“Almost all of the artworks in Space Shifters have been created with the idea of the active viewer in mind,” says the Hayward Gallery’s senior curator, Dr Cliff Lauson on the subject of the gallery’s latest exhibition. “Of course, all art is intended to be viewed, but these works engage the space around them – and so get the viewer to move around them”. In his introductory essay to the exhibition catalogue, Lauson expands on this principle, proposing a “shift in emphasis toward the viewer’s experience of an artwork in conjunction with, or even instead of, the art object itself”; which is particularly true of architectural and/or sculptural works, where the presence, and scale, of the audience impacts the very nature of the work, and you might say, “activates” it.
The exhibition takes in works from the last 50 years, by 20 international artists whose practice – however varied in terms of context, aesthetic or period – is linked by its ability to disrupt the viewer’s sense of space, and the nature of the work as something to be intuited, rather than fully perceived. Exhibiting artists include Felix Gonzales-Torres, Robert Irwin, Ann Veronica Janssens, Anish Kapoor, Yayoi Kusama and Richard Wilson; with works made predominately in reflective or translucent materials, abstracting the Hayward’s interior architecture and placing the viewer in a sort-of mirror maze. “Most of the artworks are minimalist in nature – they use a very limited ‘palette’ of materials, often polymer plastics, metal, mirror, and glass. These are used in such a way that they articulate the spaces around them, thereby having a kind of maximal effect. The whole space becomes a part of the artwork” Dr Cliff Lauson tells It’s Nice That.
“In Space Shifters, the building is not only a backdrop for the positioning of works, but there’s also a kind of dance that happens between art and architecture throughout the show. The Hayward Gallery was built in 1968 and is a stunning example of the brutalist style of architecture. It was the first purpose-built post-war public art gallery for contemporary art in London, and has 5 uniquely shaped galleries. On the inside, the materials used in construction – concrete, brass, stone – are very visible; it’s a kind of large-scale sculpture itself.”
The idea that architecture can become sculpture – and sculpture, architecture – ties back in to the exhibition’s unifying principle of relying on perception over actuality, on people engaging with the work in the space. The sense that the work is “charged” by the ghosts or presence of spectators fits with both the collective curatorial intention and the individual works; “The works are set up to generate perceptual encounters or experiences, and so they anticipate a viewer or viewers” Dr Cliff Lauson says. “Many of the artists in Space Shifters would only consider the artwork to be complete once it has a viewer in front of it. The work is about literal space and architecture – it triangulates a relationship between the viewer, object and space” he continues. “So unlike artworks in other media which are representations of reality or create illusionistic spaces, these artworks are a part of our physical reality. There’s no need for a suspension of disbelief – there’s no picture frame – which makes their effects all the more striking”.
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