As a frequent visitor to exhibitions and galleries, it is always a pleasure to come across art that relates closely to architecture. It is surprisingly common to find architectural connections in artwork, especially in installations and three-dimensional pieces. So in this post, I will be sharing some of my favourite early 2018 artistically-architectural artworks on display in London.
To begin with, Tate Modern has an astonishing collection of exhibitions. Not only the works on display but also the building itself is a masterpiece. Housed within massive gallery spaces called ‘the vaults’ are very architecturally characteristic works.
The Way Earthly Things Are Going by Emeka Ogboh
I call this work ‘the acoustic room that slows time’. On display in one of the vaults at the Blavatnik building in Tate Modern on the ground floor, this installation speaks to the soul. Although it was designed to be shown at a historical venue in Athens, Greece, it works marvellously at Tate Modern. It is composed of ‘a traditional Greek lamentation song is complemented with real-time stock market indexes moving across an LED display’.
The chant is audible from outside the room. It calls the visitor in, it draws people from the hallway into the darkness only lit by the glowing and flowing lights of the stock exchange. The ‘vault’ is a massive concrete space, a grey, grim, lightless room with a couple almost randomly placed columns in the central area. Yet the simple, bare, raw nature of this space compliments the audio-visual experience Ogboh creates, space itself is what magnifies the installation. The song disperses beautifully within the room, it bounces off of the barely visible walls and the silhouettes of the columns. The LED lights floating on the wall create these stunning reflections on the concrete floor and their light traces the edges of the columns. People disappear in the darkness. The experience The Way Earthly Things Are Going provides is not a collective one at all, the atmosphere isolates people, catches them alone and vulnerable in the darkness. The echoes of the chant bounce inside your skull and surrounded by this massive yet dull and empty space, you are drawn to the colourful LED lights. Like moths drawn to light, every single visitor moves closer to the flow of money that lights up the room.
As Ogboh states in his video-interview, your experience of this installation ‘follows you home‘. The combination of architectural factors including use of space, echo, and dim lighting bring an extraordinarily simple yet touching artwork to life.
Labyrinth (My Mother’s Album) by Ilya Kabakov
I’ve always loved going to galleries and museums not only because of my interest in art but also because I find exhibition buildings fascinating on their own. Because of the ever-changing and fairly bare nature of their interiors, museums and galleries have very particular configurations. However, as a frequent exhibition visitor, I sometimes find it hard to navigate inside. When there is no single path to follow to see one artwork after another, I get distracted by my own struggle to make a decision on which piece to see first. Sometimes, I end up moving in the weirdest paths, back and forth, in the gallery space.
I usually question how the galleries should be arranged spatially to recreate the same experience of encountering each artwork. I feel like the order of encounter is quite influential as one artwork can make you understand the next slightly better, or look at it from another perspective. To me, the arrangement of works in a gallery could be akin to a chronological narrative: an interpretative storyline.
Kabakov‘s Labyrinth is exactly that: a physical timeline telling the artist’s life story. The installation is composed of a series of lengthy corridors at ninety degrees to one another decorated like a traditional Soviet apartment. The visitor enters the installation through a dark hallway which functions like a palette cleanser; it transports you to another point in time or into an old movie with glitchy, low-quality resolution. In the corridor, the bottom half of the walls are painted in burgundy whereas the upper half is a greyish oatmeal tone. Frames of photographs and collages accompanied by written accounts of Kabakov’s life. The frames and their contents have a very nostalgic, old and authentic feel to them. Lit up by dim yellow lights, the atmosphere is distinctly nostalgic, it almost feels like visiting your grandparents’ house: welcoming, yet slightly discomforting due to the overbearing feeling of dusty oldness. The corridors are fairly narrow, only allowing one person at a time to pass, which creates a personal experience, a connection with the life of the artist laid out before the visitor. Due to this narrowness, the visitor can view one frame at a time, and the next frame only makes sense when encountered right after the previous one.
Overall, through a series of astute choices regarding architectural properties such as dimensions of space, colours, and lighting, Kabakov formulates an idiosyncratically antiquated and oppressive installation. His success in creating such a distinct atmosphere is noteworthy.
Poem in Lights to be Scattered in the Square Mile by Robert Montgomery
The final piece I want to touch upon is a crafted monument, a piece of urban ‘light poetry’ at Parasol Unit in Shroderitch. The piece is a quite massive slab with a lit-up poem written on it. The poem itself is a reference to its surroundings, that particular district of London.
Although not especially architectural, I think of Montgomery’s light poetry as a modern-age urban monument. A monument is a physical structure, a commemorative piece. Just as historical monuments remind us of mistakes and lessons learned from past occurrences, Poem in Lights is a remembrance of our surroundings today. It urges the viewer to realize the nature that exists within the city, to acknowledge and appreciate it. The poem is a call to reality, a monument that prompts the viewer to fathom the value of the current time and space. It is a reference to today rather than to the past; it is a celebration of the present.