Debris, Model Villages and High Art

Hi All,

Amazing image of the storm damage in the Philipines on the front page of the Daily Telegraph – felt compelled to buy the paper so I could keep it. Probably my only purchase of this particular organ of truth and equality.

ImageExtraordinary ariel shot of a ship beached among acres of matchwood debris. My fascination can thrive unchecked by unpleasant realities like the smell, grief and struggle to survive. Shades of ‘the Road’ . On the same note, but also quite different, I followed up my recent investigation of Bekonscot model village in Beaconsfield, venturing into Gloucestershire to see the one at Bourton-on-water. An obviously stood still in time village that hosts the mini-replica of itself. The model village was inspired by the slightly earlier one at Bekonscot (1929), but unlike that one it was created as a commercial attraction, rather than an out of control hobby.

aerial photograph by smaller and more restrained than Bekonscot, it has a less imaginative feel – the layout is set out as in the actual village, all the buildings are made of the same Cotswold stone and along with the external absence of model figures, items of interest are restricted to the modern signs on the old shops, ‘Londis’ etc. However a brief flurry of creative excitement for me was stirred by the discovery of the model village within the model village, a product of the internal logic of a scale replica of an actual village being sited within that actual village. images-3 Following on from that train of philosophical enquiry, there is then a model of the model of the village. I think the builders then stopped there so as not to distress the visitors. What happens if they had carried on is best explained by James Lovelock who, in a lecture on Gaia theory where he was asked “If the world rests on a giant turtle, and that turtle rests on another giant turtle, when does that stop?”  “Madam”, he said, “it’s turtles all the way down”.

images-4Roaming around the scale buildings I was reminded of the curated part of the Venice Bienalleimages-2

images-1imagesBekonscot castle 2This year at the Bienale the Jardinerie part had a large display of model houses in one of the first rooms. The installation was set up by two artists Oliver Elser and Oliver Caley. In 1992 Oliver Caley found some intricately made model houses in a junk shop in Austria. On asking about them the owner said that he had about 400 of them ‘out the back’. They were all individually wrapped in black bin liners, and on inspection were all beautifully detailed ‘replicas’ of Austrian houses and commercial buildings. He bought the whole set – they were made by Peter Fritz, an insurance clerk living in Austria. He had made them in his spare time and then during his retirement, so probably over a period stretching from the 70’s until the early 90’s, when he died. They were then sold or given to the shop owner. Other information about Peter Fritz’s life and why he made them is minimal. They use recycled materials, scraps of plastic and fabrics, seemingly recreating actual buildings – however no-one has found any buildings that exactly match the models.

So they seem to be a close idea of Austrian buildings – the interesting thing from my perpective is that they do not stray away into a more idealised building design, there isn’t the slightest hint of utopian leanings. They are a generalisation of this architecture, but very specific and detailed at the same time.

They were presented in 2013 as ‘The 387 Houses of Peter Fritz, and Insurance Agent in Austria”

Though they bear the hallmark of ‘Outsider Art’, the obsessive attention to detail, the consistency of vision and style, being made over a long period of time in isolation, they have been co-opted by artists and then re-presented by a curator to be one of the centre pieces for one of the most influential Art events in the world. This is pointing the way forward to a period of time where cyclically ‘High Art’ feeds on ‘Low Art’.

In my next blogs I’d like to look at other scale model works that were at the Venice Bienale, particularly Cindy Sherman’s curated part, Ai Wiewie’s models of his incarceration, and the Bienale centrepiece – ‘The Encyclopedic Palace’, a huge model made by another ‘outsider’ in the 1950’s.



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