Multi-storey car parks in London used to be great cash cows for their owners and operators. Car drivers would drive around trying to find spaces at any cost, such was the demand. The congestion charge, improvements in public transport and a renaissance in cycling put paid to that and now car parks are a dying building breed. Like old warehouses, they are finding new uses – for product launches, for art shows, for pop-up restaurants and cinemas, for parties and, earlier this year, as the new base for London Fashion Week – where the large flat spaces and brutal architecture acts as a flexible backcloth to showcase contemporary art and design.
The Brewer Street car park, in art deco style, opened in 1929 to designs by the architect JJ Joass. It is an operational car park, though the upper floors are often unused, and became “Fashion Park”, the new home for the London Fashion Week this September, in part because of its central location in Soho at the heart of an area famous for fashion and creativity including Bond Street, Oxford Street, Regents Street and Carnaby Street.
Entering the side door and clambering down the industrial staircase with exposed pipes and ducts, the visitor enters the basement car park, now known as the “Vinyl Factory Space” where Blain Southern has located Bill Viola’s “immersive installation”. In the dark eerie cavernous space, two works “The Talking Drum” and “Hornpipes” explore the resonance of an empty swimming pool and invite the visitor to let the sound flow over and around him or her, become immersed in the acoustics of the space and the changes in light and acoustics in different corners of the room with its parking ramps and nooks and crannies found in basement car parks.
Over at the main Blain Southern Gallery in Hanover Square, Mayfair, in another meditative installation “Moving Stillness (Mt Ranier)”, Bill Viola projects an image of Mount Ranier, the highest mountain in the state of Washington, USA. The image is projected upwards onto a screen from a reflective pool where the water moves and breaks up the image, reminding the viewer that while the mountain may appear solid and long-lasting, images in the mind are fragile and fleeting.