Michael Rakowitz’s fascinating Whitechapel show is filled with surprises. It is also an exhausting experience. An inflatable grey building greets you, corralled behind a timber ramp and elevated walkway. A simplified, pneumatic vinyl housing block, it puffs itself up, then flags wheezily and slumps like a drunk to one side. Then up it comes again, undefeated. Designed as a modernist estate in 1954, the Pruitt-Igoe development in St Louis was initially a segregated area, and although that didn’t last, the estate was predominantly occupied by African Americans and left to decay. So bad did it get that the whole thing was dynamited in 1972 and the rubble used as landfill for luxury homes in the suburbs. Up it comes, down it goes.
Over the way is another utopian project with a better provenance: Vladimir Tatlin’s unrealised 1919-20 Monument to the Third International, intended to be taller than the Eiffel Tower and erected in what is now St Petersburg. This model has been cobbled together from reclaimed timber and cables and gas pipes of The Block, a planned neighbourhood of affordable housing for the Indigenous Australian community in Sydney. This too was allowed to deteriorate and was demolished, and Rakowitz collaborated with the community to build this version of Tatlin’s Monument, which has had a secondary function as a broadcast tower for an Indigenous Australian radio station. The Russian Revolution and Dreamtime, Rakowitz’s analysis of the social conditions of The Block and the inappropriateness of the original concept, is all laid out in a series of drawings and handwritten commentaries alongside the tower.