from: Georg Aerni. Promising Bay. Work Documentation Galerie Bob Gysin, 2011
Georg Aerni’s photography moves at the intersection of architecture and nature, of city and countryside. Whether metropolises such as Paris, Tokyo, or Hong Kong; zoos or Alpine glaciers, his photos are always the result of an intensive confrontation with the respective site and its history, and point to the steady transformation of these diverse environments.
Likewise, the “Promising Bay” series from Mumbai, which tells of a city in upheaval, of zones that cannot be precisely cartographically grasped, whose shapes are constantly changing, amoeba-like. Organic structures merge with grid-like, geometric constructions. In the works in “Promising Bay,” creation and disintegration lie close together; at times, it is nearly impossible to distinguish construction sites from ruins.
Rapid growth resulting from internal migration has led to half of Mumbai’s 14 million inhabitants living in slums. Through their more than hundred-year-long history, several of today’s slums are located at the heart of the megacity, where they stand in the way of economically-oriented, highly mobile urban development. The municipality is trying to get rid of these slums, expropriate their inhabitants and relocate them to extremely dense, poorly developed, residential neighborhoods in the city’s periphery in order to push ahead the construction of new highways, train tracks, and high rises. Private real estate companies construct low-quality residential structures for the government, free of cost, and as incentive, obtain in return, the right to increase the density of expensive property in the city center. This profitable business has led to ghost neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city filled with empty tower blocks whose vertical building structure makes it impossible to work and live at the same site.
“Promising Bay” offers clarity on the living conditions in Mumbai in a respectful, non-voyeuristic way. Whereas in earlier series, only the traces of humans were present, now, in several photos the people themselves are included. In Sites & Signs, the new monograph of Georg Aerni’s work, Stephan Berg writes: “But for the first time, there are also people in the images. For the first time, the stages are populated. For the first time, not only are the conditions of the play that it deals with made visible, but also to a certain degree, the actors, the play itself.” The artist has successfully made this challenging transition; there are, indeed, people in the image, but they do not play the main role, and in a self evident and subtle way, are part of a precise pictorial composition.