Dark side of Penny Lane Blue Suburban Skies At The Photographers' Gallery, 5 Great Newport Street, London WC2 until 20 November
'Blue Suburban Skies' takes its name from the Beatles' 'Penny Lane', but doesn't have the song's mixture of the quirky and mundane. That was how it was in suburbia. Now it appears to be Bad Taste Land, devoid of community and spirit, where the gardens are neatly trimmed but only scurrilous activity behind the net curtains relieves the monotony.
Often this tedium is menacing and deathly, with shades of TS Eliot's grubby bedsit world. Stephen Turner's photographs are bare, soulless, head-on shots of drab suburban homes, all garish yellow new brick - kind of neo-Barratt 'n' Alan Partridge. Beneath them are short lines of text, like snippets of conversation over the garden fence, detailing the horrific scenes behind the oh-so-staid facades. 'Why not invite your girlfriend over so we can have some three-way sex, he asked his bedmate,' begins one. 'That didn't seem like such a good idea. Pumping four shots in her head seemed like a better one.'
On one level, this sounds like Quentin Tarantino, or the narrative voice of Robinson in Patrick Keiller's 'London' and 'Robinson in Space', commenting on an image in a deadpan way to defamiliarise the subject. On another, it connects with the cliche key-party and wife-swapping notion of the suburbs. And this feeling of suburbia as the chosen home for indecency and illicit sex continues in the work of Bridget Smith.
In her Glamour Studio photographs, what at first sight appear simply to be exhibitions of bad taste are the sets for - presumably - amateur 'glamour' photography. There is an artificial recreation of a sports changing room, with an unlikely squash and tennis racquet hanging on the wall. There is a bedroom replete with blue satin bedcovers, ancient lipstick- red telephone, and gaudy curtains. And a tacky chaise longue image even includes a tawdry sign on the wall: 'You must not use baby oil when modelling in the backdrops'.
Bad taste is definitely to the fore in Nathan Coley's Villa Savoye. This hugely enjoyable audio/slide-show installation is deeply ironic in simultaneously transmitting a spoken description of Corb's great work and images of yet another 'executive-style' suburban home. While the volume housebuilder's offering is given the status of an architectural lecture, the sad aspirations of Mr and Mrs Housebuyer are highlighted. It's a powerful piece, but one feels that it is both preaching to a converted, middle-class, central London audience - and a little sneering.
A different and complex theme of suburbia, this time in the very specific North London borough of Barnet, is explored by architect Eyal Weizman, and Manuel Herz. In a long series of 'snaps', a collection of objectors' letters and displayed news cuttings, the pair chart the history of a long- running attempt to build an 'eruv'. This involves erecting about 30 'gates' made of poles and a fishing line, to mark a boundary in the borough inside which Orthodox Jews may carry objects and push prams etc on the Sabbath. This sort of activity is otherwise not permitted by the religion.
Weizman (ex-Architectural Association) relates how this transfers the city into a 'home' and is all about redefining space through a legal device.
'The eruv is like a huge act of suburban bricolage,' he says, a 'rereading of the mundane'. And as such, it is fascinating to see the marked opposition of the public to what they think is a territorialising gesture and the planning system's seeming inability to handle such a proposal.
In the entire show, however, there are only two people photographed - a guitar tutor and his charge (Matthew Crawley). There are no models in the glamour studio, no residents among the drab house frontages, and only written comments from objectors to the eruv. Less people, in fact, than punctuate the Beatles' humdrum Penny Lane. The 'community' has disappeared and in its stead are suppressed violence, secret sex, pitched roofs and Englishmen's 'castles'. In the eyes of this exhibition, suburbia is a failed, dehumanised world.