A yardstick is a straightedge with markings at regular intervals used to physically measure lengths in imperial units of up to a yard (three feet). It is also a standard for making a critical judgment. This measuring device was placed in once-forbidden zones of the World and Cold Wars that have since been abandoned, by Jane and Louise Wilson, the British fraternal twin artist duo who have a show on view at 303 Gallery.
Building on previous explorations of such territory: Stasi City (1997), the former GDR secret police headquarters in Berlin and Gamma (1999) set in disused military silos at Greenham Common RAF station in Berkshire, England, they have now focused on Atomgrad (Atom City) in Pripyat, that housed Chernobyl factory workers, and Orford Ness, an isthmus off the English coast, site of H-bomb test labs, in their making of large-scale color photographs.
The Wilson’s work opened the door for us into these hidden worlds. Jane has said, it’s “not to say that it’s something that has to be totally closed and inaccessible… It’s more… how we feel in relation to architecture… how we experience the space that we are [in].” As the daughters of a naval architect, they are accustomed to thinking about physical space.
These “future ruins,” as Louise calls them, feature a quickly abandoned classroom with books strewn on the floor and desks, raked seating in what could have been a screening room, metal bedframes, disintegrating offices and laboratories. Hardly the romance of the ruin.
In addition to placing the yardstick in their photos, the Wilsons also made cast aluminum and enamel-plated sculptures of yardsticks, as well as the wooden Altogether, 2010, a large skeletal-frame artwork at the center of the gallery made of 52 yard measures that is based on a 1924 photograph by Alexander Rodchenko called of Popova’s Studio featuring a hanging spatial construction.
A final object is the cast of a 35mm Bolex camera used to document the Chernobyl site immediately after the nuclear accident by filmmaker Vladimir Shevchenko. The film he shot was contaminated by radiation, resulting in forensically pock-marked footage. The camera itself was radioactive and destroyed, so the cast The Toxic Camera, Konvas Autovat is all that remains.
303 Gallery , 507 West 24th Street until August 2, 2013