Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A question of perspective?

I went to the Hayward Gallery on Monday after finishing work. It's not going to make it into my 100 things to love because it's a bit too obvious a choice, but on the other hand I've never been there before. It feels a little too inaccessible and concrete, somehow, though I've admired all the artworks outside for years. Do they have to do that because other people don't walk in either?

The irony is that when I got there, I discovered that the exhibition currently on display is Invisible. It's a bit like the "What's the password" joke or the one about "The storage is in Ware" "Where?" "Ware" that came up at work recently. The subtitle is Art about the Unseen. All very modern and when I walked in to practically empty walls and pieces about thoughts and gazes it was all a bit too much like nonsense. Some of it funny nonsense, like the man who'd forgotten to bring a piece of artwork to an exhibition so put in a police report for his invisible art which had been stolen. Other nonsense verging too close to the pretentious.

Once I'd wandered around a bit though, there was also some fantastic stuff. Or stuff I really liked, anyway, and that makes it fantastic in my book. Some of it was there, some was mementos from stuff which had been fantastic before.

I started to warm up with the piece of a platform which had been an installation by Chris Burden called White Light/White Heat where the artist lay unseen above the gallery for every day of the exhibition. I quite liked Bethan Huws's "...from New York to San Francisco to..." - that sometimes there would be an actor in the gallery, behaving like a member of the general public, so you'd never know they weren't just another visitor.

I found "The Ghost of James Lee Byars" quite scary - you enter a room through a curtain, thinking it'll be one of those shadowy exhibition rooms with a film in or something and actually it's seriously dark, so dark you can't see where the wall is, and only, eventually, a faint chink of light where the opposite exit is. You have to walk through it to get to the rest of the exhibition (though you can get help) and I, like I suspect many other people, crashed through pretty quickly. I swear I could hear someone breathing, though when I lifted the curtain and let the light fall through there was no one else there. James Lee Byars was the artist and was originally alive when this was first exhibited, but no longer.

Then back to the funny again - I loved Carsten Höller's "The Invisible" - one of a series of fantastical cars invented as competitors for the "New World Race". This one, on spot four (which they had laid out on the floor) was so advanced it was invisible. I also found the realisation I was in a drawing quite lovely - Lai Chih Sheng's "Life-Size Drawing" where every edge and line in the room (though presumably not the oher exhibits) had been drawn over in pencil. Less successful, I thought, was Tom Friedman's Untitled (A Curse) which was meant to be a spherical patch of air over a pedestal which had been cursed by a witch.

The one I found the most disturbing, even more than "The Ghost...", was Teresa Margolles's "Air". I almost wish I hadn't read the display outside first, to see if unknowing it'd have had the same affect, though I guess they have to warn people. Earlier in the exhibition there'd been a room with aircon making a point about atmosphere but this one was cooling systems using water, and the water had been used to wash bodies in a mortuary. I was fine about reading this, but went in and suddenly went crawly all over. Not because it was distasteful particularly (though it does feel a bit icky) but with the sensation of desperately sad souls. Why this felt meaningful when Tom Friedman's didn't... I guess is half the point.

Ceal Floyer's plumb line, marking the centre of the gallery space (randomly on the edge of a staircase) is worth a mention if only because she's a distant cousin but then I finished with an invisible maze - I didn't find out who this was by. You pick up kinesthetic headphones (I've made that term up. They vibrate rather than making noise) from a rather beautiful display, and sit them just above your ears. There is a map of the day's maze which you have to walk through, with the headphones vibrating every time you hit a "wall". I kept finding dead ends where there shouldn't have been dead ends and gave up.

If there is a meaning in that then it's worrying, but the exhibition is definitely worth something which may not be a look.

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