Kenneth Whyte

Statement of practice

“A new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away,’ we read in Revelations. Cross out ‘heaven’, just keep the ‘new earth’, and you have the secret and the recipe of all utopian systems. History and Utopia, E. M. Cioran

The original text ‘Utopia’ by Sir Thomas More that first introduced the word into the language and thought of western society was a deliberately evasive text. Weaving real persons and places into fiction, then presenting itself as fact. Its confusing nature was easily unpicked by the educated of the time. However utopian thinking has suffered from this duality of being ever since, poised between the fiction and the reality. Modern utopias have similarly been caught between conceivable action and conceived end point. There are limits to action, yet utopianism is the extrapolation of those actions to a harmonious resolution ending the twists and turns of history and establishing an Eternal Present.

Modernity is key to how we visualise our histories, shifting attitudes and new discoveries altering the past as much as the present and future. Landscape painting in the Enlightenment caught such shifts in its own time, when conceptions of a perfect(ed) society stopped being conceived as previous, simpler era (Eden), or somewhere beyond time (Heaven), and came to be sited in The Future. A perfect(ed) society thus became an achievable goal, ultimately resulting in a concept of history and Modernity as a progressive move towards some form of Utopia. Neo-Classical painting, and styles deriving from it can essentially be viewed as embodying the central tenets of Western Civilisation (We are the Heirs to Rome, and Civilisation, we are Modern).

The Man-Made also became integral to our understanding of modernity during this period. The new Utopias would not be like the old, a Golden Age of idleness and play, but one of action, our emancipators were now engineers and town planners. Disappointingly the transition from schematic to the physical rarely retains the original promise of the design. All plans and proposed systems, be they City Centre Regeneration or simply a design for a domestic device, are inherently utopian, they are propositions for The Future. However reality corrupts. When an object is built, lifted from a drawing to The real it instantly falls backwards through time, ages, its past consumes and soils it, robs it of it’s place in The Future. Therefore my Architecture makes no such promise, they will never exist in their environment, can never exist. Rather they are projections forward in time, into The Future, and have surfaces unmarked by a history and immune to physics.

I see both my landscapes and my architecture as fabrications, nether are any realer or more plausible than the other. They symbolize a particular frame of mind, romantic, utopian, fanciful and ultimately doomed. Trapped in paint and painting, the only place where an everlasting system, an Eternal Present can exist.