This is a thing I wrote for the 'Wazzup' news section of Vice about a Jean Prouve exhibition at the Tate Modern.
Ever heard of Jean Prouvé?
Nope? Ok here’s Prouvé’ 101:
He was the young turk of 19th century architecture who applied industrial concepts to minimal design. This means he basically had a sheet metal fetish and made simple, clean cut stuff to put in your house half a century before Ikea made millions from doing the exact same thing.
Like all people with an over-loaded greatness quotient Prouvé was unknown in his own lifetime but now his works are more sort after than copies of the first Velvet Underground acetate.
The scarcity of original Prouvé’s has led to a weird cottage industry of obsessives and collectors who scour the world looking for undiscovered gems. The Holy Grail of lost Prouvé loot were the three concept houses, which, it was rumoured, had been dispatched to the French colonies in the ‘50’s as a blueprint for cheap, sustainable housing. No one knew if these things existed or if it was all an elaborate architectural in-joke.
Until a guy called Eric Touchaleaume, who is basically the Indiana Jones of Prouvé hunting, decided to go to war torn Congo-Brazzaville to find out. He discovered two of the fabled ‘Maisons Tropicale’ in the Congolese jungle, riddled with bullets but salvageable.
After ‘charming’ the locals into parting with the structures, dismantling the whole lot, wrapping them in banana leaves and doing a little more ‘charming’ with the outbound customs to the tune of £23,000 Touchaleaume headed back to Paris with the fabled Prouvé’s in tow.
He swiftly flogged the first to rubber skinned hotel owner and sometimes Uma Thurman humping guy Andre Balazs for $5m. Balazs decided to kindly let the Tate Modern exhibit his new 5 million dollar flat-pack toy which, for people who care about design and stuff, was a pretty gigantic deal.
To commemorate its significance the exhibit curators commissioned our staff photographer Ben Rayner to shoot the three week assembly process for a time-lapse installation and forthcoming book, While we laughed at Ben every day when he tramped into the office after 12 hours shooting in the freezing February cold and rain the resulting film is pretty amazing so we had a chat with him once he’d thawed and the building was all built and stuff.
VICE: Couldn’t they just have left a video camera running the whole time, why did you even need to be there?
Ben Rayner: They are the only team in the world that could put that building together and they need a human being there taking photos. You couldn’t like just let a robot do it.
It looks like a treehouse. Surely you wouldn’t actually want to live in it?
It would be pretty good if I could live in it on the Thames like a big houseboat. I would get massive mirrors and interchangeable wall colours and one of those controllers where you can control the hi-fi and TV all in one. And a beer tap. A Red Stripe tap. Then I’d live in it.
Was it the most boring job you’ve ever done?
Nah I once had to take photos of a Norwegian woman’s kids. That was really boring. I just spent all day smoking fags, drinking loads of tea and talking to the French builders. They told me weird stories about heroin and women that I can’t repeat here. Oh, and I hung out with my friend Jose who was helping me out. His dad bought us a whole octopus for lunch one day.