SPACE HAS PERVADED THIS year in every context: the ever-warming planet has prompted pursuit of life beyond Earth; architects all over the world respond to the theme of ‘Freespace’ for the 2018 Architecture Biennale; and the sci-fi genre storms the box office, as the rise in fantasy film offers escapism from everyday life.
Disorientating, unconventional, minimalist - these words spring to mind when defining the Shape Shifters exhibition, unveiled at the recently renovated Hayward Gallery.
Presenting re-mastered artworks – that first emerged from the ‘Light and Space Movement’ back in the 1960s - right through to contemporary sculptures and installations, materialised this year in response to the architecture of the Southbank Centre. The beginning of the last half-century saw artists working with newly available industrial materials and develop experimental and unconventional processes in the revolution against social norms. Similar processes are resurfacing in today’s current time of disruption and uncertainty. Despite the various influences behind the artworks and time of creation spanning the 50-year period, all pieces correlate and unite collectively to create a new space of disorientation and imbalance.
The pronounced positioning of every sculpture and installation in the gallery space, curated by gallery senior director Cliff Lauson, really engage with and respond to the unique spaces of the building, “Hayward Gallery’s brutalist architecture allows us to showcase some of the most ambitious, immersive and exciting art from around the world.” With intent to disrupt your sense of space, the interactive pieces challenge you to investigate how you perceive your surroundings. Shifting perspective and examining from different angles causes the pieces to rework and metamorphose. Artists employ diverse materials with a minimal approach to bring focus on the experience itself.
Faced with Anish Kapoor’s Non-Object (Door) (2018) directly upon entrance, the mirrored sculpture warps and distorts the surrounding space, disfiguring my body with every step. Small movements hold the power to manipulate and alter perception dramatically, transforming completely before you have the chance to properly analyse. A notably captivating experience for entranced viewers as they dance and distort, circling the cubed sculpture in fascination. By partaking in the interactive and playful experience, the viewer represents the final component in completing the work of art. ‘I’ve always been very concerned with the idea that sculpture, the object, is highly manipulative, that what it does is align the body.’
Beanbags placed sparsely along the open floor invite me to lie down and relax – even the gallery’s furniture shifts to the shape of my body as I make myself comfortable. The gleaming mirrors from Jeppe Hein’s 360 Illusion III (2017) coax me into a revolving reality; eyes locked on the spinning panel as it flips my landscape upside down. Hein’s use of mirrors, act as a tool for communication in interactive and social spaces: “I feel like I’m melting,” declares the woman sunken into the adjacent beanbag.
After emerging through Steegmann Mangrané’s suspended metal chains, Alicja Kwade confuses reality as you apprehensively step through her large installation of steel frames, sculptures and mirrors. The illusory WeltenLinie (2017) - first unveiled at the 2017 Venice Biennale - confuses your path with mirrors and empty frames, like a mirror maze in a theme park. On completing this room, my sense of space was already becoming disorientated and the lines between perception and reality were becoming blurred.
An assemblage of hundreds of stainless steel spheres appear to spill across the Narcissus Garden (2016) of Yayoi Kasuma – the compulsive sequence of the mirrored spheres creating a dynamic kinetic sculpture. Narcissus Garden first originated in 1966, at her first appearance in the Venice Biennale, and I’m predicting the next rendition will appear in her upcoming collection Infinite Accumulation, her first permanent collection in the UK. Expect to see her signature polka dot, repeating in various different forms: from paintings to flowing sculptures made of steel.
Two-thirds of the way up the back staircase you encounter Monika Sosnowska’s Handrail (2016-18) starting to intertwine with the gallery’s brass banister, enticing us up the stairway as it wraps around the rail like a snake. It breaks off into its own path, playfully dancing up the walls and leading us to the next room in which sporadically twists and turns across a large blank wall. Sosnowska’s work explores the social space in architectural space using familiar architectural elements to create disorientating installations. The intention of Handrail (2016-18) was to provoke uncertainty and chaos, yet the red handrail brought me on its journey, sometimes sporadic but still resembling freedom.
Turn around and you can’t help but get pulled in by De Wain Valentine’s grand black mass sculpture dominating the left hand corner of the newly light-filled upper gallery, whilst the other works cluster together across the opposite side. Hanging from a grid - tracing the outline of the gallery’s ceiling coffers - fall the interlocking geometric strands of Leonor Antunes’ installation discrepancies with A - commissioned in response to the gallery’s striking roof lights. Antunes often draws on the work of female artists and architects; in this piece the ‘A’ in her title references textile artist Anni Albers, an extremely influential artist resurfacing this year, with an exhibition of her work currently displayed at the Tate Modern.
Chemical fumes stimulate my olfactory sense as I draw towards the penultimate room. Guided to the back of the lingering line, the stench is now overpowering. Exhibition guides sternly warn us not to touch the upcoming artwork amongst other instructions. Here, Richard Wilson takes over the entirety of one room for his sculptural intervention 20:50 (1987); filling the hip-height structure with engine oil, leaving only a narrow rising passageway cut into the center of the room. Just walking up the middle conjures a strong sense of vertigo, making my way to the edge, completely immersed in the black abyss. The impeccably sleek appearance, reflecting every corner of the room, contradicts what we know the dirty, greasy lubricant to be. I withhold from disturbing the tranquility, but the serene stillness almost becomes unnerving. Walking out without causing a commotion, a guide informs me that there will undoubtedly be at least one viewer today that will put their hand in.
It’s easy to miss Charlotte Posenenske’s disguised sculptures as you make your way down the penultimate flight of stairs. The robust formations of Square Tubes Series D (2018) blend in so naturally with the fabric of the gallery wall. Posenenske mimics the language of industrial architecture at the same time as subverting it. Her first work in the series Square Tubes was created back in 1967 and 51 years later lies the latest addition to the series.
The last moments are spent looking over the playground of mirrors and distortion. Kids and adults alike run around the sculptures, chains jingle and clang together, and the faint smell of oil tickles my nostrils. It’s apparent that audience interaction is just as relevant as the actual artwork itself. The translucent materials and mirrors formulate the perfect setting for an Instagram post; yet completely fail to capture the experience so integral to this exhibition. In an automated age where people seek tactility and experience, leave the digital world and enter the disorientating dimensions of Space Shifters. Expect to have your world flipped, resist the urge to touch the art, and disbelieve your eyes.
Shift demonstrated to be just as prevailing and prominent as Space. The illusory experience shifted my perception; my sense of certainty most definitely shifted; and my concept of time shifted, as I not only lost track of time within the exhibition, but also struggled to discern the older works from the new.