Mirjami Schuppert

Garden Estate | Mirjami Schuppert

When the sun goes down the stars come out. The darkness sets in and changes an inviting looking park or overgrown secret path into something scary, uncomfortable and uncontrollable. Children must go home, it is not safe for them to wander around in the dark. In the solace of home parents read their children bedtime stories where all the monsters, dragons and beasts come out of their dens when the light gradually dims out.

Fergus Jordan’s photographs of Dunclug tell another story, a story about a utopian garden estate that failed miserably. The examines a place where all the hope has been given up, the sun has set indefinitely, and there is no hope of dawn.

Garden Estate appears to depict a generic semi-rural housing estate, where there are plenty of green areas, small paths, sparse lanterns and houses built one next to another. Yet, everything is not quite as it should; there is certain unease about the situation, the surrounding, those badly lit paths. Indeed, it is not quite clear what exactly lies in the bush, behind the fence and in the shady doorways. No matter how closely one tries to look, squint their eyes, the picture does not get any clearer, the object in the hiding more visible. There is a need to get closer, to get deeper and deeper into the maze of crossing walkways of the unknown. Darkness transforms the estate into a guess game, a game that is contended with a mix of mystery and aversion, curiosity and anxiety.

The lack of light at once emphasizes the discomfort of bushy paths, yet it also willingly plays down, disguises and neutralises. In darkness details become nearly invisible, the poor state of the buildings is not quite as clear, the plasticity of the windows quite as eminent. Only barely are the signs of decay and surveillance visible behind the blanket of darkness. Garden Estate creates a peculiar dynamic between safe and unsafe; although the shadows hide boarded up windows, the feeling of unease and discomfort stays.

The sombre photographs echo the underexposure of the area in the society; not only are the details shielded from public view, it has been consigned to oblivion and become invisible. The unprivileged locale has turned inward; an estate that once transpired to become a vivid public sphere has been transformed into a space controlled by menace. The residents have taken over the garden estate from the designers, they have created new paths that the city planners had not anticipated, turning the intention of the area upside down and thus also creating new set of rules that no outsider is able to follow or confute. What was supposed to be for the community, for the public, has become virtually private and impenetrable by outside forces.

Jordan defies this self-contained area by entering its territory, when it is nearly vacated. By traversing the estate, pacing up and down the rat-runs, the marked and unmarked paths that the community has created over time, he enters a closed area otherwise isolated and guarded. The pattern of the walkways, the paths that cross one another, and the park, leading to the fences and dwellings behind them are all planned in a master-plan, a diagram plotted on a piece of paper, a view of the future garden estate from above. Only by descending to street level, by walking the ways drawn in a diagram decades earlier, does it come alive to its observer.

By documenting the estate in the stillness of the night, the silent witness stays invisible. The photographer keeps his distance from the housing, and does not wish to be exposed. Not only is the night still, so are the images. The scenes are vacated of people, only an odd police car and horse are visible. Beneath the empty and calm surface apprehension builds up. The soft images narrate a story of anxious negotiation with the site, where social protocols dictate the movement of the photographer, and methods of production. Snapshot aesthetics and distinct lack of composure visible in the photographs frame the immediacy of the situation, and the tension present at the moment of capturing the image.

The personal presence and the fluidity of the motion, the pace of the observer is strongly visible in the encounters. The distance, the closeness, the movement, the hastiness, the blur all together compose a rhythm, a pace that reflects the experience created by the encounter with the uncontrollable and incomprehensible. The immediacy of the experience is accompanied by the knowledge of the past, the history of the site. Although the original design of the estate is only a faint echo of its utopian dream of functional housing, the past is nevertheless present. The site where the torn down houses once were, tell their story as loudly as the buildings that still stand. The memory of the past is confronted and challenged by present in each picture. The past lives on in the photographs, even if the houses are demolished, the memory of the place will stay. Once the photographs have faded away, the foregone impressions still remain.

Garden Estate is a study about a confined area with its networks of paths and cul-de-sacs surrounding the once to be pedestrian heaven. By engaging with a very specific and limited situation. Darkness isolates, yet it also connects this particular area to other dysfunctional geological locales. Darkness does not only cover the signs of decay, it also has the capacity to anonymise and abstract, to create distance.


Mirjami Schuppert