Copper sulphate powder was mixed with boiling water to make 75,000 litres of highly saturated solution. The solution was pumped into the sealed-off flat until each room was filled right up to the ceiling. After a month of cooling down, the liquid was siphoned off to reveal a startling transformation. Hidden from the human eye and without any human intervention, an extraordinary sculpture had formed.
A growth of blue crystals had colonised every surface of the bedsit. With the exception of the crystallised bath, no sign of human habitation was visible. The transformation of the interior into a beautiful, alien world was total.
Entering the bedsit through an adjacent empty dwelling, in small groups, visitors became immersed in a mesmerising and claustrophobic cave - the crystals were sharp-edged and pointed menacingly towards the visitor.
Seizure exerted a strong magnetic pull on nearby communities and visitors from much further afield. Initially open for a three-month period in the autumn of 2008, Seizure re-opened the following year when Southwark Council’s plans to demolish the block and redevelop the site were delayed.
The presumption had always been that the demolition of the site would mean the demise of the sculpture. Hiorns eventually decided to remove Seizure in its totality from its South London site and relocate it elsewhere. The sculpture was moved to Yorkshire Sculpture Park where, as part of the Arts Council Collection, it can now be visited inside a specially designed new structure.
The title of the work work refers both to the aggressive colonising of the site by the crystals and the sense of an arrested project. Seizure was Hiorns's first major project within an urban setting and marked a significant shift in scale and context from his earlier work. It earned Hiorns a nomination for the Turner Prize in 2009.
Image: A corner of the Roger Hiorns's Seizure at 151 – 189 Harper Road (2008). Photograph: Marcus J Leith
In January 2010, two years after opening, Seizure closed its doors to the public. The block of late-modernist flats in London's Elephant & Castle was scheduled for demolition and so, by January 2011, just weeks before deconstruction of the estate would begin, Hiorns made the decision to preserve the cobalt-encrusted council flat.
By February of that year, following an extraordinary logistical extraction of the sculpture in its entirety, Seizure was aquired by the Arts Council Collection. Thanks to a gift by the artist, Artangel and the Jerwood Charitable Foundation through the Art Fund, and with the support of The Henry Moore Foundation, the piece was subsequently transported to Yorkshire Sculpture Park (subject to a ten-year loan agreement). Since June 2013, the sculpture has been installed at the park in a purpose-built, award-winning concrete structure, designed by Adam Khan Architects.
Seizure has been temporarily closed during the Covid-19 outbreak.
Seizure is open at weekends and daily during bank and school holidays (based on Wakefield term times which can be found on Wakefield Council's website).
In this film, commisioned for the Artangel website, Roger Hiorns explains the extraordinary process of creating Seizure; from location scouting to alchemy to the expectation of first opening the drained and sealed space. Alongside concept and process, Hiorns also talks about his Turner Prize nomination that he received for Seizure in 2009.
Image: Detail of a wall in the bedsit showing the extent of sulphate crystal growth (2008). Photograph: Rory Lindsay
How did you arrive at the idea of working with crystallisation?
It’s a bit like a childhood memory, I can see parts of it more than the whole. A while ago, maybe 10 years, I needed a material to achieve a certain kind of detached activity, and on a basic level an act of transformation, a material which was going to simply transform another material. I felt a system of nature like crystallisation would do.
What kind of control did you want over this transformation?
I was very interested in the idea that the artwork would exist aesthetically without my hand, and in not being present for most of the making. I would put together some kind of basic structure which would then grow into something else, the unanticipated other.
So working with crystallisation seemed to solve the problem of style, of the position of style being a static moment. Once people accept it, then it tends to stay with you rather than with anyone else, it builds a cave around you.
The object is made by the reaction that happens over time, these materials are introduced to each other, that was interesting to me, instead of processes like welding, sawing and, importantly, hammering … I like the idea of sculpture as slow object-making.
A slow process gives you the chance to stand back?
I am completely objective about my own artwork, I can stand outside of it, against the world, and work out whether it should exist or not. That’s why I use materials which enable me to become detached, materials which are their own thing, have their own genetic structure. Rather like copper sulphate is described as autogenetic, my work is also autogenetic, it tries to make some sense of my psychological position.
Image: The interior of the bedsit showing the extent of crystal growth, Roger Hiorns, Seizure (2008). Photograph: Nick Cobbing
On a first visit in August 2008, some weeks before the work is left to its own occulted and alchemical devices, the site of Roger Hiorns’s Seizure looks already as though it encloses a secret of sorts. A modest cloister of late-Modernist design, the flat complex on Harper Road is half-hidden behind a bruise-purple hoarding, its upper storey flaking as if unused to the sunlight, the whole rising to no more than tree height among buildings of more ambitious upward thrust and implacable, unreadable aspect. The block of flats directly across the road has its entrances turned away from the traffic; scaffolding fronts the hundred or so dwellings that loom over the site on the other side. It seems decidedly interstitial: a human-scale development insinuated, almost as an afterthought, among the starker experiments in social housing. The complex turns in upon itself, sheltering its (now departed) community against the chaos of the city.
It is not only because of its late abandonment, or the knowledge of its forthcoming demolition, that once seen from inside the fence the structure seems to open up, to disarticulate into its skeletal components of concrete, glass and steel. Rather, one has the sense immediately of a place in process, not so much derelict (despite the boarded doors and windows, the plaques of rust and spalled concrete) as half-built and heading towards an as yet uncertain future. A kind of reverse archaeology is under way. Over on the left, at the busiest point, certain strata of the building have been stripped away and already replaced with alien materials, such as the metal mesh that will support the crystals. The interior is being mined for a secret that does not yet exist.
This essay was also published in the book Roger Hiorns: Seizure.
Image: The encrusted bath in the bedsit: a legible sign of previous human habitation in the bedsit, Roger Hiorn, Seizure (2008). Photograph: Marcus Leith
There has been work going on. Standing on the access balcony of the small block of habitation units on Harper Road, one can look across the grass and the tarmac path towards the large habitation unit called Symington House. Symington House is a tower block, and it is under scaffold. It was completed in 1958, and now, in 2008, it is undergoing renovation. The scaffolding structure partly obscures the façade of the building, its white-painted concrete and windows obstructed by the scaffold’s spindly greyish lines and wooden decking, installed at each floor level. But a clear view of the building is hindered by the sheets of blue plastic netting hung from level to level to prevent debris falling to the ground. This blue sheeting hangs like a veil, a screen of cold colour that turns the light-welcoming windows of Symington House into dark, blank squares, dimly glinting, impenetrable.
There is no work going on now. The access decks of the scaffold are not empty, however. There are objects on these decks, but these are not the tools or equipment that would be used for the business of renovation. These are domestic objects; a child’s bicycle, a bedside chest of drawers, an ironing board, some exercise equipment. They punctuate the decks at irregular intervals, in little clusters outside one or other of the apartments in the block. They are moments of surplus activity, excesses emanating from the body of the building, currently wrapped in its lattice of grey scaffold and its skin of perforated blue plastic…
This essay was also published in the book Roger Hiorns: Seizure.
Image: Copper sulphate crystal detail, Roger Hiorn, Seizure (2008). Photograph: Nick Cobbing
In January 2010, Seizure closed its doors to the public. Once Hiorns made the decision to preserve the sculpture in its entirety, an extraordinary logistical plan got underway: weighing more than 31 tonnes, the work was successfully extracted from the property in February 2011 by some meticulous planning, hydraulic jacks, a crane and a low loader.
By February of that year, Seizure had been aquired by the Arts Council Collection, thanks to a gift by the artist, Artangel and the Jerwood Charitable Foundation through the Art Fund, and with the support of The Henry Moore Foundation. The piece was subsequently transported to Yorkshire Sculpture Park and installed at the park in a purpose-built, award-winning concrete structure, designed by Adam Khan Architects.
Image: The flat that houses Seizure is pushed out of the building block by hydraulic jacks. Photograph: Stephen White
… destined to be remembered as one of the truly worthwhile and significant moments of modern British art… — Jonathan Jones, The Guardian
… today [Hiorns and his assistants] are beginning to siphon out the 90,000 litres of bright blue, super-saturated copper-sulphate solution (enough to fill a large swimming pool) that for two-and-a-half weeks has been cooling in a metal tank lining the entire volume of one of the ground-floor bedsits. When all the liquid is emptied and the metal tank cut away, there should be a thick growth of copper sulphate crystals covering the walls, floor and ceiling, but at this stage even Hiorns isn’t entirely sure what, if anything, will be revealed. — Helen Sumpter, Time Out, 4 September 2008
I could have plummeted thousands of fathoms beneath the sea into Neptune's grotto, or sauntered into a nightclub with clusters of crystals forming wonky glitter balls. Alice tumbling down the rabbit-hole into Wonderland could hardly have felt more bemused or beguiled. — Alastair Sooke, The Daily Telegraph, 3 September 2008
[Seizure] is destined to be remembered as one of the truly worthwhile and significant moments of modern British art … The result is a mineral cavern inside a bereft flat, as if the inhabitant had magically created this beauty by force of will and dream. It invites you to make up a story about how this transformation occurred, to picture some strange life of tragedy and transcendence. — Jonathan Jones, The Guardian, 29 October 2008
Water oozes down the walls like a toxic sweat and gathers in the cracks of the uneven floor in dirty little puddles. Nestled in a crystalline nook, the bath tub – a solitary remnant of past human occupation – is jagged with sharp excrescences. Seizure feels claustrophobic and disturbingly unsafe: the wellie-and-glove-equipped visitors are trapped in noxious caves. It looks as if nature, on a furious whim, had fought back the excruciating boredom of regimented societies. — Coline Milliard, Art Monthly, October 2008
You imagine what it might be like to be trapped in there, the doorway grown over. You might somehow be slowly pulped by the advancing crystalline needles, until you were no more than an impurity at the heart of some massive rock formation. In the meantime, this small concrete, brick and plaster-board dwelling has become a bejewelled cave. And it is not actively frightening. The crystals cannot grow in air. You have time to get out. — Hugh Pearman, The Sunday Times, 9 November 2008 (behind paywall)
The installation drew more than 25,000 people to a soon-to-be-demolished housing complex near London Bridge. Only four people could enter the apartment at one time, so visitors stood in line for hours in a concrete courtyard as they waited to pull on rubber boots and see the crystalline cavern. — Bethany Halford, Chemical & Engineering News, 5 January 2009
Out of print.
… the facets, fissures and unexpected, almost vegetal, protuberances of the crystal surface appear to expose the space to its outside; the crystalline perplex becomes part of the architecture of the flat complex and its environs, causing the planes and surfaces of concrete and brick to flex and fracture and rearrange themselves into novel attitudes and estranging patterns. — Brian Dillon, Fissures (an essay)
This book comprises essays by Brian Dillon, JJ Charlesworth, Tom Morton and a conversation between James Lingwood and Roger Hiorns, alonside photography and extensive research and archival material.
Roger Hiorns has developed a singular body of work over the past decade. He introduces unusual materials to found objects and urban situations to create surprising new forms. Born in Birmingham in 1975 and now based in London, Hiorns has exhibited extensively in museums and galleries in Europe including at: Art Now at Tate Britain, London (2003), UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2003), Milton Keynes Gallery, Milton Keynes (2006), Glittering Ground, Camden Arts Centre, London (2007), as part of the British Art Show 6 (2005), Destroy Athens 1st Athens Biennial, Athens (2007) and A Life Of Their Own, Lismore Castle Arts, Co Waterford, Ireland, (2008). Hiorns was shortlisted for the 2009 Turner Prize.
Images: (above) Roger Hiorns in 2008. Photograph: Gautier Deblonde. (Left) Roger Hiorns inside Seizure in 2008. Photograph: Nick Cobbing.
Who made this possible?
Commissioned by Artangel and the Jerwood Charitable Foundation, supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, in association with Channel 4. The work was selected through the Jerwood/Artangel Open, a new commissioning initiative for the arts, which was launched in the summer of 2006 in association with Channel 4 and Arts Council England.