Open from this week (20 November) 'London/Pittsburgh' from British artist Mark Neville at Alan Cristea Gallery, London, examines the diverse communities living in the cities of London and Pittsburgh through a series of photographic portraits and studies.
Neville's work has always straddled the boundaries of art and documentary, highlighting conflict, social custom and the sociology of our times. Neville often bases his projects on newly published sociological research and topical issues giving his work an agency beyond their functions as artworks. For the 2011 project Deeds Not Words, for example, Neville focused on a case brought to court in Corby, Northamptonshire, by a group of families affected by toxic waste following land reclamation of an old steel works. Instead of making his resulting images available commercially, Neville instead distributed the images to local authorities and government agencies across the UK to raise awareness of the handling of waste and re-use of contaminated land.
'London/Pittsburgh' is Neville's first exhibition at Alan Cristea and includes thirteen works from two significant projects by the artist in recent years: Here is London (2012) and Braddock/Sewickley (2012). The first time these bodies of work have been shown side-by-side, the pairing highlights the similarities and contrasts between British and American society, social disparity and characteristics.
There is an emphasis on the division of wealth and racial segregation that is present in both locations. Predominantly white, Sewickley in Pittsburgh is a community originally made prosperous by the steel industry. In Neville's images we see the community socialising. The older generation hang out in exclusive country clubs decorated with very British scenes of hunting and shooting, propped up like pearly-queens in decrepid high-society. The young party at high-school proms, debutant-like balls with satin dresses and corsages. These is scenes are not so prim and proper, however, and we see a fair amount of sexual provocation going down on the dance-floor. Twerking and porn-faces galore.
In contrast, the neighbouring town of Braddock is a mostly black community going through some tough economic times. The failure of the steel-industry has not been so kind and the fall-out from an early eighties crack cocaine epidemic is still being felt. Yet there are similarities; the old ladies hats are just as big, the teens are grinding at their parties just the same.
In contrast to the clear divide in Pittsburgh, Here is London examines how the effects of class and wealth have changed little over the last 40 years. Originally commissioned as a photo essay for The New York Times, the twenty images show the diverse sprawl of the city and its messy contradictions. Grubby and thin children are shown in slightly Dickensian fashion at Somerford Grove Adventure Playground in Tottenham while hipsters dance at the Dalston Superstore and bankers party at Boujis. Clearly, it is class not race which is the decisive factor in these images but the space inhabited by both is more claustrophobic. Instead of different communities in London, it might be more illuminating to describe it as one locational community with multiple tiers.
Neville has been involved in several projects as of late; his recent body of work, made during his time as official war artist with the 16 Air Assault Brigade in Afghanistan closed in September at London's Imperial War Museum and, coming up, from the 2nd to 19th December, Neville's exhibition Art as Social Document will be on display at the London School of Economics. The latter will be followed by a Panel Discussion at LSE, which will use the themes explored in London/ Pittsburgh as a platform for a wider discussion about inequality within society.
London/Pittsburgh will be on show at Alan Cristea Gallery from 20 November to 24 January.
Alan Cristea Gallery, 31 Cork Street, London, W1
Click on the image below to see more...