The Gallery at Foyles, 107 Charing Cross Road, London

18th February 2016 – 29th March 2016

Private View 18th February

“Peter Newman’s sculpture is contemplative and with a strong physical presence; it examines the Utopian values of Modernist art but also has a transcendental quality to it.” – Tim Marlow, Director of Artistic Programmes, Royal Academy of Arts, London.

As part of an incidental series of exhibitions exploring the classification system of Foyles bookshop 51°30’51”N 0°07’48”W brings together two related series of work by the British artist Peter Newman, concerned with the experience and recording of different locations around the world.

The title describes the location co-ordinates of the gallery and the works reflect the artist’s interest in a human relationship to space and modernity, a fascination with the built environment, and the inherent potential for communication in a city.

The exhibition centre-piece is a full sized prototype of a Skystation sculpture by Peter Newman, recently commissioned for Riverlight, a new St James residential development in Nine Elms, London. The permanent sculpture measures four meters in diameter, made from cast and polished aluminium, located on a new public footpath next to the Thames, among the buildings designed by Rogers, Stirk, Harbour & Partners, close to the new US Embassy.

Skystation is an interactive sculpture (inspired by Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand’s LC4 chaise-longue) that also acts as a piece of public seating. The contours of the work are designed to fit up to 12 people reclining and encourages the contemplation of the vast expanse of space above.

An object to be both observed and used, Skystation’s circular form has the incidental effect of bringing its users’ heads into close proximity at the centre, thereby making conversation between strangers almost inevitable, whilst looking upwards at the sky. Cognitive research suggests we do our best thinking lying down; in Foyles the sculpture will encourage unscripted spoken exchanges to occur within this famous emporium of the written word.

In his book Phenomenology of Perception, Maurice Merleau-Ponty emphasized the body as the primary site of knowing the world. Consciousness, the world, and the human body as a perceiving thing, are intricately intertwined and mutually engaged. Skystation reflects this idea, as an artwork that is completed by the viewer experientially.

A maquette of Skystation was first shown at the Guggenheim Museum in Venice during the Architecture Biennale. Installed in the gallery is a full size fibreglass version, editions of which have been sited in Trafalgar Square, the City of London, Canary Wharf, the New Art Centre, the Hayward Gallery and is in the collection of MUDAM, Museum of Modern Art, Luxembourg.

The exhibition is further comprised of a series of Newman’s Metropoly photographs, which record the view looking up from different cities around the world. The photographs are taken using a vintage scientific lens that captures a 180-degree field of view. Due to the panoptic nature of the lens, slight changes in position radically alter what appears in view. Consequently, the process requires searching for the precise vantage point from where everything falls into place, and the time at which to record it. The images are then created in-camera with a single exposure.

The circular images examine a spectrum of architecture across the globe, revealing the character of a city and the way it frames the sky. The city is seen as an instrument of communication and a reflection of creative intent. The photographs have a documentary quality, like a form of inverse cartography, tracing a typology of structures and the topography of the built environment.

They could also be described as a form or urban portraiture. An investigation into how a city develops and architecture accumulates over time. Importantly, the artworks are also about the way the structures shape a view of what’s outside of the world in which we live. The buildings depicted in the photographs are both a literal representation of what has come before, but also a metaphor for other kinds of constructs and ideas.

Architectural allusions, and notions of physical space, are deeply embedded in language and often key to how to describe thinking itself. An argument is both built and deconstructed, some ideas elevate and become high profile, whereas others remain underground or sub-conscious. A fitting metaphor for an exhibition in a building populated with books.

In conjunction with the Metropoly photographs are Newman’s recent Dial series of video works. Whereas the photographs depict an empty stage of architecture with no human presence, the Dial series capture a 220-degree view, encompassing the activity at street level. The series is so named, due to their resemblance to the face of a clock – both circular and with movement around a central axis, which marks the passage of time. At once still and full of movement, the works offer a view of a city as a self-contained world and system, but also a living breathing entity.