In Between the Blue Swimming Pools is a body of work that is concerned with the effects of encroachment of suburbs into previously rural areas. Suburbs, where lakes are fishponds, fields are coaxed into lawns and walking is driving, are explored as emotional landscapes and problematic centres of consumption. The full text on the exhibition can be seen below.
Between The Blue Swimming Pools
An exhibition by Katrine Claassens
“Everywhere--all over Africa and South America ... you see these suburbs springing up. They
represent the optimum of what people want. There's a certain sort of logic leading towards these
immaculate suburbs. And they're terrifying, because they are the death of the soul.... This is the
prison this planet is being turned into.”
“Our property seems to me the most beautiful in the world. It is so close to Babylon that we enjoy all
the advantages of the city, and yet when we come home we stay away from all the noise and dust.”
Ringing every metropolis of the world are structured grids of green and blue loosened from the grey, knotted streets
of city centres. These suburbs, beautiful and yet unrelenting in their banality, inhabit a duality best expressed in the
two quotes above, the first by JG Ballard describing them as “death of the soul” and the second 2500 year-old letter
record of a Persian suburbanite’s delight in his property as being the ‘most beautiful in the world’ as well as ‘close
to Babylon’. While meant literally, this takes on a metaphorical significance, where the Hanging Gardens of Babylon
have been historically represented as an ancient wonder of the world, a paradise created by man on earth. Between
The Inertia and The Swimming Pools explores the suburbs as a loved but subjugated territory, the outcome of
an escape from the excesses of an industrial society.
Suburbs as we know them today are a relatively new phenomenon. First appearing at the start of the Industrial
Revolution in the 1830’s in the form of a gated community in Manchester, England, but really taking off in the 1950’s
in the US. Symptomatic of industrial and post-industrial societies, their creation is underlined by a shared premise of
a move beyond the tumultuous, polluted industrial environment of cities to a private, immaculate realm.
The phenomenon of suburbia is often examined in negative terms, with suburbs being seen as centres of social
isolation that strive to exhibit a veneer of perfection while breeding discontent in its supposed subterfuge. There are
other more pressing troubles in these tamed landscapes where lakes are fishponds, fields are coaxed into lawns and
walking is driving1. Their sprawl is only possible because of advances in transportation and they have grown hand in
hand with the auto-mobile industry, creating unsustainable levels of pollution. They are only possible at the expense
of the wider world and thus their manicured beauty can only be ephemeral.
It is the certainty of suburbs’ temporal fragility that makes the act of painting them so appealing to me. It is an act
of attempting to preserve and possess something of the world as it is now; an act of resistance to passing time and
the feeling that the world is changing into something unprecedented. One of the reasons for the strong presence
of photography in my paintings is the time-based nature of photography; a photograph is a small pin on a moment
in time. When I select photographs to paint I choose ones that echo in composition, colour and subject in images
throughout the world, ones that are part of a collective visual blueprint. Children around a birthday cake, a dog in
repose by a flowerbed, sun-tanners by a swimming pool: the gardens, the people, the animals, the scenes echo in all
suburbs across the world.
As neighbourhoods on the outskirts of cities encroach upon previously uncultivated land their infringement is met in
turn with a counter (though unequal) trespass: foxes’ dens in alleyways, soundlessly scavenging coyotes slinking
away into flowerbeds, deer silently grazing on the dark North American lawns as the last of the evening joggers pass
by. Sukoma Estate, a partly forested burgeoning suburb on the outskirts of Nairobi, has had a human casualty from
the attack of a lion that led an otherwise discrete life in the neighbourhood. Long-gone forests haunt us in arboreal
street names. Wild animals have become edge species’ and, as a biologist puts it, “the world is on big edge now. 2”
An engineered attempt at paradise meets its antecedent in these eerie and uneasy encounters as suburbs impinge
on not only on the physical environment of our future world but on our minds too, pointing towards an anxiety as we
ask the question: is this as good as it gets?
1 Arthur Kroker. "Panic Suburbs," Panic Encyclopedia (1989).
Dr. William J. McShea quoted in “Out of Control, Deer Send Ecosystem Into Chaos” by Andrew C. Revkin, New York Times (2002)
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