Goldsmiths Curatorial Critique

Roger Hiorns’ Seizure

Posted in Reviews by bridgetdonlon on October 13, 2008

Approaching Roger Hiorns’ current Artangel commission Seizure is like turning over a rock found in the woods. There is a sense of dread of what one might find: There could be a cluster of festering maggots, there could be nothing, or there could be something spectacular.

The council flat where Seizure is located has all windows and doors boarded up, but one on each side of a u-shaped cement courtyard.  A room on one side holds Wellington boots which visitors are instructed to wear as well as exhibition brochures for this and other Artangel projects. Putting on the boots adds to the sense of exploration: you are suiting up to enter another zone.

Straight ahead from the entrance there is a room with peeling wallpaper leftover from a different era. It evokes a ghostly feeling and would seem intrusive to go forward into this space. To the right is a niche and then another threshold emitting a blue glow. The result of finally entering Seizure is not only a feeling of relief (there are no maggots), but transcendence. The room is covered in crystals and feels like walking into a cave in some fantastic, prehistoric place.

The walls, ceiling, decorative molding, all lighting fixtures, and a bathtub in an area that was once a bathroom are covered with brilliant blue crystals. The room is lit with a few dim bare bulbs.  The ground is slightly springy, and feels like walking on moss. Large depressions in the floor give evidence to where work boots or equipment were during the production of the piece. There are a couple of areas of partial crystal growth on the floor where copper sulphate may have leaked or pooled. This is an alternative landscape, which feels at the same time subterranean, lunar and otherworldly.

The materials that Roger Hiorns uses in his work are often industrial and duplicitous. Here, copper sulphate begins as liquid then solidifies as brilliant blue crystals. Seizure is borne out of a Dadaist practice in which the artist sets up a system of rules and materials and the resultant work of art is left up to chance. This pseudo-scientific undertaking does not aim to solve a problem, but to experiment and stimulate.

Seizure is certainly a spectacular sight, but its conceptual premise is to draw attention to or memorialize something banal and marginalized. There are parallels here to Rachel Whiteread’s House and Catherine Yass’ High Wire (a concurrent Artangel commission). All of these works employ existing post-war low-income housing as a central element of the artwork. They are like impressionist paintings of the everyday — Manet’s Le Bar aux Folies-Bergère for example – where art re-presents something so commonplace it has become visual white noise. The apartment utilized in Seizure is small and ordinary, but has been transformed into the extraordinary.


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