Thursday, 1 December 2011


Mirror Wall  2010  200 x 356 cm

GESAMTKUNSTWERK: new art from Germany
 Saatchi Gallery

Interactive art gets my vote any day. It’s playful and surprising. In Gallery 7 of the new Saatchi show, when you get close up to what seems like a large plain wall mirror, it trembles, then shakes, then gets so agitated it seems to be battling against whatever constrains it against the wall. You stare at your reflection, which is at first  shimmering, then convulsing into tremors. You look as if you’re in an early movie when people jerked along the street, rather than walked. The floor appears to shake. The head of someone beside you with big hair stretches into an alarming oval.  You think of the funfair at Great Yarmouth with its funky distorting mirrors.  You glance slyly at other viewers. 

The trouble is that there is a limit to the number of times you can be surprised. Last week I went to the Beaconsfield Gallery in Vauxhall to see Svein Flygari Johansen’s work.  When I moved into a space where a pool of Thames water was suspended from the ceiling, I saw the image of a trout swimming with  sinuous beauty. When I stopped, it stopped. A few yards further on, a small square kitchen table started to rattle and shake, triggered by the sound of overhead train traffic to and from Waterloo station. On its surface was a  glass of milk which, despite appearances, never quite makes it to the edge, to fall and smash on the concrete floor.Johansen's work is available until 12 February and the show has an illuminating title: Am I Making Up What Really Happened?  Incidentally the Beaconsfield has a small cafe with delicious home cooked food at a reasonable price, welcoming staff and comfy chairs...

Lucy Gunning
Intermediate II, 2001
© Lucy Gunning
Photo: © Tate
My first interaction was in 2002 at Tate Britain’s ART NOW series when  I came across Lucy Gunning’s installation. It was a room which looked like a simple wooden box or crate which turned out to be a miniature ballet studio, with mirrors on all sides, an exercise barre and a polished wooden dance floor. I stayed inside for about 10 minutes, alone yet  surrounded by an audience of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of life size reflections of myself, each different, each copying my every move.  I was both performer and spectator. I’d never been so aware of my physical existence, now watched by me, an outsider. So I could browse and perhaps feel tender towards this stranger, a woman in a black coat with a small white carrier bag, thick dark hair caught back in a slide.
Then a group of young people came in and started to dance and frolic, which was both jolly and strangely  reassuring.
What each of these works do is find you, the viewer, totally unprepared. Yet they set up a dialogue with you, unasked,  in a public space. At first sight I was reminded of the Minimalist sculptures of the 1960s, yet those pieces knew their place. Now is there a bit of a tussle between who’s in charge: the artist, the viewer, the curator, the gallery/ museum space - or the other people in the room, whom we usually ignore?

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