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In the classic 1971 British action film “Get Carter,” Michael Caine plays a small-time criminal who avenges the death of his brother by tossing one of the gangsters responsible (played by Brian Mosely) off the top of a multistory car park in the gritty northeast England town of Gateshead. From what I learned last week, I’d guess there are more than a few Gateshead residents who wish Caine had tossed architect Owen Luder off the roof instead.

Luder designed the mammoth car park in question in the concrete-based architectural style known as “brutalism.” It was completed in 1969 as a bold but misguided challenge in an ongoing game of one-upmanship between Gateshead and nearby Newcastle. To this day it dwarfs the rest of Gateshead (pop. 200,000), and is the borough’s principal landmark, although many people have abhorred it from day one.

Over the years, large pieces of concrete have fallen off the building, exposing the steel reinforcing mesh beneath. In other areas water seepage has compromised the structure. Since 1995, the top floors have been off-limits, and it is expected that the mammoth eyesore will be demolished and Gateshead put out of its misery in the not-too-distant future.

Just about the time Caine threw Mosely off the roof, Runa Islam was born in Dhaka. The Bangladeshi artist now lives and works in London, and her recent work, a commission from the Samling Foundation titled “Scale (1/16 inch = 1 foot),” takes as its subject the Gateshead Multistory Car Park. The work premiered at the Istanbul Biennale last summer and is now showing at the ShugoArts Gallery in the Shinkawa Building in Tokyo’s Chuo Ward.

What is revealed in Islam’s video-and-sound installation is not the car park as it is, but the car park as it might have been — a study in what Islam terms “expectation and fulfillment, vision and failed vision.”

The videos were originally shot on 16mm film, which lends them a color and texture that recalls the period when the car park was built. The title, “Scale (1/16 inch = 1 foot),” refers to a model of the car park which is featured, along with photography of the building itself, in the two synchronized video projections that make up the installation.

The layout here is unusual: A screen is mounted on the rear wall of the gallery, while a second and smaller projection surface (a panel board) is suspended from the ceiling several meters in front of the rear screen. If the viewer stands off to either side, it is possible to watch both screens simultaneously — otherwise, observed from dead center, the front screen obscures the center of the rear screen.

Islam was assisted in the project by a local acting troupe, which performs in what was intended to be the car park’s rooftop restaurant (it never opened). In the film, “diners” sit at tables as “waiters” wipe wine glasses, fold napkins and so on. But no food is ordered and none appears, instead we have a 17-minute ritual of unrealized preparations, this intercut with exterior and interior shots of the empty car park. And then the videos loop, and the ghostly charade continues without beginning or end.

Islam’s work is poetic and resounds in low tones. I found it evocative, although the part where the actors walk about on the rooftop in an almost zombielike manner did seem unnecessarily contrived — and in any case superfluous. (Maybe it would have been better to have them drive about in cars?)

Ultimately, viewing “Scale (1/16 inch = 1 foot)” leaves us, like the unfed diners in the restaurant, contemplating a gnawing sense of emptiness. The failure, if you will, of modernist architecture to make places that people want to be in.

The Gateshead Multistory Car Park is not without its supporters, who regard it as being ahead of its time — which it certainly was. Islam herself says she was attracted to it because it is “amazing yet impractical — people like it from afar, but the closer you get to it, the more it is hated.” Islam also impressed me with a pithy observation that can apply to much more than this piece: “It is easier to revere something you don’t have to deal with.”

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