Antony Cairns: CTY_TYO3 TYO4

The British artist talks us through his first UK solo show in four years, held at London’s Webber Gallery

TYO4_014, 2021. Inkjet on 108 cream with coloured stripes computer punch cards Negative date 2019 99.6 x 168.3 cm

After months of UK closures, what better way to laud the reopening of art and culture than with a new exhibition of Antony Cairns, the British artist known for his long-term exploration into global metropolises. The first UK solo show in four years opening today at London’s Webber Gallery, the works at hand shed light on his signature stark and dystopian style of photography; the type that depicts a futuristic landscape of a city seen through the murky night. Is this what a post-pandemic world looks like?

Antony’s infatuation with his medium began early during his teenage years in the 90s. He’d started to experiment exclusively with analogue photography, to which he’d draw on the technique of black and white practices as his trademark. Spending time in the darkroom, he recalls: “I loved the red light darkroom experience and I have been obsessed with the idea of photography ever since.”

In these earlier days of his practice, he’d also become engrossed in the subject of the city; a muse that would later ensue across all of his endeavours in photography, installation and sculpture. “The idea of photographing a city became an obsession for me,” he adds. “I became interested in how photography can be used to show the character of a place, and for me it was London. So I started off by taking pictures that defined what London meant to me.” In doing so, the artist began constructing imagery that presented a city in constant change – the fluctuation of the landscape, the deterioration of buildings, and even the sudden rise of new ones. 

TYO4_028, 2021. Inkjet on 30 green and green computer punch cards with blue stripes Negative date 2019 49.8 x 93.5cm

Antony addresses this notion of evolution throughout his artworks, which has seen him expand further afield from the UK into cities such as Los Angeles, Tokyo and Osaka. He’s also been awarded the notable Hariban Award, with works shown internationally in exhibitions such as LDN at the Recontres d’Arles, as part of Arles festival in 2013, plus shows at the George Eastman Museum and the Tate Modern.

A key trait of Antony’s is that he tends to shoot mostly in the night. Not only are the cities quieter during this time, but he also feels like he gains more access to space and time to take his pictures. “You could also say that my work sometimes has a science fiction feel to the photographs,” he notes, citing a welcomed by-product of shooting with all but a street light and flash of a camera. The sci-fi genre typically presents a city “shrouded in darkness”, and Antony’s cities manage to mimic this viewpoint succinctly. It wouldn’t be surprising if themes of space exploration, time travel, parallel universes and extraterrestrial life were to pop up in one of his images. 

TYO4_031, 2021. Inkjet on 30 blue computer punch cards Negative date 2019 49.8 x 93.5cm

Antony’s current exhibition, allusively titled CTY_TYO3 TYO4, sees the expansion of his works under the title CTY (which is an abbreviation of ‘city’). Prior to this show, he published a selection of artist books named LDN (2010), LPT (2012), OCS (2016), as well as work created using translucent silver gelatine films applied to sheets of aluminium in LDN2 (2013), LDN3 (2014), plus experimental pieces crafted from electronic ink in LDN EI (2015). The city is his mediation, and a subject that will continuously take centre stage in all that he puts his mind towards. “My work is all about building an archive of imagery that defines what a city is, not just an individual city like Paris, London or Tokyo, but the idea of what a city means in a more philosophical sense. My images are pieces in a constantly changing jigsaw puzzle of the city.”

Although not exclusively, the works presented at Webber Gallery are mainly of Tokyo and Osaka – two bustling metropolis located in the country of Japan. While shooting there, Antony was on a three-month residency in South Korea as part of the HyundaiCard Air artist residency program. Stationed on Gapado, a small island located between Jeju Island and the southernmost isle of Marado, it was here that he decided to travel through Asia and commence the collation of his imagery. 

TYO4_004, IBM cobol form

As for the process itself, he weaponises a host of “unorthodox” practices – a steer away from the traditional forms of photography and one that places emphasis on the use of a 35mm black and white film camera. From there, he develops the negatives but in reverse, “so it becomes a black and white positive, not a negative,” he explains. Then he’ll scan and utilises any supporting materials that he believes will suit the image’s aesthetic. And sometimes, he’ll use computer punch cards – a piece of stiff paper where holes can be punched into – or he’ll upload the jpeg onto Electronic Ink Silicon screens; two approaches he’s used in the exhibition. Other times, he’ll use a vintage paper stock such as Cobol IMB computer forms. “I use these varying techniques because the process and the reproduction of a photograph is what I want my works to explore.”

TYO3_47, 2019. Inkjet on Original IBM Decision Table Worksheet, 28cm x 21.5cm printed 2020

In some ways, Antony’s techniques have garnered the cityscape to be unrecognisable. The streets we may have come to know in our regular lives have been splintered with a dose of the supernatural – devoid of humans and garnished with an overcast shadow. But really, Antony wants you to look at these pictures as if you were the real thing, as seen through his own artistic interpretation. “It doesn’t matter which city, where or when, I want the viewer to feel that they are looking at a representation of the city.”

Antony’s show CTY_TYO3 TYO4 is on view at London’s Webber Gallery from 22 April – 6 June 2021. The exhibition is accompanied by his latest book, Selected Computer Punch card artworks: Computer listing paper edition, published by Morel Books.

E.I. TYO4_011, 2019. E-ink screen encapsulated in Perspex box. Negative Date 2019 10.1cm x 12.9cm; 20 x 20 x 3.2cm with frame
E.I. TYO4_012, 2019. E-ink screen encapsulated in Perspex box. Negative Date 2019, 10.1cm x 12.9cm; 20 x 20 x 3.2cm with frame
E.I. TYO4_086, 2019. E-ink screen encapsulated in Perspex box. Negative Date 2019, 10.1cm x 12.9cm; 20 x 20 x 3.2cm with frame

Curb Enthusiasm

George Kafka reflects on an essential piece of urban infrastructure that defines much of our experience of the city: the pavement

Often when we think about public space we consider only squares, parks, plazas and the like. Perhaps a grand boulevard here and there. But what of the pavement? Is this not the real substance of the city, the veins of the urban organism?

More than just the stone lining A to B, the pavement is the physical interface between the city and pedestrian. This physicality is vital; paving stones are where people move, where they feel the city through the sole of a strolling shoe or wandering wheel. The pavement is the realm of bodies, cruelly portioned and separated from the realm of automobiles by the curb. The curb is a frontier. When the pedestrian crosses it they are vulnerable to the whims of a new speed, a new set of rules. Yet when the automobile crosses the frontier and mounts the curb it strikes us deeply; it’s an invasion of space that incites terror and destruction – an anxiety of our time. The pavement is a sacred space.

And like a sacred space it contains symbols. Runes and rhythms, carvings and caves. Tactile paving for the visually impaired contains a language of mobility, a set of codes designed to facilitate access and warn of what lurks beyond the frontier. In the UK, blocks with dots indicate the presence of a crossing, while blocks with bars indicate a stairway. Spray-painted arrows and numbers, circles and brackets in varying colours are a familiar sight but are often illegible to the city-dweller. These markings left by and for the engineers of our utilities reveal life (or at least infrastructure) beneath the surface of the pavement – the invisible forces that allow our lives to run, made visible.

If the curb keeps us out of the road on one side, what’s it doing on the other? Is this the hard divide between private and public space? The cement barrier between an Englishman’s castle and the great unknown of… everywhere else? Or is it an extension of the living room? A communal space for gathering and chatting? In Amsterdam, benches often line residential streets, a welcome invitation to make the civic more sociable and an extension of homely welcome (in case the Dutch window isn’t welcoming enough). Stroll on a Sunday in Buenos Aires and you will see porteños sweeping the streets in front of their houses. There, it is the responsibility of landlords to maintain their slice of street. Perhaps it is a gesture of communal goodwill, or a bold marker of ownership – either way it is a task carried out on the threshold between municipal citizenship and the domestic inner world.

Image courtesy of Library of Congress

dunhill: Our London

Celebrate the capital through the eyes and minds of an architect, a chef, an entrepreneur and an adventurer, each with a unique story to tell about their city 

This month, dunhill has partnered with Port to present a series of four films exploring London through the eyes and minds of an architect, a chef, an entrepreneur and an adventurer. Chung Qing Li, Michel Roux Jr., Robert Scott-Lawson and Matthew Robertson are men of style and substance, each with a unique story to tell about their city.

Watch the full films from the Our London series here.

Michel Roux Jr. – Chef

Michel Roux Jr. is a Michelin-star chef and patron, and a man of classic taste and style. His restaurant La Gavroche, in London’s Mayfair, is one of the finest in the country. The name Roux is synonymous with French haute cuisine in Britain.

Matthew Robertson – Adventurer

Adventurer and filmmaker Matthew Robertson is a Londoner that finds peace in the wilderness. As the founder of Momentum Adventure, he scours the earth seeking out unique experiences and environments.

Chun Qing Li – Architect

Architect and entrepreneur Chun Qing Li is the founder of China Design Week and KREOD, an award-winning interior design and architecture practice in London. Standout designs include the China International Trade Pavilion built for the Rio Olympic Games 2016.

Robin Scott-Lawson – Entrepreneur

Robin Scott-Lawson is an established entrepreneur and has called London home since he was 18 years old. His London-based agency My Beautiful City specialises in high-end art direction, experiential marketing and event production. 

Watch the full films from dunhill’s Our London series here

A Port Creative production 

Photography: Christophe Meimoon at Quadriga Management
Styling:  Dan May
Grooming: Grooming by Tyler Johnston @ One Represents using Moroccanoil and Givenchy La Make Up
Production: Emma Viner
Interviewer:  George Upton
Editorial Director: Dan Crowe
Film Production Studio: Black Sheep Studios
Producer:  Michelle Hagen
Director:  Simon Lane 
DOP:  Tom Sweetland 
Exec Producer:  Dan Keefe