Saturday, 5 July 2008

Guerrilla art

Last weekend I visited the Hayward Gallery on London's Southbank to see its latest offering; Psycho Buildings. The exhibition explores the complexities of architecture through the work of contemporary artists.

One of the installations is by the well practised guerrilla artists; Gelitin. For those not familiar with the concept, guerrilla art in a nutshell is unexpected art in unexpected places. Also know as street art, it is often unauthorised and often gives a new perspective on a place, event or collective feeling.

Gelitin is an Austrian artists' collective and their work at the Hayward (rather formally called 'Normally, Proceeding and Unrestricted With Without Title') is actually a playful attempt to change the architecture of the Hayward itself. The artists actually flooded one of the outdoor galleries with 90cm of water to create a boating lake - I can think of more than a few museum building managers who would have a coronary just thinking about this! Visitors can launch off from a pontoon and paddle around in boats all made by the artists from scrap - an old chair leg here, a curtain pole there...

Other artworks by Gelitin have included The B-Thing (an improvised and highly illegal balcony on the 91st floor of the World Trade Centre) and Rabbit (a giant rabbit sculpture in the Italian landscape).

Phycho Buildings probes our relationship with architecture and this was especially evident with the artworks that visitors can interact with. Being able to become part of the artwork seemed to bring a whole new richness to the experience.

My only criticism of the exhibition is its interpretation. The gallery provides visitors with a hard to navigate leaflet (which even had a whole in the middle for no apparent reason - am I missing something?) filled with art jargon; incomprehensible to the non art buff. Why is this complex shroud of words needed - why can't it just be plain English? The concepts were perfectly easy to grasp once you had navigated your way through the jungle of their words - why make it harder than it needs to be. The leaflet certainly wouldn't win a Crystal Mark for plain English!

On our way home from the Gallery we stumbled across some more guerrilla art. An group of artists making a giant sculpture of a sleeping dragon and some furniture in the sand of one of the beaches on the Thames. Again, the viewing public were invited to participate by lounging on the sand couch or even picking up a trowel and helping mould the sculpture.

Other subsections of the guerrilla movement include guerrilla gardening (illicit cultivation, often in the dead of night on neglected corners of our isle - see the Parliament Garden) and guerrilla marketing (check out the Smart car vending machine, Amnesty International's portable cell and Ikea's cardboard apartment).

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