Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Alien abduction! True story! (or Let them eat art)

Despite a lot of snobbery of various aspects of life in London, visual art does not seem to be one of them. What is exists - admittedly not as much as New York - is available to all. And galleries seem genuinely pleased to have the populi circulating through their veins. I went to some sort of celeb-studded opening the other night. Just phoned up and asked whether I had to r.s.v.p. I was told, quite unusually, that it was open to the public. So while celebs who seemed very familiar but that I didn't really recognize milled about surrounded by long-legged gazelles, I puttered around, looking at the art and wishing I had worn better shoes.

Then yesterday I dropped by the Hayward Gallery. This is a different concept: art that is actually fun, in a creepy Close Encounters meets conceptual art meets downtown clubbing meets futurism meets medieval torture kind of way. As you approach, you see these ominous figures watching you from nearby buildings:

although in fact they have been mistaken for would-be jumpers. First off as you enter, you join a queue. That's right, you queue for art just like attractions at Disney World. I know it sounds bad, but it turns out to be essential to the art. Because as you wait, you watch people entering this gaseous box:

Entering, disappearing, only to reappear as ghostly apparitions:

Then you go in yourself. You've imagined what it is going to be like. A bit like the smoke machine at a club you think. Not quite. It's intensely bright and entirely blinding. I can't see beyond arm's reach. And oh by the way, I can't breathe. I take a few steps in and lose all sense of orientation and space. It's not panic that I feel, but rational fear. Fortunately I can walk in a straight line (a skill that has come in handy more than once) so I somehow make it to a wall and exit, quickly, quietly. No fun house this one, though fascinating. Then I make my way up and join the next queue. Again I wish I could complain, but the queue is part of it. From the outside you see a sieve like box:
And through the little holes you see this:

What you're actually seeing is through to the other wall. The inside is a bit like an alien space ship with metal rods protruding creating a 3d space (or is it a maze?)

Finally, on your way out you pass a gallery that is truly beautiful torture chamber:The guard stopped me from taking more pictures, but imagine the outline of a human body in wire mesh which in turn is surrounded by a superstructure of a wire lattice. Are they being tortured? To me it looked somewhere between the dynamism of a futurist art work and the stasis of sleep. Paradoxical, but there it is.

Is it art supposed to be fun? No harm if it is I say. Not to say that all fun events that take place inside galleries are necessarily art (e.g., some of the sillier installations in the Tate's Turbine Hall). But is there a danger of art veering off into entertainment? Undoubtedly, but it's a fine line that one must not be afraid occasionally to walk.


Lola Is Beauty said...

I did something very funny and very embarrassing at the hayward gallery about three years ago and have not been back since in case they recognise me...I'll tell you away from the interweb.

Bombay Beauty said...

Will call you asap to find out about this indiscretion?! Just as soon as I'm back from Italy! BB

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