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The Curators of the British pavilion have brought the verses of the poem "Jerusalem" by William Blake in a collage on the wall. Photo © Thomas Wagner, Stylepark
A Clockwork Modernism
By Thomas Wagner
6/17/2014

The brains behind the British pavilion chose a classic as the basis for their research. Almost every Brit knows the verses of the poem “Jerusalem” by William Blake (1757 to 1827), at least in the version put to music by composer Hubert Parry (1848 to 1918). Emerson Lake and Palmer even covered it, and on the “Last Night of the Proms” the members of the audience love to sing along to it with all their hearts. Blake’s poem reads:

Jerusalem

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark Satanic mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my Arrows of Desire!
Bring me my Spear! Oh, Clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of Fire.

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant Land!

A divine Jerusalem in England’s green and rolling countryside? Was that the secret agenda of an intrinsically split Modernism on British soil?
“A Clockwork Jerusalem” explores a specifically British form of Modernism as a response to the Industrial Revolution. Reacting to the emergence of industrial cities, a strange combination of Romantic notions of a sublime and pastorally mystified nature gave birth to visions of a new British society. Blake turns on the “Satanic Mills” in his verses links Christian and heathen visions in a dream of a reformed society. It is no coincidence that Socialists, suffragettes and patriots of all kinds have sung the version put to music as if it were a second national anthem, which is why here “Jerusalem” is deployed as a kind of founding text of British Modernism.

Starting with the large-scale architectural projects of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, the exhibition traces developments through to the last blooms of what has often been a radical British Modernism. The last bloom, as curators Sam Jacob and Wouter Vanstiphout put it, blossomed at the very “moment it was at its most socially, politically and architecturally ambitious but also the moment that witnessed its collapse.”

Taking labels such as “Utopia of Ruins”, “Historico Futurism”, “Paleo Motoric”, “Electric Pastoral”, “Concrete Picturesque” and “The People: Where Will They Go?”, any amount of strange blossoms are on show. Here, British architecture’s feel for ruins and cliffs is linked to Modernist ideals and the country’s resurrection from the ruins of war, there, pagan Stonehenge appears clad in new urban typologies, and here we note with astonishment how in the structure of a city center Pop Art and Constructivism blend with the labyrinthine layout of a Minoan palace. Particularly in the New Jerusalem of post-War reconstruction, such opposites often meld and lead to an unmistakable, at times almost surreal Modernism in which archaeology and a faith in the future marry in a kind of techno-pastoral fantasy.
Very British and very exciting, Modernism “in England’s green and pleasant land”!


Read more about the 14th Architecture Biennale
Rem Koolhaas’ foundations
Architecture Know-How in Museum and Archive
Italian affairs
If you want to understand Modernity you need to have fun with it
Germany’s Ex-Top Models
Please touch
Modernism and its uncle
Import – Export
The dream of an open society
Charles Brooking’s world of windows

Memories of the film "A Clockwork Orange" by Stanley Kubrick are woken with this writing on the wall.
Photo © Adeline Seidel, Stylepark
"In Darkest England and the Way Out" by General William Booth.
Illustration © The Salvation Army International Heritage Centre
"Leisure in Milton Keynes", Phillip Castle, 1971. Illustration © Derek Walker
The curators combine architectural themes with pop culture: "Take Me High" by Cliff Richard, album cover, 1973. Figure © Parlophone Records Ltd, a Warner Music Group Company
"A Vision of Sir John Soane’s Design for the Rotunda of the Bank of England as a Ruin" by Joseph Gandy, 1789. Figure © Trustees of Sir John Soane’s Museum
In the first room of the exhibition: The British Modernism as a collage. Photo © Adeline Seidel, Stylepark
Taking labels on the walls any amount of strange blossoms are on show. Photo © Robert Volhard, Stylepark
“A Clockwork Jerusalem” explores a specifically British form of Modernism as a response to the Industrial Revolution. Photo © la Biennale di Venezia
From the hill in the middle of the space you have a good view tothe flowers of the British Modern. Photo © la Biennale di Venezia