Space Shifters at Hayward Gallery

27th November 2018

Space Shifters emulates the optical illusion of seeing through a looking glass. Almost experiencing the gallery through a lens, Space Shifters features a number of sculptures and installations that reflect and refract, mirror and shimmer, tantalising our visual senses by inviting us to become a part of each work.

This new exhibition at Southbank Centre's Hayward Gallery is perception-teasing to say the least. With 20 artists participating in the show whose works and practice span over a period of 50 years (from 1966 to 2018), one would expect to see a jam-packed show. While the exhibition feels a little empty at times, with several pieces merely leaning against the walls or displayed in the centre of a room, some may argue that that is exactly the point.

Jeppe Hein’s 360° Illusion V, 2018. Photograph: Mark Blower

Spread across both floors of the building, the translucent and reflective surfaces of many of the works juxtapose greatly with the gallery’s harsh Brutalist interior; as the smell of engine oil and the use of solid and synthetic materials such as steel, bronze, glass and resin complement Hayward’s industrial feel.  

Upon entering the exhibition, one comes face-to-face with a distorted version of themselves as Anish Kapoor’s Non-Object (Door) manipulates and warps everything that comes across it.

The mirror theme is continued through Jeppe Hein’s 360° Illusion III; an interactive installation that rotates two large, right-angled, mirrored panels that feed into one another’s displays as they capture their surrounding environment as well as everyone present in the lower galleries.

Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden, 1966. Photograph: Mark Blower

Similar to Hein, Josiah McElhemy’s kinetic sculptures, Interactions of the Abstract Body, swallow and encompass everything in sight as trained dancers move through the galleries in a carefully calibrated and choreographed fashion. These works reclaim the gallery as a public and social space and invite the visitors to be present both inside and outside each work.

Space Shifters is guaranteed to set your curiosity alight as sculptural installations such as Alicja Kwade’s WeltenLinie and Fred Eversley’s Untitled (Parabolic Lens) take inspiration fromphilosophical questions and scientific principles that address the relationship between reality and illusion; light and movement; the intangible and the kinetic.

Viscous, velvety and unctuous … Richard Wilson’s 20:50, 1987. Photograph: Mark Blower

Other highlights include Richard Wilson’s discomforting and thought-provoking 20:50 installation that floods an entire room with engine oil, while De Wain Valentine’s Gray Column and Ann Veronica Janssens’ Magic Mirrors (Pink #2 & Blue) are both serene and striking perceptual experiments.  

Despite featuring innovative works that challenge the legacy of ‘optical’ minimalism, Space Shifters’ curation felt a little uninspired and disjointed at times, with shapes appearing and disappearing but only momentarily shifting through space. Perhaps, some of these works would be even more awe-inducing in outdoor spaces such as Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden that is intended to give-off the impression of an infinite liquid landscape.

Anish Kapoor’s Sky Mirror, Blue, 2016. Photograph: Mark Blower

Anish Kapoor’s Sky Mirror, which is the only sculpture displayed outside on one of Hayward’s roofs, sublimely captures the sky’s deep blues and moving clouds and proves how powerful such sculptural works can be in different landscaped settings.

And while, many of these sculptures and installations are brilliant stand-alone pieces, it becomes harder to understand the purpose behind exhibiting all of these pieces together as you enter the upper galleries. With the lower galleries exploring reflection and light through mirrored surfaces, the upper galleries lose focus and explore an array of themes that don’t quite tie as well together like the lower galleries do.  

Space Shifters is, however, yet another inspiring exhibition that is guaranteed to enlighten and ignite the senses through its optical and illusory twists and turns. Make sure to give it a visit; you’ll begin to reconsider the capabilities of light and space in playful ways.   

Words by Dominic Lauren
Space Shifters runs until 6 January 2019 at London's Southbank Centre

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