Art and sculpture exploring perception and space at the Hayward Gallery.
Written by Craig Berry
Designer & Writer
The new, large-scale exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London brings together sculptures and installations which explore perception and space. Space Shifters features over 20 artists, the work on show spans a period of roughly 50 years and includes innovative, minimalist sculpture made in and around Los Angeles during the 1960s. This was a period when several artists began to experiment with unconventional materials and processes. The exhibition also includes recent works that extend the legacy of this ‘optical’ minimalism in different ways whilst also featuring a number of new bespoke commissions that have been made in response to the architecture of the Hayward Gallery in the iconic Southbank Centre Complex.
Many of the artworks in this exhibition are made using transparent and translucent materials such as glass and resins, while others use reflective materials such as stainless steel, polished metals, and liquids. Many of these artworks enable us to see our environment in new, unexpected, and surprising ways; they are capable of being looked through as well as at. They direct attention to the space around them and re-orientate our perceptions of our surroundings. They also engage with looking with our whole body, requiring some non-passive interaction; as you move around the artworks, you take in different angles and perspectives through a perceptual experience.
The exhibition is quite vast, with multiple artworks requiring interaction and attention. It is also a well-curated mixture of ‘big-name’ sculpture artists as well as lesser-known artists. Here I selected 3 artworks from artists I knew prior and 3 artworks from artists I was unaware of before visiting this exhibition.
Jeppe Hein (b. 1974, Denmark) is an artist whose interactive sculptures and installations combine humour and intrigue with traditions of minimalism and conceptual art. To Hein, “mirrors are a tool for communication and dialogue,” and as such many of his artworks utilise mirrors and interactivity to explore how social spaces are conceived. This piece, 360 Illusion III°, is made from two large mirrored panels at right angles to each other, rotating 360 degrees. Whether seated or standing, you can see yourself and others in a double reflection prompting Hein to ask, “Are you outside or inside the work? You don’t really know”.
Anish Kapoor (b. 1954, India) is well-known for his perception-altering sculptures and artworks that are both adventures in form and feats of engineering, maneuvering between different scales, across numerous series of work. He says, “I’ve always been very concerned with the idea that sculpture, the object, is highly manipulative, that what it does is align the body.” During the 1990s, Kapoor became interested in the idea of the invisible or non-object, which sits between a thing and an image; his non-objects evade scrutiny even as they invite it. His Non-Object (Door) warps and distorts the space around it, as you approach for a better look, the distortion is amplified much like a comedy mirror at a circus but in a more formal setting of the gallery.
When speaking of artists who use reflections, it would be hard not to mention Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929, Japan) who, for years, has worked with mirrors to create illusions and a sense of infinite space. Her piece Narcissus Garden is an installation of hundreds of stainless steel reflective spheres, each reflecting the gallery space at a different angle. This piece of work was first staged in 1966 at the Venice Biennale, where she sold the balls (at this time made from plastic) for $2 each with a sign stating “Your Narcissism for Sale.” This piece has been recreated numerous times since then, both indoors and outdoors, with each iteration creating the impression of a “shimmering, liquid landscape.”
Monika Sosnowska (b. 1972, Poland) creates work which explores the psychological impact of architectural spaces as she is interested in the way that architecture can influence behaviour and help shape society. Her Handrail is both an artwork and a functional part of the gallery space in which it is displayed. Starting at the bottom of a staircase, it begins, wound up around the existing rail, later becoming more regular until it reaches the top, turns the corner and takes off up the wall into a swooping form. Sosnowska’s Handrail subverts the existing architectural logic of the original staircase, a common trait in her work.
Alicja Kwade (b. 1979, Poland) is another Polish artist who explores form and space. Her sculptures, installations, objects, and films attempt to give material form to abstract philosophical questions and scientific principles. Questioning the relationship between reality and illusion. This large-scale piece WeltenLinie or world line, is one big confusing illusion. Made from frames, mirrors, and matching objects, as you move around and through the piece, objects appear, disappear or appear twice but in different material transformations. She says, “I hope that it is more like a feeling or an experience than a solid sculpture. Phantasm rather than an object.
One of the last pieces in the exhibition and one of the more ‘solid’ artworks is Square Tubes Series D by Charlotte Posenenske (b. 1930 Germany/d. 1985, Germany). At first glance this looks like part of the fabric of the building, a series of ventilation pipes which upon looking harder lead nowhere. This is a series of artworks where the modular sections of ventilation pipe are configured by the staff of the exhibiting gallery therefore are site-specific and always unique. Speaking of the piece in 1968 she said “the things I make are variable, as simple as possible, reproductible. Rearranging into new combinations or positions that alter the space.”
Overall with this exhibition I liked the curation of artists and the pieces which I mentioned here although it felt like there was a few filler pieces; albeit still exploring space and perception.
The exhibition also features artwork by Josiah McElheny, Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, Fred Eversley, John McCracken, Fred Sandback, Helen Pashgian, Larry Bell, Robert Irwin, Roni Horn, De Wain Valentine, Leonor Antunes, Ann Veronica Janssens, Felix Gonzalez-Torres and the most popular by far, Richard Wilson and his 20:50 installation.
Whilst visiting there was a specific queue for Wilson’s installation, essentially a space flooded with used engine oil with a narrow passageway, originally conceived in 1987. The thick, black oil creates a strange reflection of the space in which it is installed, combined with the strong smell creates an interesting experience with a message that is as potent as its odour. “20:50 brings us into contact with the stuff of life, the fuel which powers the modern lifestyle.” I have previously seen this artwork in 2013 at the Saatchi Gallery in London in a much bigger and impressive space.
Richard Wilson at Space Shifters talking about 20:50