July, 2008, Psycho Buildings at the Hayward curated by Ralph Rugoff
Los Carpinteros, Show Room, 2008 Cinder blocks, fishing nylon, Ikea and B&Q furniture Courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York Photo: © Stephen White
The Hayward Gallery marks its 40th anniversary with an extraordinary show that captures and embodies the sense that the Hayward is a place where usual rules of engagement with architecture only provide for their suspension as the building strikes its contrary presence in the city. For Psycho Buildings: Artists Take on Architecture, director Ralph Rugoff invited ten contemporary artists to engage directly with the space. The result is a composition of individual projects that make use of the building’s structure from the inside and outside in large-scale installations which not only alter our experience of the gallery building but also enforce our awareness of the ways in which we inhabit our surroundings, relating to the complex social and cultural configuration of spatiality. All the works – despite their uniqueness and differences – share the suggestion to re-articulate and subsequently reconfigure space by thinking outside the box of function and usefulness, subverting the usual architectural norms and thus belonging to an artistic trajectory. This is what provides for their aesthetic appreciation.
Upon entering the gallery space, Ernesto Neto’s walk-in environment Life Fog Frog…Fog Frog translates its spatiality into an experience for all senses: the work is constructed out of polyamide textiles, plywood and spices that fill the tent-like body with a dense and weightily atmosphere. As a medium it draws our attention to the relationship between our body, the space, and our experiences with it, which can be intimate, sensual, and personal. The doubled membranes of textiles that mantle the spicy atmosphere inside the tent might resemble the skin that divides our body from the outside while at the same time totally absorbing it. The unfolding of the body in space becomes perceivable when its conditions and circumstances turn into the subject matter.
Ernesto Neto, Life fog frog...Fog frog, 2008 Polyamide textiles, digital cut plywood, spices,
beads and hooks Courtesy the artist, Fortes Vilaça SP and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery,
New York Photo: © Stephen White
Other works in the show even more specifically articulate the relationship between body and space: Michael Beutler’s sculptures are interventions within specific spaces. At the Hayward, his installation of florists’s tissue paper bonded onto mesh panels were shaped by being jumped upon. The work not only visually, but first and foremost physically interacts with its surroundings. The body enters into a negotiation with spatiality, as does one when entering Mike Nelson’s To the memory of H.P. Lovecraft. Stepping into the extremely unsettling installation of a scene of rabid destruction, passing through, we encounter complete devastation, shredded furniture and torn walls spread throughout two adjoining rooms. The experience shifts towards an emphasis of the body as a protagonist of the presence the self assumes throughout time and space. The title for this work refers to the American writer of cosmic horror fiction, but is also the dedication of a short story “There are more things” by Jorge Luis Borges. What makes sense of this situation is not the imagination of what could have happened and why, but the moment of identification of the self and its presence in this situation. The viewer becomes the protagonist on a stage that itself was staged in the context of an exhibition. Foreground and background, on stage and backstage, acting a viewing, become compatible and interchangeable.
The exhibition provides a platform for different kinds of reflections: not only on the body and its relationship to space, but also on the relationship between the art and architecture in the exhibition space, its brutal concrete surrounding, a concrete brutality? The Austrian collective Gelitin and the Argentinean artists Tomas Saraceno used the outside sculpture terraces of the gallery for their works that are platforms integrated into the landscape of the Southbank, overlooking the river. In Gelitin’s installation Normally, proceeding and unrestricted with without title, we can row into the sunset in a boat on one of the terraces that was filled with water, turning the concrete tray into a boating lake, looking at Tomas Saraceno’s Observatory, Airport City that is the most recent manifestation of the artist’s ongoing project to manifest a city, a metropolis in the sky that might move as the wind dictates. A plastic cloud turns into a habitable platform. It is entirely transparent and incorporates a floor at mid-level, supported by a pillow of air which is kept afloat by atmospheric pressure, from which visitors can observe the ones sitting on the dome’s ground level. These projects offer a physically and visually incongruous experiences that makes this exhibition so interesting when reading it as a proposition to engage with one’s immediate surrounding as a testing ground for objects, beings, things, matters and their existence through time and space. In many of the works, this goes in hand with either insinuating or depicting a cataclysm that provides for what might come after.
Gelitin, normally, proceeding and unrestricted with without title, 2008 Mixed media Courtesy the artists
Photo: © Stephen White
The Korean artist Do Ho Suh visualizes the clash of cultures in Fallen Star 1/5. He smashed a small-scale replica of his childhood house in Korea into a puppet-house-like model of his apartment building in which he lived when he first came to New York. Contradictory to the expectations, the interior of the American house is shown in extraordinary detail, whereas less memory is revealed of the traditional Korean house: all its fixtures, fittings and furnishings are mingled together with his New York belongings when splitting into Suh’s student apartment. The explosion stages a theatre of memory, a composition of cultures, for which Suh’s understanding of integration is very literal – smashing one into the other – but clearly points out the problem of it: nothing is preserved, but everything distorted and, most often, can only newly develop from its immediate surrounding.
The Cuban artist duo Los Carpinteros share an interested in spatial distortion of the living situation, but freeze the process of it - neither as the calm before or after the storm, but centring it. The situation in Show Room presents some sort of violation: large chunks and fragments of a crude, unplastered breeze-block wall burst into an orderly, furnished space. As in the heart of a Tornado, the movement comes to a stop and freezes, like on a photograph, which reveals an incredible beauty to a setting that is just a disaster that carries no reference to a particular time or location.
Refusing to address us as mere spectators, these works implicate us in the spaces they generate, engaging with us through establishing both physical and visual relationships that call our attention to what must be experienced rather than merely seen. The work makes us not only aware of their material and formal aspects, but emphasize the corporeal, psychological, political and cultural dimensions of built spaces. The title of the exhibition is taken form a book of black-and-white photographs that Martin Kippenberger published in 1988. It featured pictures of architectural structures, some of them under construction or in demolition. Fragmentation and rupture became articulated as an alternative to the straight sense of formalism in urban planning and the term ‘psycho’ designated a mental state involving a rupture with reality and within it, the consumption of space with a single glance. The projects demand our attention towards the many diverse relationships we maintain with our surroundings, where realities and utopias, surfaces, shapes, and their ruptures, coexist and overlap in their spatiality that involves us as participants.
Psycho Buildings: Artists Take on Architecture is shown at the Hayward Gallery on London’s Southbank until 25 August 2008. For more information please see the website.
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief