Monday, July 14, 2008

Psychobuildings at the Hayward

On Thursday I went to the Psychobuildings exhibition in the Hayward Gallery, London. Since I could not take pictures (except on the roof top) I have resorted to taking pictures of postcards. The quality is not very good, but I think it gives an impression. There are some better pictures from the Guardian here.


Ernesto Neto, from Rio de Janeiro, works in net. Black mesh stretched over plywood struts. The struts are like the bones of a dinosaur model my brother made once; so I at once thought of bone, and from that a cell, and I imagined how it would be to walk into a cell; the soft double layers, the drooping structures of processes transporting proteins to the outside, and there, above me and around me, small tunnels through to the surface, small molecules coming in and out, out and in. Porous like that tubing I used once in a biology class.

Pause inside and everything else disappears. The twilight brings a temporary peace. It is best to be alone. Best to stand beside one of the processes subsiding from the ceiling filled with lead and cloves and inhale. Christmas and my father treating a rotten tooth. Watching while he groaned and thrashed around like an injured bear. Then my brother taking the pieces of wood and rubbing them smooth. The bones interlocking and father's sighs. The time that was is gone - a time I thought I'd lost but now comes back fragmented and inaccurately remembered. All that matters is this: that my father's tooth is numbed and the dinosaur that my brother is making will stand upright on its own...when his hands drop away. And go.


Do Ho Suh comes from Korea and now lives in New York. His past crashes in. One fifth the size of reality. The fragile Korean house with its rice paper windows and doors remain intact and yet the bricks and mortar of the New York apartment block are shattered. Three floors. Three levels of affluence. At ground level a stylish austerity - space, expensive furniture and high quality fittings. The middle floor is more intellectual and stuffy. There are desks, book cases and pictures on the walls. While on the top floor things are exactly as they appear without embellishment. The kitchen is unfitted and basic. Posters are stuck on the walls and a table serves as a desk.

I spent a long time looking, fascinated at the detail and what it means. The East colliding with the West and surviving spectacularly. The levels of wealth in western society and the Korean house - each disrupting the other. A clashing rather than a merging. A sense that the two are too different to mix. Or maybe this is how Do Ho Suh feels - as if he is forever on the outside looking in...and maybe that is how we all feel, or at least how I feel. On the outside of everything I do.


Michael Beutler, a German who lives and works in Berlin, takes mesh panels and covers them with florists' paper. He then shapes and distresses them with his feet before using them to construct a forest of shapes and passages. It is easy to lose yourself here. Easy to become distracted by the different colours and shapes. The views change. Dark becomes light. Red becomes black then blue or yellow. There are spaces you can only see and not enter. The inside becomes the outside. There is something of a mobius strip at work here - the cave becomes a hollow becomes an exterior wall becomes a cave again. Turn a corner and there is the artist himself still measuring, photographing, maybe even constructing in his mind, and changing it again.

A poem, I think. Up until now I have seen prose but now I see the hints of a place so that must be a poem. Abstract, still under construction. In fact the construction is part of the place, like a shell that is continually being made. Maybe it represents those parts of us that are never happy and always seeking to improve.


Atelier Bow-Wow is a consortium of Japanese architects. Their tunnel is made of steel plate. It creaks and rumbles like the big steel drums I heard once - washed up on an Arctic beach, shifting with the tide. It has the plaintiveness of birth, the lights and the sounds reverberate and promise like a type of pain, long before the head emerges. Even though the ceiling is high you come out stooped, cautiously peering around you, slightly dazzled by the change of view as you leave one gallery and emerge in another. Stand beside the exit and it is like witnessing a multiple birth: a litter of people, one and then the next - looking around, inspecting.


Something outside comes in. It breaks through the walls and they implode too...Yet there is nothing there. Nothing to cause this breaking through, and the melodrama of furniture breaking, beds upturned, wood splintering...everything broken apart and frozen in its journey through the air, suspended by Los Carpinteros (two Cuban artists) on transparent fishing line. Nothing moves except this - a single piece of broken cinder block suspended on a line - which is light enough for the faintest breeze to make it rotate slowly on the spot, and, as it turns, I watch.


When I saw the name Rachael Whiteread (a London artist) I was expecting a 'little something' in concrete. Instead I found this - a miniature village assembled on packing cases in a darkened room, individually manufactured doll's houses, gathered from attic clearances and toy fairs - and lit from within to stunning effect. Of course I immediately imagined there were people watching. Each lit door and window had eyes. However when I peered inside they disappeared, each tiny room mysteriously empty, which added another sinister dimension. An empty village with no one here. But the lights still on. Why? An enticing question I would love to answer.


The Austrian artists called, collectively, Gelitin specialise in 'audacious interventions'. In this case flooding one of the terraces of the Hayward Gallery with 120cm of water and floating some packing-case like rowing boats on the top. Fortunately for me there was another stray humanoid on her own viewing this exhibition and we decided to share a boat. So it was that I came to float around on a rooftop in central London with a woman I can barely remember even now. She was taller than me, and much younger, with a central European American-flavoured accent. She was also a better rower. She rowed out and I was supposed to row back but we ended up just going around and around in circles so she took over again with a laugh. 'I learnt to row in London,' she said, so I told her that I normally rowed in the gym, which is not quite the same thing. But we made it back after our terrifying little adventure, and didn't get wet. Which was good.

STAIRCASE - V, 2003/04/08

And now another floating room - of red mesh, meticulously made, even the light switch and the wiring picked out in seams and padding. Do Ho Suh, a Korean artist, lives and works in New York. These days he has assistants to realise his visions, but originally he used 'old ladies'. The thought of them making these imaginary rooms is almost as surreal as the room itself (which sways and stirs in this top-most space, the intricately-worked banisters shifting slightly against each other). What did these old ladies make of what they were sewing? Did they enjoy stabbing at this strange scarlet net? Or did they long for taffeta and silks, wedding gowns and ballroom dresses? Instead of this strange stairway no one can climb, did they long for velvet and the sound of feet on polished floor? Or were they happy with this translucent demarcation of space where the only dances are imagined - and old feet tap out the rhythms just as fluently and daintily as they did forty years ago.


is a more altruistic work - a cinema that screens films by other artists. Outside it is just another pavilion; inside it is lined with pieces of overlapping plywood carved into sinuous shapes of the profiles of faces. It reminded me of the the corrugated flesh of the lining of the stomach. The chairs were made from the same particle board as the lining of my shed so I was impressed immediately. There was the familiar smell of wood and the perfume of home - I shut my eyes for a few seconds and London faded away to a forest. When I opened them the ceiling had changed from pale blue of day to a night sky full of stars. Tobias Putrih is Slovenian and now lives in New York and says that the cinema auditorium is an almost overlooked place of transition.


One room leads into another - white-painted, panelled, and lined - perfect except for the holes and the rubble the dents and the 'rabid destruction'. I look around, feeling envious of whoever did this. What a glorious vent for anger, what a great antidote to frustration - better than any punch bag - the perfect white wall...and a sledge hammer or mallet...and a strong pair of arms. I just want Mike Nelson to know that any time he needs help with one of his projects I am available. I would work for free, willingly and very happily. Oh, the satisfying crunch, that crash, this is what I think about your opinions, this is how much I care...Am I so uninteresting now? Have you still lost your enthusiasm for my work? The plaster crunches underfoot, and I pulverise it a little more, twist once and it is dust, twist again and it is finer still. A strong breeze and it would be gone.


Tomas Saraceno, an Argentine now working in Frankfurt, has an on-going project to create a floating metropolis in the sky. For now he has to settle for this: a hexagonal inflated translucent tent. Only a few people were allowed aloft and that was through lottery. I was not lucky. Still, the climb up looked very slightly precarious and anyway after rowing around the roof top I was tired of high adventure, so I was content just to take off my shoes, go through the air-lock and watch the antics of the 'luckier' visitors above me.

These visitors of course, become part of the art. Their shapes and outlines constantly move and change. They shift on the cushion of air, bounce and crawl to find balance, and they look down on us.

'Utopia', Saraceno says, 'exists until it is created.' That is true I think. When dreams come true they are no longer dreams. the 'winning' removes something - a desire to win. It is as though the pinnacle has been passed, and the desire to win is more powerful than the accomplishment of winning. Sometimes it is better, more piquant, to just hanker after climbing to a summit - once you get there the mystery is gone and there is nothing left to find.



Blogger jem said...

I love that cross over between art and architecture. Thanks for giving us such a thorough guided tour. I think these images and ideas couple with your words are even more engaging than they would have been first hand.

Tue Jul 15, 12:33:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now this has charmed me... And I find that what charms me is the fact that (although I love faux places and passages and mystery) it is all filtered through the sensibilities and sometimes wayward feelings of Clare. I would have liked to go with you, the two of us accompanied by the ghost of Italo Calvino. He would be light (or perhaps a light) for rowing.

Tue Jul 15, 01:32:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Ah, thank you very much Jem and Marly! I rather like the idea of a little company, and would enjoy very much what you both made of the exhibition.

Tue Jul 15, 09:58:00 pm  
Blogger Douglas said...

It looked like that Lovecraft room did ten rounds with Cthuhlu!

Sun Jul 20, 06:32:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Douglas - if I knew what a Cthuhlu was I'm sure I would agree with you...perhaps. I shall google the term now. Thank you for the education!

Sun Jul 20, 10:03:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Aha - Cthuhlu is a Lovecraft monster - very good!

Sun Jul 20, 10:05:00 am  

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