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The Treasury Project Hardcover – 1 Jan 2002
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Mark Power's new series of colour photographs documents the recent comprehensive refurbishment of HM Treasury in London. In common with his previous work on the Millennium Dome, this new project follows the unfolding of a dramatic narrative, and in this case the transformation of space as a form of architectural trauma. But in these pictures Power is also sensitive to something less material. For emerging in his emphatic images of a ravaged and rebuilt interior structure there are the signs that something latent in the building itself has been released. This, Power suggests, can withstand the disturbance, and can possibly feed from it. It is a presence we might call the building's spirit of place, generated over centuries, and now through Power's photographs dictating the terms of its own renewal; finally revealed as something to be seen and felt.
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Since that time Power has become an increasingly sought after photographer on the world scene. Although remaining Brighton based, and connected with the University course he has done so much to support, in the past few years he has regularly been commissioned to work in Europe and travelled as far as Japan on assignment. Advertising commissions now count as a part of his repertoire and last year he became a candidate member of Magnum: the priesthood of documentary photography. In his own work increasingly his name is associated with notions of change within the constructed landscape.
The images shown here are from his latest project: a response to Foster and Partner’s evisceration and rejuvenation of the HM Treasury building in London’s Whitehall. In addressing these pictures it seems important to acknowledge that the Treasury is a seat of power: one of the great organs of the state and very different from the architecturally fascinating, but culturally vacant, Millennium Dome.
And yet the irony of his work at the Treasury, designed originally by John McKean Brydon, constructed between 1900 and 1917, and offices of Chancellors of the Exchequer and approximately 700 staff since 1940, is that Power, the artist, in the bare shell left by the demolition crews, found himself affected in an acute and entirely personal manner. The shell of the building, and the trace evidences of its past revealed in the demolition process, transported him straight back to the lesser scale but similarly aged personal environment where he lives with his family. Marks on the by now bare bricked Treasury Building walls provoked memories of the transformation of his own Victorian house and the references to the past that slipped from its fabric as it was transformed into his family’s personal space.
Power, in his quietly assertive approach, produces an eerie beauty from the detritus with which he is presented; but the strength of this work is found in the manner in which it so clearly becomes a metaphor for memories more universal. History, even in destruction, remains important in a building like The Treasury. A war memorial is carefully preserved, as is an old iron fireplace, wrapped in a film of protective plastic against the rigours of the construction workers, while in another image a collection of scaffolding clamps congregate like bottom feeding molluscs: awaiting their proper task. The great majority of the book concerns itself with the structure in its demolished state, but in a few pages at the back the viewer is afforded an experience of Foster and Partners’ vision of how a modern government should be accommodated. A forest of new hat and coat stands, for example, is pictured waiting: waiting to be dispersed throughout the almost completed building. Bright and modern they may be, but memory sees through such fripperies and leaves me pondering the myriad bowler hatted, brolly carrying, civil servants whose working lives have been spent in the building since it became a working space in 1917.
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