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Hidden Spaces

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  • Hidden Spaces
    A collection of work which draws to the surface forms of art sited in hidden spaces.
  • This Collection follows on from the activity on Central Station throughout April 2010, during which we explored the many ways in which spaces, not normally evident on the surface of the city, are explored in contemporary creative practice.

    Hidden Spaces, what are they? - real, imagined, impermanent, unbuilt, cut-off from the public, demolished, spiritually significant, filmic, politically sublimated and fraught with tension.

    Hidden Spaces, what do they mean and how do they affect us? - each person carries with them their own sense of home, tied to their sense of belonging, their past and their wished-of future. From this conception of home we construct the world around us - places we feel safe in, drawn to, wary of, excluded from and intrigued by. Our idea of these places might change as we grow familiar with them, as personal and emotional associations fluctuate, as our bodies move through space and as others enter or leave that space - constructing spaces of migration, dislocation, settlement and even bereavement, each with conceptually structured layers of surface, accessibility and invisibility overlaying the physical construct of our environment.

    With such a subjectively-framed starting point, not only do personal interpretations of hidden spaces vary, but these variations are carried into the cultural and professional production of spaces, so an architect's perception of Hidden Space might be very different from a public artist's, an anarchist's or a film location scout's, and each of these professionals will in turn come to influence how we navigate the space around us.

    From this broad and permeable conception of space we've drawn a few more concrete examples of well-known artists working with hidden spaces, and the conceptual logic built up around them (in part further obscuring these spaces from view) to form a collection of Hidden Spaces in three different contexts - in the labyrinthine form often taken by immersive installations, in artworks which reflect the urban construct through an interplay with Modern architecture and the forms of interior-exterior space this style championed, and in the domestic sphere, where hidden space becomes most intimate, and is often at its most fragile.
  • Hidden Space: The Labyrinth in Art

  • The labyrinth, used in art to highlight the complexity of the modern city and the mental life of its inhabitants is explored through quotes and installations.
  • The Labyrinth draws us in, and held at its impenetrable core is the Minotaur, precious specimen, held as in wonder by the artist's hand. This classical myth has lost none of its intriguing potency in the modern world, and the form of the labyrinth itself has become a lodestone for many artists in referencing the complexity of the modern city and the mental life of its inhabitants.

    With every available space within these artworks crammed with grids, narrow passageways, stairways to inaccessible heights or depths, and crawl spaces that choke off freedom and mobility as much as they figuratively choke the mind of oxygen, the labyrinth in art, as a reflection of the contemporary city, has become a summary expression of existential, paranoic constriction. Yet they also allow for the lone protagonist, the artist, the chance of escape. The city's margins become the space of febrile creation, for the audience, a space tinged with malice through which we look to the artist as guide.

    "Minos contrived to hide this specimen in a maze,
A labyrinth built by Daedalus, an artist
Famous in building, who could set in stone
Confusion and conflict, and deceive the eye
With devious aisles and passages…"- Ovid, The Metamorphoses
  • Christoph Buechel presents Simply Botiful at Art|Basel, 2007
  • "All things would be visibly connected if one could discover at a single glance and in its totality the tracings of an Ariadne's thread leading thought into its own labyrinth."- Georges Bataille
  • Mike Nelson and the Labyrinth
  • "To all appearances, the artist acts like a mediumistic being who, from the labyrinth beyond time and space, seeks his way out to a clearing."- Marcel Duchamp
  • "…into what labyrinth, what multiplicity of heterogeneous places, one must enter in order to track down the cryptic motivation…"- Jacques Derrida
  • Monika Sosnowska, istanbul Biennial 2003
  • "I know of one Greek labyrinth which is a single straight line. Along that line so many philosophers have lost themselves that a mere detective might well do so, too."- Jorge Luis Borges, Death and the Compass
  • Monika Sosnowska and Venice
  • Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities proposed multiple, mysterious reimaginings of the city of Venice, part dream, part memoir, related by Marco Polo to Kublai Khan. The 55 poetic narratives suggest Venice, from the lapping water on the foundations of palazzi to the narrow lanes and city skyline, each time reinvented to follow a new principle of human existence, and in their fluid reinterpretations of the laws of physics and the limits of architecture in accommodating the haptic body, they form an alternative framing of the formation of spaces and how they function - linguistically, aesthetically, sonically and physically.

    The novel's undulating location is reflected in this work by Sosnowska for the 2007 Venice Biennale.
  • Gregor Schneider and Haus u r [top]
  • In his family home, the place where he lives, Gregor Schneider has been creating a labyrinth around himself since 1985. Schneider's more recent work again draws on this urge to build nightmarish labyrinthine artificial worlds, in 2004's Die Familie Schneider for Artangel, London he created two mirrored family homes expanding on his themes of confrontation and repression within the banal; the uncanny in the homely. But it is to his original Haus u r that the artist returns.
  • "He had edified a crypt within him: an artifact, an artificial unconscious in the Self, an interior enclave, partitions, hidden passages, zigzags, occult and difficult traffic, two closed doors, an internal labyrinth endlessly echoing, a singular discourse crossing so many languages and yet somewhere inside all that noise, a deathly silence, a blackout. He will die with or through the crypt within him."
    - Jacques Derrida
  • The urban and interior labyrinth in film, used to mirror the mental complexity of navigating contemporary urban life - from Dassine's Night and the City (1950) and Tati's Playtime (1968) to Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982) and Sletaune's Naboer (2005)
  • Gregor Schneider, Haus u r, Unterheydener Straße 12, Rheydt
    Photo: Arcturus. Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Modern Urban: The Legacy of Julius Schulman
  • Contemporary artists whose work engages with the city in a way which owes obvious debt to Julius Shulman's photographs of Modern architecture in inverting interior and exterior, architectural site and non-place.
  • Gregor Schneider's view [Hidden Spaces: Labyrinth] of the hidden space of the modern urban interior explored in Labyrinth is, at first glance, as far removed from the architectural photography of Julius Shulman as is conceivable.
  • Yet the iconic interiors of Desert Modern homes and the families that inhabit them - idealised and alone above the lights of Los Angeles - on second sight appear fractured by the glass plane, a private space on the edge of the city becomes both precarious and sanctified, an iconic abyss, a strangely staged relic of family life - "This is a group of people having a good time".
  • In the archive of his work, photos of Frank Lloyd Wright's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum atrium contrast with Googie gasoline stations. High and low architecture merge to create a sense of spaces between city structures, the chink in the armour of the urban landscape is the non-place, defined by Marc Augé, refined by Fredric Jameson and photographed by Shulman.

    Shulman has made a career of photographing the hidden spaces which which have furnished our contemporary ideas of the postmodern city - epitomised by Los Angeles' homes - spaces of fiction and Deleuzian cinematographic unreality. The James Bond pad of John Lautner's Malin Residence (the Chemosphere) and Oscar Neimeyer's Brazilia, made famous by Shulman's lens, have formed the basis for much new art, leading to radical new ways of engaging with the city. Dan Graham's archetypally postmodern pavilions owe obvious debt to the modern models of architecture in inverting interior and exterior, architectural site and non-place.
  • Dan Graham
  • A mirror trend throughout the last century has been the embrace of the vernacular and suburban in art, and an attempt to integrate this world within the modern is evident in culture from Buster Keaton to Gordon Matta-Clark, both of whom play the architecturally 'low' exterior off the conceptual 'interior', extruding meaning and preverting reality. It's in the work of Alex Hartley and Richard Wilson that these strands of twentieth-century modern urbanism combine, pointing to new ways to interpret hidden spaces within the contemporary urban landscape.
  • Buster Keaton
  • Gordon Matta-Clark - Conical Intersect
  • Alex Hartley
  • Richard Wilson at Liverpool Biennial 2008, and an interview with the artist here.
  • Dan Graham, Star of David Pavilion, 1999
    The Lola Beer Ebner Sculpture Garden, Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
    Photo: Yair Talmor. Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Domestic Monument: The Hidden Space of Remembrance
  • Exploring absence in the work of Gordon Matta-Clark, Rebecca Horn and Doris Salcedo; revealing the hidden void attached to domestic spaces.
  • Walter Benjamin described the process of remembering as akin to entering a white space. Resisting this void, the visitor in the white space must hold on to their own, involuntary, sensory memories of experience. Remembrance is a space through which what is felt is the principle guide.

    The installation works of artists such as Rebecca Horn and Doris Salcedo - works occurring in the overlooked or hidden places within our cities - suggest a place of remembrance; places still very much within society, rather than isolated or fossilised within the touristic, 'souvenir' view. The objects used within these installations are from the everyday environment - shoes, beds, cloth, furniture - in this way, they insist upon the actuality of experience which has, over time, become inscribed in their material. These are the materials of destructive conflicts; of daily life and societal struggle, of homes lost and lives lived. These installations speak of place as a void, remembered as an evocation of human absence.

    Doris Salcedo discusses the importance of memory in her work.

    The exploration of absence in Doris Salcedo's work holds shifting associations of the home and the mortuary, enshrouded in skin, hair and concrete, furniture which falters, impermanent and fallible like memory.

    Doris Salcedo's Atrabiliarios.

    The niches in Atrabiliarios point for comparison to the tradition of public mourning evidenced in Barcelona's 19th-century New Cemetery on Monjuic. Glass-fronted commemorative niches cut into the seaward hillside suggest both remembrance and the void of death, an aesthetic recurrent in Rebecca Horn's El Lucero Herido on Barcelona's beachfront. Four homelike structures, equal parts rust and glass, are stacked atop one another in a precarious monument to absence, home and rebellion. These 'huts' recall the properties destroyed in the gentrification of Barcelona's port prior to the 1992 Olympics, but appear as much a disavowal of the notion of home as much as a commemoration to one. This unstable place is an erased city, an exile's lament, aesthetic and urban rebirth in one.

    Sculptures such as this become, in time, more than reminders of a displaced past, they relate their own destruction as diminishing monuments. This will be true of Horn's urban cenotaph just as it is of Salcedo's perishable, corporeal installations.
  • Rebecca Horn, El Rio De La Luna
  • Horn's installation El Rio De La Luna, also 1992, also in Barcelona, used the beds of the Hotel Peninsular to magnify this sense of corporeal absence within the hidden, private spaces of the city. Seven rooms of the hotel were completely altered through surprisingly minimal interventions. in one room, Room of Earth, a pair of shoes stand neglected next to an empty bed which has been cut from shoulder to hip and appears buried in the wall. Beds maintain human proportions even in our absence, yet excavating the wall could not retrieve the hidden body, an entombment suggested in her title. Experiencing these ill-suited, abandoned domestic spaces echoes El Lissitzky's statement on immersive art - art which, by its nature, deals in hidden spaces - "Space is not there for the eye only: it is not a picture; one wants to live in it ... we reject space as a painted coffin for our living bodies".
  • Gordon Matta-Clark, Splitting, 1974
  • In Gordon Matta-Clarks cut-out and split houses as in Horn's cells, inhabited by uncanny, threatening machines, the negation of domestic space frames a gesture of violence, burial and excavation reiterated in Salcedo's wall cavaties and piled-up chairs and entombed furniture; revealing the experiential absence, the hidden void, attached to domestic spaces.
  • Other contemporary artists whose work explores notions of memory bound up in domestic space, and the phychological impact of the home on the individual within it, include: Do Ho Suh, Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Mona Hatoum, Cornelia Parker, Takahiro Iwasaki, Rachel Whiteread, Leslie Hakim-Dowek and Wendy Jacob.
  • Doris Salcedo, Untitled 1998
    Photo: Casimiro Eilden. Source: Wikimedia Commons