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Kill the Modernist Within

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At Cube, 113-115 Portland Street, Manchester until 3 February

fat claims that this, its first major exhibition, is 'a manifesto for an architecture of communication', writes Julian Holder. So what is the practice saying? With an exhibition title of 'Kill the Modernist Within', the main answer is unambiguous. In the best tradition of the British avant-garde (which never offended as much as its continental cousins), fat's weapons are irony, humour and narrative. This is a story about nasty Modernism and a struggle against its myths.

So the white plane of the gallery wall is assaulted with painted black- and-white half-timbering. The holy shibboleth of architectural form - the church - is recast in purple and gold sequins; and the riba coat- of-arms is revamped in fatspeak.

People get very excited about fat, either heralding it a s 'the most seminal and influential of the Britarch generation' or decrying it for merely perpetuating ideas from the late 1950s, as found in the Independent Group and Learning from Las Vegas.

If fat is not so original but merely the latest in a long tradition of dissent dating back to the 'Profession or Art' debates of the 1880s, is that really so bad? The deflation of Adolph Loos' passionate 'Ornament [is] a crime' to fat's 'Ornament is fine' says it all. This is not a manifesto to change the world (or even architecture), merely 'a try for size' expressed in the visual language of the fairground, the discount store and the massage parlour.

Oddly, when fat turns to the written word, its reliance upon the language of theoretical/ cultural studies creates a barrier to the very access it wants to promote.

Nonetheless this is a fun, irreverent, and in places, thoughtful show: Manchester's Cube gallery should be congratulated for mounting it.

Julian Holder is an architectural historian

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