no denying the character of this architecture is ever-present.

One building presented here is Fonthill Abby (below), featuring an enormous octagonal tower at its centre that collapsed and was re-built several times over before defeat was admitted. This is a vision that appeals to me, something that could never happen today for we are, in a way, constrained by our sensibilities and knowledge. We still push boundaries of course but in a virtual environment. Here, in typical Gothic style, with no such thing as safety margins, they were pushing to achieve something right on the edge of physics, driven by visions of beauty, magnificence and a sense of the divine.

Fonthill Abby

The Exhibition is free and is on until 16th May:

Posted in: Architecture, Gothic