New to Ikon

Glastonbury’s Block 9; the bizarre dystopian madness of JG Ballard’s High Rise; a really bad concept on Grand Designs: modernist architecture often forms the backdrop or focal point to terrifying stories. Move through the Ikon’s new multi-floor, free exhibition, opening tomorrow (November 25), presenting the work of 20 contemporary artists that explores the relationship between architectural modernism and horror.

It begins at the heart of brutalist architecture: our city itself. Exploring the troubled history of modernist buildings through multimedia artworks and installations, the pieces link horror tropes such as darkness and suspense, with qualities of modernist design, including the real violence and trauma of its construction and destruction. The journey through the floors of the Ikon’s own neo-gothic building highlights how building design – and its features therein – can shape our movement and perception, and our deepest fears. The First Floor Galleries open to a film zone, projected in a timed, horror movie-like sequence. BRUTAL (2022) was shot on the modernist estates of Druids Heath and Aston New Town in Brum, and features alongside the ethereal The Cloud of Unknowing (pictured above, 2011) by Ho Tzu Nyen, exploring inhabitants in a housing block in Singapore, suddenly engulfed by a mysterious cloud.

Out of the darkness, you’ll then enter a light-filled space with photography, images, etchings and installations, including Karim Kal’s Entourage (pictured above, 2017), which explores control imposed by architecture, and the eerie spectre of modernist relics in the present day.

Perhaps the most reflective point in the exhibition is the Ikon’s glass stairwell, where Abbas Zahedi’s Exit Sign (2022) dwells. As a poignant response to the Grenfell Tower fire that killed 72 people, including Zahedi’s friend and fellow artist, Khadija Saye, Zahedi manipulates health and safety signage to turn this area into a space for pause and communal mourning.

Works by five female artists in the Second Floor Galleries continue to unpack how modernist architecture is so affecting, culminating in large-scale works depicting the striking and – clue’s in the name– brutal nature of modernist constructions. Local artists Simon and Tom Bloor use urban ruins to create a slightly less brutal place to rest your legs – modernist street furniture – while Ruth Claxton’s sculpture, coated with high-vis, light-reflective paint, plays with light and movement within the enclosed space, reaching intensity at the top of the tower.

This sounds strange, eerie and oh so interesting, and is on until May 1 2023.
See the horror