Brian Dillon, 2008
Tanks. Photograph by Nick Cobbing
(Page 2 of 3)
In this sense, Harper Road is the ideal site for Hiorns’s intervention: a structure whose place in architectural and urban history is tenuous, even negligible, thus tangential to the simple opposition of materials and forms that the gesture of the work might at first suggest. By contrast, the location the artist first canvassed for crystallisation – part of the Smithsons’ Robin Hood Gardens in Poplar, East London, a building recently denied listing by English Heritage – might well have bruited too loudly the juxtaposition of crystal and concrete, the decay of a ‘failed’ building and the sci-fi strangeness of the invading substance. And yet, Seizure (with all the violent connotations of that title) cannot but call to mind the fate of the more monstrous avatars of Harper Road: buildings now widely deprecated and in danger of demolition. Among the work’s effects is to conjure a dreamscape of British Brutalism cracked and faulted, a once-gleaming future reduced to a grey vista of mineral rubble.
The physical process that is both part of Seizure and of its pre-history also risks a kind of destruction: the violence of a very visible failure, the possibility that nothing will happen beyond the slow settling of an inert sludge. This danger is of course part of the work itself. The equipment arrayed in advance of the chemical inundation of the flat at Harper Road – a complication of tanks, pipes, funnels and other conduits for mixing and transporting the copper sulphate solution – surrounds what is essentially a black box: the empty and unknowable centre of activity in which the work is ‘made’. Here, in the dark, the work composes itself. The artist, having painstakingly contrived the moment of truth (if we can risk a phrase that conjures the magician or charlatan), retreats and allows the ‘autogenic’ action to unfold.
At this point, a number of time-lines converge, clash and diverge again in unpredictable directions. The artist’s labour, physical and psychological, comes to an abrupt halt while he is left to imagine the slow growth of the object; the history of the building and its type is weirdly compacted to a single, occluded, point in space; the chemical reaction itself begins (or so one hopes) and something unprecedented and only partly planned occurs. There is a kind of shuttling here, in advance of the revelation of the interior, between the immediate future and a reminder of deep geological time. The flat complex becomes a time machine, driven by a hidden crystal energy. At the same time, precisely at the moment the space is sealed, it begins to leak metaphors and meanings that the artist, immured in the process, had perhaps hoped to seal away out of sight.
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