Review | Space Shifters at the Hayward Gallery

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Richard Wilson’s 20:50, 1987.

An unmitigated treat if you love conceptual art installations and sculptures, SPACE SHIFTERS features twenty artists exploring our perception of space and ‘optical’ minimalism.

Spanning a period of roughly fifty years, the works are broadly grouped into two categories: those that play with perception using reflective materials, ranging from stainless steel to engine oil; and those constructed of translucent materials, such as glass and polyester resins. Both techniques allow us to see ourselves and our environment in new and unexpected ways.

Anish Kapoor’s Non-Object (Door) (2008) reminds you of the hall of funny mirrors at a fairground, except more classily crafted. This glossy, rectangular structure (with a finish instantly recognisable in his other works, such as Chicago’s Cloud Gate) plays with vanishing points and shape distortion. During the early 1990s, Kapoor became interested in the idea of the ‘invisible’ or ‘non-object’, and the reflective surfaces of his sculptures warp and distort the space around them.

Non-Object (Door) feeds our endless fascination with mirrors and the way we see ourselves, but although handsome looking doesn’t feel like anything we haven’t seen before.

It is cleverly placed; as you exit the exhibition, observing it from the stairs you can see further perspectives: the straight lines of the floor tiles reflecting as soft ripples, as well as the beautiful play of light across the tiled gallery floor.

I confess to being more impressed with Jeppe Hein’s 360˚ Illusion V (2018), which offers multiple, wider perspectives of its surroundings with gentle movement for complexity, adding a meditative dimension.

Hein has attached two large mirrored panels at right-angles to one another in a turbine-like structure, and set them at one rotation every two minutes. As well as reflecting the surrounding environment, each mirror also reflects the other. We see ourselves and other visitors suspended within the double reflection, which turns us upside down as it slowly rotates.

For Hein, mirrors are social spaces. ‘You meet other people when you enter the mirror pieces…You open up.’

Relax on a bean bag in front of the installation to make the most of the social space.

One of the smartest and most engaging exhibits is Polish artist Alicja Kwade’s Weltenlinie (2017) (‘World line’), which plays with both reflection and translucence to cause a very real sense of dis-orientation.

This clever construction of carefully placed double-sided mirrors and natural objects in a steel framed structure addresses the relationship between reality and illusion. ‘World line’ is a phrase from theoretical physics that refers to the path an object makes through both space and time, and this structure gamely invites you to be that object. Moving through the structure you realise nothing is quite what it seems, and your perspective in relation to the objects changes. You have to concentrate not to crash into a mirror (no wonder they have staff patrolling this one) and the more you try to concentrate on where you’re walking and what’s real, the more dis-orientated you feel.

Worldline is one of the most experiential exhibits on offer, along with Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s latest chain-link curtain installation (2018), created in response to the architecture of the Hayward Gallery itself. The ovoid curtains create a kind of portal between indoors and outdoors, between public and private space, inviting you to move through the work to appreciate it, rather than just looking at it.

I noticed people walking through it without much thought, but if you spend a little longer in contemplation (it’s also a relief to be able to play with an exhibit without getting into trouble) it’s quite soothing to play with the long silver hair and listen to the mesmeric sound of the jangling chain. It’s a playful exhibit that might be fun in a park; it made me feel like a kid again, or a lover of large executive toys.

Equally fun, for the vain among us, is Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden (1966-2018), the exhibit that’s run for so long all over the world it just keeps on giving. Hundreds of stainless steel balls create a molten, silver landscape that the viewer can walk amongst, enjoying their own reflection and that of their surroundings. The work illustrates Kusama’s theme of ‘infinity, self-obliteration, and compulsive repetition in objects and forms’ in a light-hearted and intriguing way.

Also showcased are a selection of resin-based sculptures that ask you to interact with them in a more introverted, intellectual manner than some of the more playful exhibits; Roni Horn’s Untitled looks like an inviting purple paddling pool but is an attractive sculpture showcasing the shape-shifting properties of glass.

The exhibit that has drawn the most attention is Richard Wilson’s 20:50 (1987), confirmed by the hour-long wait to experience the installation.

Wilson has filled a room with used engine oil (and you can you smell it too), but left a narrow passageway through the centre. The thick black substance looks eerily still and sleek, mirroring the space above and around it and giving the viewer the impression of being suspended within a duplicated, and seemingly infinite, environment. Wilson’s idea was to unsettle perceptions and ‘generate a whole new way of understanding your place in the world.’

The second from last exhibit, you can have a quick view of it from behind the crowd-control rope if you don’t have the desire to wait.

Space Shifters is well worth a visit if you enjoy physically engaging with works of art, and are captured by the theme of reflection, mirrors, and perception of space.

Words by Susan McCann.

Shape Shifters is available to visit at the Hayward Gallery until January 6th. For more information, please visit the Hayward Gallery.


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