Rab Harling is a London-based conceptual artist who specialises in experimental, large-format photography and sculptural installations. His practice investigates the social occupation of space, from the urban landscape to domestic interiors, focusing on how people construct a sense of place, and how the design of built environments reflect and actively produce particular social configurations and political ideologies. His installations deconstruct and reassemble pre-conceived ideas about space, they are often site-specific and usually include a philosophical dimensionality, using influences ranging from mathematical philosophy to quantum mechanics. Rab’s work intersects with a long-term debate in urban culture and policy regarding the relationships between environment and behaviour, particularly in the context of the current housing crisis in the United Kingdom, with a particular focus on the effects of gentrification on the vulnerable, and in particular with the socially excluded and insecurely housed. His current research is centred on Poplar, in the inner-East London borough of Tower Hamlets, a neighbourhood that is rapidly being transformed by the construction of dozens of high-rise executive apartments, built for overseas investors and priced out of reach for the local population. Over the course of three years, Rab has taken large-format colour transparencies, from the same position in over 120 of his neighbour’s flats in Ernö Goldfinger’s Grade II* listed Balfron Tower. The resulting transparencies depict a “fascinating and moving” (Barnabas Calder, 2014) portrayal of a community living with housing insecurity. The gradual decant continues to this day amidst conflicting political views between the housing association, the residents committee, the new short-term residents and their associated landlords. Following a reported £30 million refurbishment of Balfron Tower, a co-development partnership between Poplar HARCA and LondonNewcastle, the flats will be sold on the open market.
Rab is presently the Leverhulme Artist in Residence at UCL’s Urban Laboratory for the academic year 2013-2014. In this role he recently exhibited Work in Progress from Balfron Tower, unveiling material from two new bodies of work; Inversion/Reflection: Keith and Inversion/Reflection: Void part 1 (2014). This research in progress was exhibited at UCL Slade Research Centre as part of Cities Methodologies 2014 curated by Ben Campkin for UCL Urban Laboratory. He also hosted a seminar Photographing Balfron Tower: The Ethics of Film and Photography on London Council Estates and was an exhibitor and a panel member for Learning To Walk, an exhibition and seminar curated by ThienVinh Nguyen. In June 2013 he presented four new sculptural installations in a solo exhibition of his series A Delicate Sense of Terror at Lubomirov-Easton, London. Prior to this he presented large, site-specific installations in the Tower Hamlets Spring Open in 2012, curated by ALISN and Rise Art and in 2011, curated by ALISN, Angus-Hughes Gallery, Charlie Dutton Gallery & SHIFT. From October 2011 to January 2012 he was involved in the Occupy LSX movement at St. Paul’s Cathedral, with specific involvement with The City of London Working Group. His work has been exhibited in the UK and overseas including Reports from an Ordinary Satellite, curated by Val Williams, at the Galerie Der Fachhochscule, Bielefeld, Germany (2010), Well Gallery, London College of Communication, London (2010) and at AE Harris, Rhubarb International Photography Festival, Birmingham (2010). In late-2010 he was awarded an MA in Photography by the London College of Communication, University of the Arts, London. Previously he worked freelance in the camera department of the British film and television industry, pulling focus on British films such as Football Factory (2004) and The Gigolos (2006). He graduated from Surrey Institute of Art and Design in 1996 with a BA (hons.) in Film and Video.