Why Contribute to The Spread of Ugliness?

‘Why Contribute to The Spread of Ugliness?’


Ikon Gallery

Birmingham. UK


30th November 2011 to 5th February 2012


The major work of this exhibition, Why Contribute to the Spread of Ugliness? (2011), centres on 487 boxes of archived paperwork from the architectural practices of John Madin, currently stored in Birmingham Central Library.


A multi-screen slide projection combines three strands of subject matter: the archival boxes, their contents (printed materials relating to Madin’s projects and the construction industry between the 1950s and 1970s) and the buildings to which they refer.


John Madin, active in Birmingham for over 30 years, designed many buildings that defined Birmingham as a modernist city. Several have since been pulled down or are under threat of demolition. Birmingham Central Library, the largest civic library in Europe and considered by some to be a landmark of post-war functionalist architecture in Britain, is due to be demolished in 2013. Whipps focuses on archival material relating to Madin’s work on the library, the former Birmingham Post and Mail printworks and the Queen’s Square shopping centre in West Bromwich, amongst others.


In 1964, Madin made a tour of North American libraries whilst preparing his designs for the new Birmingham library. Whipps retraced his steps, visiting The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, New Haven and The Detroit Public Library. New photographs of these buildings, their interiors and collections, form a visual reconnection with the past at a pertinent time as Birmingham awaits its new library in Centenary Square in 2013.


A new two channel video installation, England and the Octopus, Britain and the Beast (2011), focuses on the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog in North Wales, a former quarry town at the geographical centre of Snowdonia National Park. When the Park’s borders were created in 1951 the grey slate waste tips that surround Blaenau Ffestiniog prevented its inclusion, a decision made in part by the eccentric architect of Portmeirion, Clough Williams-Ellis. Whipps shows new film footage of the town teamed with a Welsh-language script sourced from texts written or edited by Williams-Ellis.


Read Catherine O’Flynn’s catalogue essay here