Now and Then is a collection of photographs and a video piece devoted to Sir John Soane's Museum, London.

For the exhibition WUNDERCAMERA (22 Nov 2013 - 11 Jan 2014), Now and Then was installed in the rooms of Pitzhanger Manor. Designed by Soane in 1800 to be his country villa, parts of his collection were housed here before he moved it to its current home on Lincolns Inn Fields. (Clicking here or on the image above will show installation views)

The carefully restored suite of rooms at Pitzhanger presents a beautiful example of Soane's truly unique interior architecture, which he designed very much with the display of his collection in mind – yet the rooms today are empty of objects, projecting a palpable sense of absence. Installing Now and Then in this setting therefore 'returns' parts of Soane's collection to its former home. Yet the sense of absence is not relieved as the photographs simply refer to objects –and moments– recorded in Lincolns Inn Fields and re-presented at Pitzhanger. The video installation Soane Time further increases the sense of a link to the Soane Museum by suggesting a time warped live CCTV transmission from Lincolns Inn Fields.

Now and Then juxtaposes two photographically distinct approaches, each in their own way corresponding to and complementing the unique Soane ‘interiors’. The sumptuous all-sharp, crisp colour images allow for studying intricate details of the historic spaces yet, many images also feature more or less faint, ghost-like traces of visitors as a distinct vestige of the moment of the 'taking' of the photograph. The grainy black and white images show partial views of visitors on a par with the displayed object fragments.
As a direct echo of Soane’s collection, often aided by views that are additionally broken up through the architect’s theatrical use of real and illusory spaces, the photographs repeat fragmentation. The added focus on the fleeting presence of visitor’s bodies emphasises the contemporary photographic moment in tensions to the stillness of the preserved historic spaces.

Soane died just before the advent of photographic image technologies. He spent great efforts to preserve detailed views of the rooms in his house through commissioned watercolours. Always distinctly open to new technology, we can be certain that he would have been fast to embrace photography as a new medium to mechanically record his house and museum. The fact that these remain largely unchanged means that contemporary photographs could actually be historic photographs, yet the Museum Clausum image titles ‘stamp’ a recent date on each image.

As a collection in itself, this presents ‘a museum of a museum’ which consciously extends the hall of mirrors effect that is inherent in all photographic re-presentation of museum spaces: a self-reflective mediation of what is already another mediation. Yet Now and Then is far from an emphasis on ‘institutional critique’. Instead, the images are clearly to be seen as homage not only to the uniquely idiosyncratic Gesamtkunstwerk created by a passionate individual but also to fact that successive generations have preserved and visited these spaces for some 180 years.

Some images where shown at Riflemaker Gallery, London as part of 'Light Years' together with Liliane Lijn in Nov/Dec 2011. The exhibition extended the juxtaposition of Lijn's work to the Soane spaces which happened concurrently as Lijn exhibited at the Soane.



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SOANE TIME from Museum Clausum on Vimeo.

All photographs: © Klaus Wehner, by Courtesy of the Trustees of Sir John Soane's Museum