Nowhere is the rapid twentieth-century expansion of suburban Australia more evident than on the Gold Coast. From simple single-storey dwellings with accompanying carport and breezeblock retaining wall, to the ubiquitous blonde-brick six-pack apartment blocks, the coast’s rich identity is shaped by its architecture. This regionally specific brand of architecture, an instantly recognisable style that both subtly and awkwardly draws from the visual language of mid-century modernism, is at the heart of Sam Cranstoun’s latest exhibition, Retro Modern, at The Walls. As its starting point, this new series of sculptures borrows from the patterns of the building facades and retaining walls seen throughout the Gold Coast. But by simplifying these patterns, reducing them to scaled-down monochromatic forms, the former glory of these designs is restored. Once associated with a local and potentially dated style of architecture, this visual style is re-examined, reconsidered. The focus is returned to the origins of this architectural style and its place within a rich history of art and design, as well as acknowledging the utopian aspirations of its modernist heritage.
Cranstoun’s practice investigates how systems of representation shape a collective understanding of the past. Through the use of painting, drawing, photography, film, sculpture and installation, Cranstoun’s work looks at how history is shaped by different flawed, predominantly visual, systems of representation. These investigations often revolve around different historical periods, events and figures, and incorporate research from a wide range of sources. His practice aims to explore the contemporary relevance of the monument, how the monument functions as a tool to assist memory and the roles assumed by the artist when exploring historical work, namely the artist as amateur researcher, as tourist, as fan, and as pilgrim.
Image credit: Sam Cranstoun Retro Modern (detail). 2015