21 September 2010
Never has murky subterranean London been so refreshing; never somewhere so dark so illuminating. The contemporary art on display in the winding tunnels of ShoreditchTown Hall’s basement is as diverse in both execution and quality as one might expect from any group show in Shoreditch, but it is the attitude of this whole operation that makes the experience far more agreeable, and memorable than the others.
In general, the only time I see queues for art exhibitions are for RoyalAcademy retrospectives of the ludicrously famous or BritishMuseum blockbusters, and the demographic of the queue is certainly not art-curious twenty-somethings, nor the in-queue entertainment cans of beer, a cobwebbed Miss Havisham and a contact juggler. Curiosity and intrigue are underused crowd pullers.
Upon descending into the depths, adjusting your eyes to the low light, stooping under the low ceilings and navigating the winding network of dark passages, you find a mish-mash of contemporary art, grouped loosely into zones which focusses on London’s underbelly. The five works which drew my eye fell into the four following categories: madness; war; sewers; death – hardly the key words of London’s tourist board.
Although I said it was dark down there, it was a peculiar kind of dark, as much of the artwork was based around illumination in various forms and so it became the light source for viewing the non-light based work. The illumination provided by these different works, and the torches carried by the spectators created a gallery viewing experience that shifted between the controlled and the chaotic. The curators had kept some work in the dark, some closer to the light, and scattered torches around. Sometimes you would happen upon a work invisible from further away, sometimes the beam of a torch would dance over a work, never quite illuminating it all at once.
|Visitor caught in the mesh of Laura Luck's installation "Woven" Photo: Amelia Fairman|
In the case of Suzan Swale’s ‘Being Sane in Insane Places’ the light itself, the neon letters which shone out the title of this work, was the medium. The interactivity of the exhibition was again demonstrated by the straight-jacket hung a metre away from this work, there for spectators to try on, just visible in the reflected icy blue light of Swale’s installation. Swale’s work illuminated the all too readily concealed problem of mental health, while Laura Luck’s ‘Woven’ also lights up the shadows. Giant cobwebs bathed in UV light fill a small room containing documents pertaining to the Official Secrets Act. In my opinion, these props actually take away from the work, which as a light based installation, a space so barely filled by these cobwebs, yet so difficult to navigate, is a multi-sensory experience for those who choose to lose themselves in this room.
Lucy Sparrow’s textile work on the daily reality of the Second World War for children ‘The Things We Found in the Aftermath’ is as adorable as it is thought provoking. It does run a slight risk of becoming quirky home deco, but Cath Kidson would never have the guts to sew googly eyes onto a felt grenade.
|"Animacules" by Genetic Moo http://www.geneticmoo.com|
Other little fellows attracting attention were Genetic Moo’s ‘Animacules – the drop of water’ in the sewer section. Based on a Dutch scientist’s mid 19th century ideas of what he could see in Thames water under the microscope, these digital creatures made of the artist collective’s body parts are found in a computer generated well. Your torchlight on the surface of the well feeds these animalcules and they grow and rise to the surface, persistent attention with your torch can keep your favourite alive. A marriage of technology and history, this piece would feel like a museum interactive if it wasn’t for the use of some more intimate body parts in the creatures’ construction.
Finally, I would like to mention the particularly interesting technique used by Jo Taylor in ‘Terminal’ from her Body Snatcher series. These smoke-a-graph body prints in light boxes give an all too eerie sensation of seeing a buried body in a glass coffin. One in particular, in which a baby’s hand is pressed against the glass, and the pattern of the mother’s fish-net tights is perfectly picked out, is utterly macabre, yet visually beautiful.
The unpretentious mixture of fine art with performance and, dare I say it, fun, made this a distinctly unusual, yet illuminating art experience.
This event was "Illumini present Secret Subterranean" in Shoreditch Town Hall Basement between 9-15th September
Illumini's next event will be Crypt-mas at St Pancras Church Crypt Gallery