Young Artists Biennial , Bucharest, 2006

Exhibition catalogue essay by Jenny Brownrigg

“The city’s ours. We made it. We fashioned this city on stolen memories – different eras, different pasts, all rolled into one. Each night we refine it, in order to learn.”

‘Dark City’, 1998, directed by Alex Proyas

In the sci-fi film ‘Dark City’, an alien race called the Strangers controls a city of oblivious human beings as their experiment, keeping all in perpetual darkness. The architectural fabric of the city mutates on a nightly basis whilst its people are placed in an induced sleep - buildings disappear, facades morph, streets shift- and the real memories of individuals are transplanted with different histories. By continually dispossessing the city dwellers of their public and personal territories, the Strangers, with only a shared collective memory, want to discover through the humans’ innate responses to change, what makes the human soul unique.

Showing as part of the Biennial, Will Duke’s 3-d animation, ‘We Fashioned the City from Stolen Memories’, is directly inspired by the film’s disturbing pattern of constant architectural synthesis. Taking as his monumental symbols three tower blocks sited on one of Glasgow’s oldest streets that were marked for demolition, in Duke’s animation the tower blocks begin by building themselves from the ground up, as if part of some machine. Once built, the towers stand completed, before beginning to disappear back into the ground, only to start their regime of renewal and destruction again. Forming a self-perpetuating city, frozen in a relentless loop, the buildings have no need for inhabitants or a human creator, the architect, to give them their purpose.

Duke is intrigued by ideologies and the elements that fracture their absolute conditions. In an 8-year gap between his two art degrees, he travelled across Europe in sound collectives including Vox Populi, Spiral Tribe, Total Resistance, OQP and Bedlam, staging events as part of techno festivals and free parties. Drawn to the idealism of the rave as an alternative lifestyle, where nature or unused buildings provided a space for people dancing collectively to anonymous music from decks rather than bands, Duke was intrigued by the disparities inherent in this alternative lifestyle. Although this transient community operated on the periphery of society, requiring the collective to live off nothing, out of trucks, it nevertheless could not exist without society’s technological advances such as the high-end equipment required to deliver the event.

From this background, it is apparent that Duke prefers industrial spaces to the pristine white cube of the gallery as a situation to exhibit in. Following his Masters Degree, Duke lives in Glasgow, finding it more accessible that London. As a smaller city as it is easier to integrate into the art scene, and be part of a peer group who are making art. His studio is a computer and table in his flat. Previously to finance his practice, Duke went to London for 6-month blocks to work as a plumber. 2006 is the first year he has been able to be a full-time artist, made possible funding from Scottish Arts Council and by sales of his work to collections including the City Art Centre in Edinburgh; and from strong intrest abroad from the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Guggenheim New York. The US connections were made possible by artist-run Transmission Gallery, in Glasgow, taking his work with others to NADA art fair in Miami where they generated a lot of sales. This is down to the recent phenomena of the international art market identifying Glasgow being as one of the main UK cities with a thriving art scene.

© Jenny Brownrigg 2006