bas princen, future harbor III. van kranendok gallery

standing out among the many fascinating bits of informal flair on display at barcelona's centre de cultura contemporània as part of the post-it city : occasional urbanities show, curated by martí peran, filippo poli, giovanni la varra and federico zanfimarti, were the massive prints of bas princen. in due time i'll do a brief review of the entire show, but for now i want to concentrate on princen's utopian debris series, which documents various public works projects in china.

in princen's photographs, we are confronted by vastness devoid of romanticism. one particularly beautiful shot has workers digging a future cruiseship harbor into the earth. a hill is perforated by a highway bridge, cuts etched into its sides, poured with concrete, trees left in random patches. an unfinished skyscraper peeks behind the hill like a fairytale monster. on the skirts of the hill a "floating population" of workers are having a jumbo impromptu campout. a closer look brings out little scenes of everyday: showering, eating, cooking, resting.

princen's china pictures bring to mind the lavish absurdity of d.w griffith's babylon set for intolerance. despite the seeming grandeur of the interventions, these are landscapes maimed by insignificance. there is little of the proud, viril dominance of technology over nature. princen's vision is dour. in his work, monumental progress offers little solace. these scenes of the almighty man and his brave attempts at terraforming are a withered déjà-vu of the grand infrastructural photography of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. princen himself mentions asahel curtis, in particular a photo of his depicting the regrading of denny hill in seattle, in the early 1900's, as a reference for his work. the feel of princen's photos is full of doubt more than awe at the scale of the enterprise. in a sense, he has reversed the spirit of curtis's photography. before he left mountaneering and treehugging for boostering and promoting the tourist development of mt. rainer national park, curtis said in face of the summit:

"the trivial things of life; the petty cares that to us seem so great slink back in the presence of this majestic mountain."

in bas's work, on the contrary, it is this human "pettiness" that exudes a strange power. these little ant people, going about their everyday business, have a particular resonance, not in the sense of progress and success, but of our own misplaced power that we misunderstand as helplessness.

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