10 January 2010

Before the end of the year I visited the Turner Prize show at Tate Britain. One of the short-list artists, that fell to the golden Richard Wright, was Roger Hiorns who was nominated for his amazing off-site installation called Seizure. There was no photography allowed at the Tate but I was able to get some shots of  ”Seizure” which was installed in an abandoned 1970’s council building at Elephant & Castle.

While waiting on this line I had vague notions of what was inside the building, which is that Mr. Hiorns crystallized the space with copper sulphate.  Additionally I was given these instructions, and an interview which I am including excerpts from below.

“Take great care when entering and leaving. There is a step. Walk slowly and carefully throughout. The floor is very uneven. Mind your head. Surfaces are sharp, and many crystals hang down. You may touch the walls but please dont break or damage the crystals. Do not attempt to climb or sit on the surfaces.”

Installation Site

Standing outside the viewer is presented with the emotional aspects of this abandoned building. There is the expectation that it’s desolate, empty, and has been an eventual failure as a structure, socially and constructively. It is now a by-product that is unquestionably uninhabitable and has yet to be worth the cost of demolishing.

Upon entering the stark low-rise, I stepped into a coveted jewel box, a crystal-encrusted flat, something that appealed to my childhood anticipations of discovering hidden spaces. I haven’t seen copper sulphate used as a material since I was in science class trying to grow rock gardens (oh yeah- and Tokujin Yoshioka’s Venus Chair- interesting to look at alongside Hiorns), but nothing remotely challenges the scale which Hiorns presented here. It was psychologically and visually heavy. The manner that it addresses the architecture is that of a secretive moss, or heavy dust covering, but in an apocalyptic, violent sense, almost to the degree that volcanic lava might cover a landscape and leave vague reminders of a historical form. This covering was actually still growing, while the building adversely was in a state of decay.


Bath coated in Copper Sulphate Crystals

James Lingwood, Co-Director of Artangel, conducted an interview with Roger Hiorns for the text titled The Impregnation of an Object, July 2008:

JL: What led you to the kind of architecture which would host the project? The space we found is quite specific and there is the idea of working in a small part of a larger whole, where the living spaces were replicated, all the same size with all the same configurations.”

RH: I have a deep interest in Brutalist architecture and the best example of that is the Robin Hood Estate designed by Alison and Peter Smithson in Poplar in East London. That was the place I was initially thinking about.

JL: What is it about the Robin Hood Estate?

RH: It was the first of its kind in London and one of the most extreme. These buildings were about containing large groups of people who were all living in the same kinds of places and being encouraged to think the same kinds of thoughts. There was the idea of a collective, the dream of growing together for the greater good, and I suppose I have always been very distrustful of the collective, it’s like my attitude to religion. These kinds of buildings don’t work, as a model they have not passed the test of time.”

“JL: These kinds of buildings began to deteriorate quite quickly. By the 1970’s they were already in bad shape.”

RH: They’re still somehow rather beautiful, they seem to carry the stain of life, to take in everything they were experiencing. I am always interested in this material called experience and what that would be. The grinding of an engine is an experience. The collective nature of the place is a kind of experience, an amalgam of memories.”

Details of Main Space(L) and Entry(R)

Ceiling Detail


“RH: I am completely objective about my own artwork, I can stand outside of it and work out whether it should exist or not. That’s why I use materials which enable me to be detached, materials which are their own thing, have their own genetic structure. Rather like copper sulphate is as auto-genetic, my work is also auto-genetic, it tries to make some sense of my psychological position and then basically makes itself.

JL: What about the blueness of the crystals-was that something else that attracted you to the material?

RH: The color was always a sidetrack for me, it was never about the beauty, about claiming something to be a beautiful object after it had undergone the crystalizing process. That would just be banal, though banality is not a bad thing always.”

Seizure was commissioned by Artangel and the Jerwood Charitable Foundation, in association with Channel 4 and also by the National Lottery through the Arts Council England.

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