Ilkin Huseynov, We Apologize for the Temporary Inconvenience

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2017 by Rally In The Streets Books (here). Soft canvas cover, 64 pages, with 30 color reproductions. Includes a short introductory text by Ulviya Hasanova. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: If we take an attentive look at urban construction sites around the world, what we find is that they have tacitly converged on a common contemporary aesthetic. To both protect passersby from the dust, noise, and very real dangers of ongoing construction, as well as to dissuade pedestrians from lingering too long to watch the action, construction companies typically erect continuous walls of tall plywood surrounding active sites and along city sidewalks. In most cases, an overly optimistic “POST NO BILLS” message is stenciled on outside, with the hopes of discouraging graffiti artists and wheat paste ad entrepreneurs from interrupting the neat and tidy appearance. But in a few, the project managers want to tell a story about their new endeavor, or at least distract attention from the deafening din, and so display a futuristic finished image or architectural rendering of what is being built. This view, sometimes monumental in scale, is in effect both advertising what is to come and inadvertently creating a peculiar kind of forward-looking architectural stand in.

In neighborhoods and cities where there is a particularly intense amount of widespread construction activity, these transitory plywood walls can seem to be everywhere, creating a sense of mystery about what is going on behind them. And in Baku, Azerbaijan, a recent construction boom fueled by a combination of oil money, pent-up growth, and intentional post-Soviet aesthetic turnover has made such walls and banners nearly ubiquitous. Ilkin Huseynov’s new photobook We Apologize for the Temporary Inconvenience makes the images on these worksite walls its subject, finding a version of the city’s own reality in the perfect future depicted there, the imaginary and the real mixing in unexpected ways.

Many of the images Huseynov has found on these temporary surfaces actually replicate Baku’s existing architectural landmarks and natural geography, effectively turning the city back in on itself like a hall of mirrors. From stone towers, castle walls, and lofty minarets to arched colonnades, elaborate facades, and distinctively spiky roofline design elements, the banners celebrate particular glories of Baku’s past, placing the new construction in the context of the old in a manner that minimizes the ongoing presence of the Soviet interlude. Other pictures highlight Baku’s oil industry and seaside promeande, showing aerial views of massive deepwater oil platforms, rig workers, and arcing seaside communities. Like a careful historian, the pictures recalibrate the past and present, repositioning the city’s most tourist-friendly assets at the forefront.

This deferential self-referencing is then mixed with renderings of modern glass and steel skyscrapers and aggressive contemporary architecture. Sleek apartment blocks, hard edged concrete, soaring TV towers like needles, and a cluster of eye-catching new buildings shaped like curved sails interrupt the skyline with confident authority, and the sinuous swooping bends of futuristic designs promise destination architectural gems to draw gawking onlookers from around the globe. The pictures herald the coming of a wholly new world, seemingly dropped from an alien spaceship into the charms of old Baku.

But this May-December romance of city hybridization, at least in terms of imagery, starts to fall apart upon closer inspection. What we think, at first glance, are photographs are of course physical banners and posters, and they have to withstand the daily intrusions of real life. So Huseynov shows us pictures that have been sun faded, pixelized from being enlarged too much, or densely splattered with mud (perhaps from the work going on nearby). The practicalities of doors and other entranceways must be cut into the stapled images, and pipes sometimes have to extend across the face of the posters, causing wear and rubbing. Tears occur frequently, peeling away the magic of the imagery, revealing the frayed edges of the canvas and the rough plywood underneath, and imperfectly adhered banners ripple and billow with wrinkles, or show seams and gaps where panels meet. And then the public inevitably gets involved, taping and pasting posters, announcements, and other tear off ads right onto the surface of images.

All this interruption breaks the romantic spell cast by these optimistic renderings and historical treasures. Some of the best of Huseynov’s pictures uncover the layering of these banners, where multiple images have been pasted on top of each other over time. The juxtapositions and combinations are thick with resonance and irony – castle ramparts with oil rigs, images of stone walls adjacent to real stone walls, one ornate edifice giving way to another. As we see more and more of these banners, the whole city starts to feel like an elaborate charade with stage sets arranged to confuse us at every turn, but ultimately this propaganda is undermined by the rips and cut aways that reveal the game.

The design and construction of We Apologize for the Temporary Inconvenience are thoughtfully matched to its subject. All of the image pages are full spread on relatively think stock, and the pages are cut to varying widths, allowing the images to overlap and interact, just like the walls do in real life. The cover is made from coated canvas, which is stapled onto the body of the book, allowing it to ripple and twist. These choices seem simple, but they perfectly match the content of the book, making the whole object feel extremely well integrated.

Given that this is a single subject photobook, Huseynov does more with this slender topic than we might have expected. In the fading, tattered, temporary construction walls of a growing and bustling city, he has found historical rediscovery, aspirational optimism, and stubborn, messy reality all wrestling for dominance, with the outcome far from certain. As a metaphor for the complexities of societal transformation in places like Baku, Huseynov’s image covered walls offer the nuanced richness of alternate narratives and possible futures.

Collector’s POV: Ilkin Huseynov does not appear to have consistent gallery representation at this time. As such, interested collectors should likely follow up directly via the publisher’s website (linked in the sidebar).

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