Friday, May 18, 2007

On The Corner Of The Street

In one of the wealthiest parts of London a homeless man lived in an abandoned car, his wealthy neighbours kept a watchful eye on him and with occasional gifts of food, clothing and blankets he lived a peaceful if marginal life. Poverty and wealth lived side by side without any tension. One day the homeless man fell ill and was taken to hospital, he remained in the care of the hospital for some weeks but eventually he was well enough to leave, he returned to the abandoned vehicle to find it hat been removed, despite the intervention of his neighbours who tried to stop its removal the local authorities towed it away. The authorities had been made aware that this vehicle was the mans home but an illegally parked and unlicenced vehicle was all the authorities saw, the elderly, homeless man left the street corner where his home had once been and walked away, his neighbours never saw him again.

These were the thoughts that came back to me as I looked at Gunther Herbst’s paintings at the One In The Other gallery. A series of paintings by Herbst show the uninhabited scenes of temporary shelter constructed by the homeless taken from Herbst’s own photographs of homeless shelters. In Herbst’s paintings the materials we see for the construction of these temporary shelters are predictable, the scavengeable discarded remnants we see every day that litter our streets, pallets, tarpaulin, a car, trolleys and tressell tables are the materials of construction. The scenes for these shelters are emptied of people, habitation is only implied through scattered and crumpled bedsheets, a cheap checked plastic bag and a lone shoe. From these real scenes Herbst’s has constructed fantasy elements, one shelter is shown as a raft on a river another painting is rendered as a hybrid between a photo journalistic scene, a Mondrian painting and a piece of graphic design.

Herbst’s intentions are to make us question the difficult feelings we have about homelessness, he states that we do not think very much about this issue. Herbst’s paintings are nicely crafted and his cause is noble but I doubt that on leaving this show he has added anything further to our thoughts and feelings about homelessness. Herbst removes the real face of homelessness, the individuals and the real sites of their temporary homes are missing from Herbst’s paintings and do not compel me to think more deeply about the homeless. The emptiness in these paintings reminds me of the street corner in North London where a man’s home used to sit and the empty space that now remains, but every time I pass that street corner I am reminded of the man and where his home stood anyway.

Like the neighbours and the local authority some of us will see that empty space where a man’s home sat and be reminded but others will have long since forgotten that the homeless man and his impromptu home ever existed.

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