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Psycho Buildings

 

Artists take on Architecture

 

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Rachel Whiteread
Village 2006-2008
Mixed media (dollshouses, crates, boxes, wood, electrical fixtures and fittings, electricity)
© Rachel Whiteread. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery
Photo: Peppe Avallone

 

Curated by Ralph Rugoff, Director, The Haywood


Organised by Siobhan McCracken and Richard Parry


Hayward Gallery


Southbank Centre


28 May – 25 August, 2008

 

 

 

 

THE IMPOSTERSary Couzens

A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

The promises of this exhibition, which takes, as its inspiration, a book of black and white photographs by the late German artist Martin Kippenberger published in 1988, are unusual ones - artists loosely working within the framework of architecture, exploring its possibilities, yet, moving beyond its technical limitations and boundaries. To some, the exhibition’s title might seem to indicate latent neurosis, probably due to its Hitchcockian connotations. For others, it may sound decidedly cool. Which is what this exhibition, with its specially commissioned works, really is, in the sense that with its breezy, experimental approach to art, it is refreshingly, ‘art attitude’ free.


As preparation for the exhibition’s press viewing, Hayward curator Ralph Rugout spoke about what went into the making of it, stating that the ten artists involved had been ‘in the galleries for weeks, working.’ As an example of the exhibitions themes, Rugoff cited the ways In which certain buildings ‘dictate how you behave’ in them, i.e. supermarkets and ‘black-box’ cinemas, which, are ‘only good for one thing,’ also drawing our attention to manner in which we ‘occupy space,’ in that we, ‘tend to think of it’ as ‘something around us.’ The ‘different cultural value systems of space’ were also, apparently, a factor for the artists’ to consider in their work, as were the ‘values beyond architecture embodied in space.’


It is always an unexpected bonus to discover ‘new’ artists through an exhibition and that is one of the many favourable purposes that Psycho Buildings has performed for this viewer. On entering the gallery, Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto’s paradoxical sculptural work, Life fog frog…Fog frog (2008) takes the senses by surprise. Neto has ingeniously included the sense of smell in his artwork through his inclusion of spices encased within its mixed bag of materials. The piece is at once mammoth, but light, opaque, yet dense. Its viewing possibilities are seemingly endless, as one can enter the sculptural installation from the front and stand beneath its fog coloured membrane like structure, amid its bone mirroring, wooden supports. It is, uncannily like you would imagine being within the body of a giant frog might feel, were such a thing feasible. And, as the odour of exotic spices wafts your way, enhancing the experience, with its varied materials and shapes, both inner, and outer, and its involvement of our olfactory selves, we are taken on an unexpected journey, without physically moving very far in real time, or, space. The piece assumes a distinctly different, more poignant air when viewed from above, as the ‘frog’ like structure seems hopelessly mired in a cloud, or is it pollution?


South Korea’s Do Ho Suh has made two striking works for this exhibition: Fallen Star 1/5 (2008) and Staircase V (2008) both of which express his feelings of displacement at being a ‘stranger in a strange land’, while living in New York  City. The first installation is literally striking, as it depicts a small, traditional Korean home smashing into the New York brownstone apartment building Ho Suh lived in while studying art there. As it was his first major move from his homeland, he aptly compares it to Dorothy’s rather abrupt transplant to Oz via a cyclone. Staircase V, is unexpectedly moving, made as it is of red, opaque polyester material and stainless steel tubing, which, though largely invisible, acts as a supporting structure for the fragile staircase he has designed, complete with banisters and railing, as an exact copy of the one in his New York apartment building. The fact that the work was sewn by elderly Korean women who are more accustomed to working on traditional projects, in a manner more native to their culture, adds impetus. The sight of Ho Suh’s red, transparent staircase, hanging under its canopy, which together, give the impression of one’s being encased in a red room, a la Jane Eyre, is unexpectedly intriguing, as well as ethereal, as is the notion that the artist can pack his staircase up and take it with him, wherever he goes, in order to alleviate any unanticipated homesickness which may suddenly come upon him for his ‘second home.’ The fact that these works, though imbued with written explanations, are also open to interpretation and are therefore, capable of being appreciated without instruction, adds a liberating sense of enjoyment to their viewing.

 

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Do Ho Suh
Staircase-III, 2003
Installation at Brown University, Rhode Island
Translucent nylon
Dimensions variable
Courtesy of the Artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York.

 


Michael Beutler’s epic, unexpectedly exhilarating work, (Awaiting title) 2008, made solely of various coloured paper and mesh is an adventure in itself with its maze of canyon like walls and work in progress inner chamber. Bolts of multi-coloured paper were piled on a work bench inside, as if stored against emergencies. Viewers are treated to a multitude of perspectives of the work, based on colours and angles, when looking up, or around them. It is an enjoyable experience walking thorough and around the piece, which is reminiscent in texture of a Mexican piñata and/or children’s make-shift playhouse, albeit, on a much grander scale.


Outside of the gallery, on one of its two rooftop spaces, Tomas Saraceno’s (Argentina) Air Port City (2008) strikes a whimsical note, as its two story viewing areas require stocking feet and, on its upper half, a sense of play as well as good balance. Unfortunately, the two mocking gallery attendants hosting the upstairs portion prevented some onlookers from testing the latter, though the look of the piece was dreamily experimental. My companion managed to speak to the artist himself, as they both rested on the giant air-cushioned, upper level and was told the piece works on ‘air-pressure,’ a theory I myself cannot expound on. By standing in the small chamber below the cushioned top, one can view its inhabitants from below. 


Venetian, Atmospheric (2007) by Tobias Putrih of Slovenia, which made its debut at the 2007 Venice Biennale, was positioned in the outdoor viewing area across from Air Port City. Its large wooden, rounded structure, with its crossed, branch like piping, suggested many things, most, to do with rather primitive landscapes. However, on reading the write-up, one learned that the work was Putrih’s tribute to old time cinema, drawing its inspiration from ‘the golden age of American movie theatre architecture.’ Putrih’s specific model had been the work of architect John Eberson, whose last movie house, the Venetian, completed in the Bronx in 1929, was replete with ‘artificial fountains and a sky, complete with stars, that was projected onto its ceiling.’ Putrih’s tribute, though crude in appearance from the outside, is charmingly cavernous from within, with its twinkling sky projection, jig saw abstracted walls and multi-sized wooden seating. The film showing at the time, Little Frank and His Carp (2001, USA) was one in which it was easy to see what may have inspired its funding, as it featured performance artist Andrea Fraser, hiking up her dress, revealing a tight, thong wearing derriere, as she, seemingly humped unexpectedly against a marble column in the Guggenheim Bilbao, to the accompanying dry commentary on the merits of its architecture, while enraged, bemused, and occasionally, enthralled museum goers looked on. This artistic gesture was, apparently, made in response to the general encouragement to visitors to ‘caress the “powerfully sensual” curves of the fish-shaped tower at the heart of Frank Gehry’s building.’ Timing is everything, as other films alternatly on show were New Babylon de Constant (2005), with Dutch artists Victor Nieuwenhuljs and Maartje Seyferth, speaking about their work on a ‘futuristic city,’ Jane Crawford and Robert Fiore’s Sheds (USA, 2004) on one of land artist Robert Smithson’s iconic works, Conical Intersect (USA, 1975), about late American artist Gordon Matta-Clark’s experiments with spirals in two abandoned, 17th century Parisian townhouses, destined for the wrecking ball in lieu of the Pompidou Centre, Gregor Schneider’s (USA) experimental work, Beam Drop (1984) in which he dropped a number of large steel beams 100 feet into a 35 square pit of wet concrete in, (where else?), New York City, and Gregor Schneider’s long-term project, Haus ur (1996 and 99), in which he transformed his three story home into a ‘house of horrors.’

 

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Tobias Putrih
Venetian, Atmospheric 2007
Plywood, OSB plates, scaffolding, PVC curtain, 16mm projectors, digital projectors
13m x 8m x 5.5m (approx)
52nd Venice Biennale, Slovenian Pavilion
Photograph by Michele Lamanna
Courtesy of the artist and Max Protetch Gallery, New York

 


Carl Jung saw the house as a symbol of the unconscious as such structures often tend to appear in dreams. This premise subconsciously informs Rachel Whiteread’s fascinating installation Place (2006-08), which is made up of two hundred distinctly different dollhouses, arranged in a darkened room, their miniscule lights blazing from within, creating the effect of a tiny, multi-tiered village at night. On closer inspection, the houses’ absence of any furniture or dollish occupants creates an eerie feeling of abandonment and desolation. Whiteread, herself long intrigued with dollhouses, realised in the course of gathering them that they collectively symbolise what has long been a passion in her work, in that they are second-hand objects, each of which possesses its own personal history. The wooden packing crates employed as plinths, marked ‘fragile’, help to heighten the work’s overall sense of displacement and isolation.


Another, specifically designed work in this experimental exhibition is Atelier Bow-Wow’s lengthily, rambling, Life Tunnel (2008) by Yoshiharu Tsukamoto and Momoyo Kaijima, of Japan, a piece destined to attract interaction from more adventuresome, claustrophobia free gallery-goers only, as travel down it’s steel plate lengths would necessitate crawling, as well as walking, mimicking, in their own words, ‘a person’s life.’ Its artists, who are also the exhibitions only practising architects, are known for both, creating buildings which make use of ‘improbable spaces,’ and also, what they term, “micro public spaces” within the context of art exhibitions.


Psycho Buildings also includes the freeze-frame, exploding installation Show Room (2008) by Cuban artists Marco Antonio Castillo Valdes and Dagoberto Rodriguez Sanchez, normally, proceeding and unrestricted with without title (2008) a small scale grouping of floating, canal style, wooden boats resting on an artificial ‘lake’ on the Hayward’s roof by Austrian artists Wolfgang Gantner, Ali Janka, Florian Reither and Tobias Urban of Vienna, who collectively refer to themselves as Gelitin and London artist Mike Nelson’s hacked up, bare rooms work entitled To the Memory of H.P. Lovecraft (1999),(2008).


All in all, Psycho Buildings, with its intriguing premise, is a very satisfying exhibition, for, although not all of its pieces are equally effective, overall, it encompasses a spirit of adventure and experimentation which is, for the most part, sadly lacking in contemporary art today.  The ever-experimental artist whose work served as its catalyst, Martin Kippenberger ironically viewed the ‘psychobuildings’ of his book as, welcome departures from ‘the rationalism and abstraction of Modernist architecture.’ As such, this exhibition similarly presents itself as an inspired and, inspiring way to celebrate the ‘beton brut’* Hayward Gallery’s fortieth birthday.

 

*Artist Le Cosbusier’s way of describing the raw concrete he favoured, which, lent the term ‘Brutalism’ to archietecture

 

 

Hayward Gallery
Southbank Centre
Belvedere Road
London SE1 8XZ


www.southbankcentre.co.uk/visual-arts


Information and tickets: 0871 663 2519


Open daily 10am – 6pm, Fridays till 10pm

Tickets
Full Price - £10.00
Seniors – 60+
Concessions - £6.00
Students £ 6.00
Under 16 - £4.50
Under 12 (out of school hours) Free
Southbank Centre Members Free

 

 

 

 

 

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