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Rob Judges’ photographic study of the demolition of Oxford’s iconic Radcliffe Infirmary packs a very powerful punch for SARAH MAYHEW at Art Jericho.
It’s an emotional journey, it’s haunting and its leaves the visitor feeling somewhat winded – but then a trip around the Radcliffe Infirmary always has.
Better known for peeling back the facades of perfectly framed poker faces, University of Oxford event photographer Rob Judges has been creeping quietly around the Radcliffe Infirmary for the past two years documenting the dismemberment of this highly-charged site that hides away, cloaked on an island of secrecy between Walton Street and Woodstock Road.
Not a stone’s throw from this imposing spectacle of a building site, and former hub of stitches, medical innovation and caring, Art Jericho opened its doors on March 1 to a series of new photographs that strip bare the layers, and punch through the partitions of this landmark site, a site that holds deep-seated resonances with so many members of the local society.
As delicate as these resonances might be, the viewer must be prepared to brace himself for the brutish energy displayed in this exhibition.
An exhibition that shows a different type of operation, equally as intricate, or carnal, depending on your perspective.
An enormous operating table of potentially lethal implements entrusted in the hands of those that seem so effortlessly at ease with the magnitude of their actions. Where white coats and facemasks are exchanged for high vis jackets and hard hats, these works show a different genre of surgeons and nurses reinventing and reinvigorating the space, quite literally breathing new leases of life as they break open, dismember, and piece buildings (not people) back together.
The Radcliffe Infirmary feels incredibly masculine, incredibly tough.
Worker bees strain under the pressures of time and physically exhausting hard graft. A cheeky grin from inside the towering phallus of a crane hints at the uneasy humour so often uncovered in shows of group mentality that know no boundaries as light relief is injected into the banality of the quotidian.
Photographing the skeleton - the infrastructure that enabled this site to tick for 242 years - this exhibition echoes with a profound sense of loss.
As Judges walked roofless corridors, discovered and documented discarded rotas, internal messages, abandoned fixtures and fittings he has obviously made a strong emotional connection with this place, and allowed his imagination to relive incredibly personal and life-changing moments in time.
These are potent photographs, and this is an exhibition not to be missed.
At the same time, the victorious merman Triton still appears to drink defiantly from a dry fountain at the front of the main building of the Radcliffe Infirmary. He stands firm, determined, knowing. He is waiting to gulp the water that will pour once again when the site reopens as the new University Quarter – this is a transitional period, and for all the works in this exhibition that may appear melancholy, this show is imbued with the sense of exciting times ahead.
There is no escaping that Coming Down: The Radcliffe Infirmary packs a very poignant punch and shows a much more thoughtful, considerate perspective of the discerning eye that spends much time discreetly documenting the academically associated Great and Good.
In this exhibition Rob Judges documents the magnificence, and emotional magnitude of movement, change, and progression; and on this occasion, it’s his work that is put on a pedestal (albeit a prudently unassuming one) and allowed to shine in Art Jericho.
* Coming Down: The Radcliffe Infirmary continues until March 23 at Art Jericho, King Street, Oxford, OX2 6DF, (behind Loch Fyne in Walton Street).
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or see http://artjericho.com/ It is open Wednesday- Saturday 11am–5pm and Sunday 1– pm.
Admission is free All works of art are for sale unless otherwise indicated.