In times when hipsters rescue and try to glamorise the old ideas of capitalist pioneering, Assemble reminded us of the responsibilities of communities into stopping that. A year ago, this blog celebrated Tate’s decision to award the Turner Prize to the collective of ‘architects’, Assemble. At the time, the media did not really know what to make of it. Now, they are showing their ‘Assemble and the Granby Workshop’ at the Whitechapel Art Gallery which comes across as a big mistake or even worse, an act of desperation.

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Their artistic apotheosis created the space to question certain areas that are taboo for mortgage obsessed Brits. Their conceptualism lied in the fact that they refurbished a block of houses in one of the areas that had been forsaken by the Government after the Anti-Thatcher Toxteth riots (1981).

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Their practice wasn’t artistic because it refurbished an urban area that is a source of embarrassment for the conservative government but because it created a sort of collective energy that the (conservative) media could not put a label on. And that should have been that but, understandingly, they went for more. The problem since then is that they have been trying to capitalise on an otherwise counterintuitive award to develop an architectural practice (without being architects) and an artistic career (without having any relevant link to the artistic institution as a physical space where objects are showcased). In other words, when they needed to go back to basics and predicate by example in order to create some media awareness (possibly, in the future), they decided to pose as artists staging an art exhibition. WTF?

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The decision to place their Whitechapel Art Gallery show on a corridor evidences how hard has been for the institution to ‘curate’ (as in categorise) their work. It should be born in mind that Assemble captured our attention because they said what other architects didn’t dare to say which is that their profession has become obsolete. In the midst of a neoconservative revival, Assemble had dared to question private property by reminding Brits that the idea of ‘the common’ (as a land preserved by the Crown from private ownership for the enjoyment of The People) is as genetically British as fish and chips. In times when hipsters rescue and try to glamorise the old ideas of capitalist pioneering, Assemble reminded us of the responsibilities of communities into stopping that. In other words, while hipsters aestheticize capitalistic ethics, Assemble ethicised hipster aesthetics of retro-simplicity.

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Well, all that has been undone in the Whitechapel show because they try to transform the communitarian production of bricks into the source of artistic value of a show that, instead of dealing with their subject matter of aesthetics versus ethics, decides to look otherwise and joke about recent art history as if it was a costume party. By assembling (not pun intended) those ‘community’-produced bricks as Dan Flavin’s Icon and Donald Judd’s Objects, they transformed their practice into a joke or event worse, a silly pose. J A T

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