Unreal City combines dystopian views of London with dark humour and snippets of text from T.S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land, which many people consider to be the most important poem of the 20th century. The 85 black and white photographs in the collection present a thought-provoking picture of London at a significant moment in its history. The book sets up a photographic conversation between the pictures and lines of text from the poem in a way that has not been done before, thus creating a new kind of work of art.
Unreal City reflects many of the poem’s major themes: a strong sense of alienation; people’s failure to connect meaningfully with one another; the pernicious effects of high capitalism; the failure of religion to provide comfort in this broken world; and the apparently unbridgeable divide between rich and poor. Homelessness, wealth inequality and the waste of young lives due to crime feature as themes in the book.
The book contains essays by Van Heerden, Whitbread Award winning poet Dr Bernard O’Donoghue, and London gallerist Laura Noble.
The project has been featured in The London Magazine (January 2019) and Geographical Magazine (December 2019) and pictures from the series have been shortlisted for the ArtGemini International Art Prize (2018 and 2019) and the Aesthetica Art Prize (2018). The project was launched in London in March 2019 and a charity event and performance preview of the project was held at City Hall in London in May 2019 (organised by Van Heerden and Amadin Ryan and hosted by London Assembly Member Andrew Dismore, with support from the Mayor of London’s Office). The Unreal City limited edition art book was launched at Bonhams in Knightsbridge (the international fine art auction house) in December 2019.
The project encompasses the limited edition art book as well as an international touring exhibition which will last about three to five years. The touring exhibition will include major cities in the UK (London, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds, Bristol, Oxford, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast) as well as major international cities (New York, Hong Kong, Sydney, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro and Dubai). There are also plans to produce an Unreal City film as well as Unreal City theme music to accompany the film.
The exhibition at the prestigious Galerie Lausberg in Düsseldorf marks the exclusive European launch of this exciting project.