Psycho Buildings: Artists Take on Architecture

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Psycho Buildings: Artists Take On Architecture

Hayward Gallery London May 28 to August 25

There is a show to be made entitled 'Psycho Buildings': it features Gregor Schneider, Monika Sosnowska and other proponents of contagious architectural anxiety, and it is an artier version of the London Dungeon. This isn't it, though. Ralph Rugoff's catch-all phrase for his ten contributing individuals and/or collectives is, rather, both an attention-getting feint (generally, it is 'psycho' as in 'psychological' rather than 'psychotic') and a connoisseurish nod to Martin Kippenberger's 1988 book Psychobuildings. The curator, in his catalogue essay, suggests that the latter's photographed architectural oddities or half-demolished structures--snags in the fabric of urbanism--can 'disrupt our habitual impulse to comprehend and consume the spaces around us with a single glance'. Correspondingly, 'Psycho Buildings'--whose apparently traditionalist aim to be a lathe that sharpens perceptions of reality is countered by its compound mood of unpredictability and assuredness--is an object lesson in the concepts, moods and aspirations that can adhere to built space.

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Ernesto Neto's introductory structure, Life fog frog ... Fog frog, 2008, is exemplary in this respect. The Brazilian artist's trademark Lycra is stretched over a curvy, double-apex, wooden armature, its surface punctured by holes, apertures-cum-orifices. Entering the chamber, with its padded floor, one finds the hosiery-like material distending into three pendulous bags of ground cloves and pepper, dangling from a gently vaulted ceiling. Where are we? Inside an enveloping ersatz body, a distaff church, a capricious sensorium (scenting the aromatic sacks close up, we are moved to apprehend the sculptural through a sense other than the visual). Meanwhile, the structure itself is semi-submerged--a horizontal sheet of Lycra bisects the gallery space like a falsified waterline, Neto's construction poking through a central hole--so that even outside it we feel 'inside'. This is the body learning about embodied contradiction, a condition amplified by Michael Beutler's proximal Sandwiches, Dobbels and Burgers, 2008. On the one hand, it is an anxious space: a mazy installation stuffed with dead ends and purposeless corners, fashioned from mesh panels covered in bright florist's tissue, resolutely uninscribed. At most, it exists to house the materials that made it, since bolts of coloured tissue and extra panels are racked up within. But the purposelessness one senses is also a permission. Here is a space you don't have to do anything in, only travel according to its angles, and look. And the looking--at the polychrome panels illuminated, irregularly and beautifully, by light from outside--is an unfussy pleasure.

Rooms of rooms would quickly pall, however, and other works accordingly keep the viewer out, layering socio-political inference onto notions of environment. Do Ho Suh's Fallen Star 1/5, 2008, is fairly blatantly The Wizard of Oz restyled for an epoch of fractured cultural identity. Reinforcing allegorical dramatisation with a rigorous act of remembering, it is an intricately realised miniaturisation of the Korean artist's traditionalist one-storey childhood home crashing into the New England apartment building he lived in as a student, sending tiny bricks and latticed screen doors cascading to the floor. The apartment house, meanwhile, has been cross-sectioned, allowing views onto the tumult which the invading building has caused in part of it, plus an engrossing if show-offy scaling down of everything from furniture to Life magazines to sports banners. In one of the more obvious but unannounced congruities in the show, this work's violence is recalled when one later surveys an atmospherically hushed and darkened roomful of dolls' houses by Suh's English coeval in rendering architectural memory, Rachel Whiteread. …