'our creation is that guru; the duration of our lives is that guru; our trials, illnesses and calamaties is that guru. There is a guru that is nearby and a guru that is beyond the beyond. I humbly make my offering to the guru, the beautiful remover of ignorance, the enlightenment principle that is within me and surrounds me at all times.'
Guru Stotram

Friday, 28 November 2008

Rik Mayall came in to the gallery this week to see the exhibition by Zoe Sinclair and Andrea Blood, aka The Girls: In Bed with the Girls. "Hilarious", "very rich" and, rather idiosyncratically I thought "horny", is how he described the work. He went on to describe himself as a "sad bastard". I'm not sure why. He's shorter and fatter than Lord Flashheart. Maybe that's why. The funniest part was that Yvette, who hails from more exotic shores than these, didn't know who he was and was consequently quite perplexed by my "woof woof" pelvic thrust actions behind his back.

So, just a reminder that this week is your last chance to see In Bed with the Girls, the exhibition that appeared at number two, after Francis Bacon at Tate Britain, in the 'Architects Journal' list of top five things to do this week. If you're lucky you might even get a glimpse of the man for whom the pants have not yet been invented that could take on the job!

The Londonist described the Girls work; "surreal staged 'self-portraits' featuring a variety of contents - the artists as Prince William and Harry, looking like a French and Saunders piss-take; the comic 'Friday (Mermaid)' of a gluttonous sea creature stuffing fish and chips in the bath, flicking her tail; the disturbing Barbara Cartland with powder pink hair and dress, the face caked with mask-like white make-up. Many of the photographs play on female stereotypes - the cartoon sex symbol Smurfette is represented by the artist, her body covered in blue paint with the addition of exaggerated conical breast... it reveals a different kind of reality behind sex-symbols, the other lives and shapes of females...The result is sometimes attractive, sometimes disturbing and sometimes humorous."

By happy coincidence, last week was the 50th anniversary of those bizarre little blue creatures the Smurfs! And (by way of seamless link) it's also your last chance to see something else blue: Roger Hiorns Seizure at 151-189 Harper Road, SE1. Seizure is the latest commission from Artangel and it follows their ground-breaking tradition of transforming facets of the urban landscape into large-scale immersive works of art.

In terms of art making this is the future.

But interestingly, and crucially in my view, it's also not the future, as the housing estate that it's parasitical to is set to be demolished by the end of this year. And with it Hiorns crystallisation Seizure. Seizure involves the transformation of No 159 of this block of now defunct low-rise 1960s Brutalist flats, into a self-contained Klein blue crystal maze.

In a nutshell, this is how Seizure was created: initially the whole flat was made completely water tight through reinforcement by a steel exo-skeleton. Then holes were punched in the ceiling to the flat above, through which was poured more than 70,000 litres of super saturated copper sulphate solution at a temperature of 60 degrees centigrade. It was then left for two and a half weeks until the solution had cooled to around 30 degrees. Then the remaining liquid was drained off to reveal the crystallisation that had taken place over absolutely every exposed surface of the flat, resulting in an Aladdin's cave, a surreal bejewelled grotto of glorious cobalt blue, in the middle of a housing estate on the outskirts of the Elephant and Castle.

The creative process is ingenious. The visual effect is delicious. But what is really overwhelming is the context - the absolute integration of the art work with the site, and beyond that the juxtapositioning of what is traditionally thought of as the elite world of high art, with what is in effect a social housing failure and the home of a plethora of social problems arguably exacerbated by the failure, in this particular instance, of one facet of the self same elitist world of high art - architecture.

There's a powerful element of the abject going on here. There's something profoundly problematic about the adjacency of these two apparent extremes. On the other hand just to notice the discomfiture is discomforting in itself. Are they really so polemical? It seems offensive to suggest that they are and preposterous to suggest that they aren't. We went at 6.30pm, just before it was scheduled to close at 7. As we waited in line to go into the crystal council house the security people, employed presumably by Artangel, were putting 10ft high barricades up across the front of the horseshoe shaped block of flats, presumably to prevent local 'miscreants' from entering the precious site over night. This made me feel really uncomfortable. The implication was that what was now in residence in flat 159 was more valuable than what had previously been in residence there and more precious indeed those still in residence around it. That may well be as much my own subjective inference as any sort of implicit truth, but even so, that's interesting in itself.

When some element of an art work makes you feel uncomfortable, it is doing so because it is placing itself on a fault-line, be that an archetypal fault-line, a societal fault-line or even just an individual fault-line. Whichever, it is never the less raising important questions as to what exactly it is that is creating the discomfort. As such it's an opportunity for expanding self-knowledge and growing both intellectually and emotionally.

Roger Hiorns is putting it out there but the viewer has to do the work themselves in order to make any sense or true value of the work. Seizure is very apparently not about a precious object in a museum. It's about real life. The rubbing up of one of life's boxes against another, until the safe and comfortable lines of demarcation dissolve, leaving us with a confusion that invites us to start again with the business of making sense of the world we live in. You can't ask for much more than that from a piece of art work.

On a practical note be aware that you have to wear wellies to go into the council house as the floor is also made of crystals, or by now the liquid mush that remains after thousands of people have trampled on copper sulphate crystals. Artangel will supply you with some perfectly good wellies gratis, but if you're in any way uncomfortable about the juxtapositioning of your own fragrant tootsies with that which may once have housed the potentially smelly and unwashed, then take your own. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that I wasn't too keen on that idea. It's uncomfortable, but it's true.

"Beverley Knowles Fine Art in Notting Hill is a small and beautifully formed space dedicated to providing a platform for contemporary British female artists."
The Londonist

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