Tuesday, July 03, 2012

More than meets the eye?

So I’ve just emerged from Invisible, the exhibition currently running at the Hayward. The central conceit of it – and it really is less than the sum of its parts – is that the viewer has a central role in ‘seeing’ art. So, if there’s a title and a space or a canvas, framed and hung on the wall, the viewer fills in the blanks. Of course, more is happening than that – though at times it’s hard to see exactly what. Warhol’s empty plinth is just that, an empty plinth.

But artist Song Dong’s photographs of his diary written in water on stone is remarkably effective and affecting in an albeit obvious sort of a way. The sense of insubstantiality conveyed is more moving than you expect it to be as you stand there nodding and saying to yourself (though the temptation to say things out loud is quite strong) ‘mmm, that’s clever’. It does touch somewhere quite deep that this is all our lives, events written in water on stone, left to evaporate moments after they are set on stone (but not in it). It had me musing on whether what we do adds up to a hill of beans and how we ensure we leave something beyond an impression of our existence when we’re gone.

And the final sound labyrinth was also surprisingly engaging. In an empty space at the centre of the gallery, you are given a headset that vibrates when you reach a ‘solid’ barrier that you have to walk round. There's a different labyrinth for each day, based on physical labyrinths from elsewhere (such as Chartres cathedral and the hedge maze from the film The Shining). At first you imagine this is what it must be like to be blind. But that patronising thought is soon replaced by a realisation that sound and touch/feel is really important for navigating our way through the world, what we listen out for, what we hear in passing… And as a Christian I found myself pondering what it means to be led by God’s voice and nothing else.

Of course, as an artist friend of mine said about the exhibition, ‘it’s a bit like what you do isn’t it; point to things that aren’t there, describe a God you can’t see and might not exist.’ Interesting thought…

It’s worth checking out. At the Hayward until the beginning of August

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