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“I came to Ian Chamberlain’s work on the North Atlantic wall like an explorer, seeking to make sense of a lost civilisation. Decoupled from the sea, his images represent isolated ruins. The structures take on human traits, each with the character and presence of a sophisticated portrait. They are architectural relics, offering up their forms as imagined cultural icons and armoured warriors. Chamberlain scrutinises them with the excitement of Howard Carter finding Tutankhamun’s tomb.
There are 15,000 structures on the North Atlantic Wall. Four thousand are bunkers, the others batteries. Chamberlain renders the details with acute specificity: observation slots; firing holes; loops of iron for attaching camouflage; pores constructed for specific weaponry. The openings are the eyes and ears of these early brutalist constructions. The walls are cast from concrete with shuttered wood, leaving grain and relief lines of texture to the surface. Some are further personalised and named with cast lettering ‘BARBARA’. They are solitary structures without foundations and often constructed on shifting sands. Over time they may appear like rock tors, rising out of the sand dunes that have formed around them. Others tilt and sink in the sand, their observations shifted.
How much time must elapse for this scrutiny to be separated from the Nazi’s original use for these structures? In his book ‘The Aesthetics of Ruins’ Robert Ginsberg argues that, “Everything period has an aesthetic value”. Knowledge about past history is often important to the aesthetic experience of ruins. Laid bare and teetering in the sand, the uncertainty and vulnerability of these hulks has a relevance to 2020 that pulses from Chamberlain’s images.”