Archive for November, 2008

Copper Sulphate house

Psycho Buildings exhibitionSomehow art and houses just seem to go together now. There was Rachel Whiteread’s inverted housespace sculptures, the recent Psycho Buildings exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, and then there was Seizure, the Copper Sulphate house in Elephant and Castle.

Roger Hiorns’ crystal house is probably the maddest of them all, a entire council flat flooded with copper sulphate solution, which is left to crystalise before being drained. It’s a very weird experience, a bit like entering Narnia through the wardrobe. First you wander down from Elephant and Castle, home to the most un-shopping centery shopping centre, along the New Kent Road, whose council blocks now appear to be little more than facades for this year’s incarnation of futuristic local authority bruto-chic, until you find the most boarded up two storey horseshoe shaped set of flats you can. You then stand there for an hour waiting for your turn to try on a set of some old geezer’s gumboots, before joining another queue to actually get into the flat. If you didn’t know better you’d think that there was some kind of secret stalinist indoctrination going on, an artistic linkage of the queuing process and the rotten environment you’re locked into.

Very, very blueFinally you go in and it’s a complete transformation. You enter the flat, turn left and the grime and festeridge of the estate is obliviated by walls of massive, compellingly blue copper sulphate crystals. It’s like someone has been pebbledashing with some poor child’s science project, but on an industrial scale. The walls aren’t just covered in the crystals, they’re caked in them, like a ship’s hull that’s been overwhelmed with barnacles. And they’re everywhere. And they’re all blue. As gobsmackingly blue as the diva in The Fifth Element.

It’s like a twisted Santa’s Grotto, all sparkley and gem-like and bloody cold too the day I went to see it. You stumble around in what could either be Blue Santa’s elves’ urine or more likely undrained copper sulphate runoff (hence the gumboots), while indiscriminate shapes of other visitors fade in and out of view. And you find yourself gazing into individual hunks of fist sized crystal mummuring ‘mmmm, my precious’ over an over like a demented Gollum. The overall effect is a bit like being entombed in one of Joseph Beuys’ huge felt installations, where all sound and sensation have been damped out of existance. Standing inside a Beuys installation was the nearest thing to being down a mine, said Arthur Scargill in possibly his only genuinely coherent moment. Standing here is even closer, because unlike a wall-full of felt, it actually looks like you could mine something here.

People drifting in and out

It’s the sort of thing that makes you wonder why there isn’t more of this stuff, or indeed, why they’re demolishing this at the end of the month. It’s the exact opposite of Whiteread’s internal spaces, which solidified the spaces inside a building, but prevented you from entering them. This concretises the surroundings (or more accurately, copper sulphatises them), allowing you to move around, but at the same time shows you a barren, poisonous, thoroughly alien landscape within that forces your mind to think about the nature of the space. Awesome.