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1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Psycho Buildings

“So, Bob. Did you have a good day off?”
“Excellent, thanks.”
“What did you get up to?”
“We went boating.”
“In London.”
“Ah. In one of the parks, I suppose.”
“No. In one of the galleries.”
“That’s right. The Hayward.”

It’s an interesting concept. In the latest exhibition at the ever-reliable Hayward Gallery, one of the works has been to line one of the terraces with waterproof material and fill it with water so that people, in limited numbers, can sit in a small wooden boat and paddle around for a few minutes. The artists, a collective from Austria calling themselves Gelitin, call the piece “Normally, Proceeding And Unrestricted and Without Title”. Very pleasant on a sunny day, though even I am struggling to see the art involved. Thankfully, I don’t have to. They say it’s art, and by my definition that’s good enough.
There are, of course, many other pieces in an exhibition that’s called Psycho Buildings and consists of a series of installations that fill the spaces (or in one case dramatically emphasise the space by not filling it) and are all connected by an architectural theme. If you want to find out about all of them I suggest that you visit the web-site or, better still, the exhibition, as I intend to only mention a few that took my particular attention.

Do Ho Suh, a Korean artist, working now in the United States, has two very different - but equally striking - pieces. In one, he has created one fifth scale replicas of his old house in Korea and an apartment that he had when he first moved to America. Then he has crashed the Korean House through the side of the American one. The rather obvious culture clash symbolism is muted by the incredible detail of the recreated interior of the American house. His other piece, Staircase V is simpler but, in some ways, rather more remarkable. A red net has been stretched across the entire space of a rather large gallery at about the height where a normal ceiling would be. From this , in the centre of the room, hangs a sculpture – there is no better word – which is a recreation of a stairwell complete with light switch fittings, sockets, and a landing balustrade, all done in the same translucent fabric. It is stark, simple and mesmerising. The ghost of a staircase.

Perhaps my favourite piece is one that many of my less open-minded friends would denigrate as “not art” or “anyone could do that” or even “utter rubbish”, Mike Nelson’s, “To The Memory of H.P. Lovecraft." The artist describes it in the program as being “like the set for a non-existent film.” It consists of two rooms. They are coldly white and stark, like stripped rooms in an abandoned building. One has a cellar style hatch leading down. The other has had a series of holes smashed through the (false) walls, and the debris of the attack is everywhere on and around the floor. One review has described it as appearing that someone – or something – has made a frenzied attempt to break out of the room. To my mind, it’s more in keeping with the title if some monstrous extra-dimensional thing has tried to smash into the room, tried to destroy a fragile sanctuary.
However you read it, it’s a powerful and disturbing image.

Naturally, the piece that’s getting all the attention is the Rachel Whitehead in which a large number of wooden dolls' houses, totally empty of furniture, have been arranged and lit as a village – albeit a rather claustrophobic one. It’s OK, but to my mind a little contrived and twee. It wasn’t one of my favourites.

There are other pieces: a room caught in the middle of some unspecified disaster (perhaps an explosion) with shattered stone and furniture suspended on near invisible wires; a transparent polythen geodesic dome that you can stand inside, a forest of bizarre multi-coloured tissue paper shapes, and so on. The successful pieces outnumber the unsuccessful ones and on the whole the exhibition is well worth a visit for anyone open to the idea that art doesn’t have to be about “paintings of things”. I had a great time and next week, when I’m at home and near my scanner I’ll revisit this entry and add some pictures.

Bottom line? Not as interesting as last year’s Gormley and a lot less focussed but pretty good nevertheless.

And you can say you got to go boating on the roof of an art gallery.

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