(Above) Yayoi Kusama, Dots Obsession (2009). Mixed installation, © Yayoi Kusama. Picture: Roger Wooldridge, courtesy Hayward Gallery
Exhibition: Walking in my Mind Exhibition, The Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, London, until September 6 2009
If the brain really is the new frontier in science, then the mind is most definitely the final frontier for the visual arts. The latest summer exhibition at the Hayward Gallery explores this concept like no other. All-encompassing installations, drawings and sculptures captivate, entrance and even intimidate visitors to provide tangible glimpses of the artist's mind.
Of the 10 international artists presented, five are showing new work. Some are familiar to the London art scene while others, such as Yayoi Kusama, are recognised outside of the UK but rarely granted large exhibitions within London. The works vary enormously in shape and form, analogous to the boundless nature of the mind.
Turner Prize winner Keith Tyson's Studio Wall Drawings open the exhibition with an ongoing series of random subjects and styles. Akin to cave paintings, they record his thought process, adding a pale sculpture of a young boy on tiptoes to the 1997 piece, nose plastered to the drawings, immersed in the visible representation of artistic thoughts.
Yayoi Kusama, Dots Obsession (2009). Mixed installation, © Yayoi Kusama. Picture: Roger Wooldridge, courtesy Hayward Gallery
Within the same gallery is Yoshimoto Nara's My Drawing Room (bedroom included) in a recreation of the artist's studio with reclaimed materials. A miniature house covered in cute cartoon figures displays the artist's process, with torn drawings covering the floor and inspirations layering the shelves. However, the intriguing house restricts viewers from entering, reminding visitors of the barriers to experiencing an artist's mind.
Charles Avery's work, based on his epic project The Islanders, uses drawings, paint and sculpture in an encyclopaedic and almost archaeological manner, detailing the strange habits and inhabitants of a fictional island. A black spike encased in glass represents a preserved tourist hat from the island and rogue taxidermic creatures stare at visitors.
(Above) YNG (Nara, Yoshitomo + graf): My Drawing Room (2008). Bedroom (inside detail). Mixed media. Picture: Roger Wooldridge, courtesy Hayward Gallery.
Split between two levels, his work continues on one of the Hayward's Sculpture Terraces, where an Eternity Chamber sits with the door ajar. Inside, viewers glimpse mirrored walls and colourful geometric patterns on the floors and ceilings which Avery calls "geometric landscapes" to provide an illusion of infinity. Avery's detailed documentation is simply a splinter of the imaginary world created in the artist's mind.
Thomas Hirschhorn's installation provides visitors with a much more physical experience of the artist's brain. Viewers are immersed in a series of caves, corresponding to the four major lobes of the cerebral cortex, covered in packaging tape and other commonly found materials.
Comparing the mind to a cave, where thoughts are hidden and stored, Hirschhorn forces visitors to climb into rooms covered in books, photocopied texts, empty aluminium cans and haunting aluminium silhouettes of people. The experience is simultaneously captivating and disorienting, allowing visitors to wonder at what a cave representation of their own brain would look like.
Jason Rhoades, an artist whose career was cut short by his death from an accidental overdose, presents the mind in terms of levels of consciousness. Everyday images, basic representations of desire and video games embodying the Inner Child comprise Rhoades' The Creation Myth.
Experienced after Hirschhorn's, his work feels strangely comforting, with childlike references and warm illuminated paint buckets throughout the room.
Pippolotti Rist: Extremitäten (weich, weich) [Extremities (smooth, smooth)] (1999 / 2009). Audio-video installation; projectors, scanners with mirrors, audio system, seating element, curtains. Picture: Roger Wooldridge, courtesy Hayward Gallery
Bo Christian Larsson follows Rhoades' deconstructed brain, a first major UK exhibition for the Swedish artist. The sculptures exist in their own right, but were initially created by seven characters which form the artist’s self-portrait and different components of the mind.
Characters include The Worldhater, a sad character whose attempts to create cheerful sculptures never work; The Shadow, a character who feels stuck between worlds and attempts to attract attention (with loud chain boots) to no avail; Mr. Empire, a protective bodybuilder; The Redeemer, a calm, religious female figure; The Poet, The Pentaman and Larsson himself as a wigged character named Sonuvabitch. The sculptures lay as eerie and dark installations climbing the staircase, but are actually remnants of a performance.
Another artist new to the London exhibition circuit is Dutch Mark Manders. He describes self-portraits as "the most fundamental thing to make as a human," and his works are more like frozen experiences. Manders' works provide insight into the connections he forms between words and objects in his mind. There's a jumping fox, sculpted of bronze that appears to be made of wet clay, with a mouse strapped to the fox's belly by a belt.
Keith Tyson: Studio Wall Drawing: Jan 2009 – Locked Out Of Eden – Viewing the Children Playing in the Garden from the Safety of my Cerebral Fortress (detail shot) (2009). Mixed media on watercolour paper (21 frames); sculpture; sound. Picture: Roger Wooldridge, courtesy Hayward Gallery
Manders playfully puts the mouse, which should be inside the stomach of the fox, and the belt, which should be around a human waist, together to form an association of otherwise random objects. Also exhibited in the room is an ode to Mander’s works focused on the number five. The self-described neurotic obsession with the number is one that tested the limits of the artist’s own mind.
Neurotic obsessions are pursued in full force with Yayoi Kusama's installations of red polka dots. The Dots Obsession installation leads visitors towards a hallucinatory experience which simulates the artist’s own obsessive hallucinations with dots since childhood.
The hypnotic installation features large amorphous shapes which float in a mirrored room covered in red and white dots. The dots overrun the outside terrace with patterned sculptures that appear to slither in the grass and even extend to the Southbank walkways where passers by are greeted with Ascension of Polkadots on the Trees featuring rows of red and white dotted trees.
The final works in the exhibition, one specially-commissioned from Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota and the other by Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist, mesmerise. Shiota's work features intricately-webbed cats cradle-esque black threads dispersed throughout a room. Evoking the brain’s web of dendrites, the work is at once comforting and intimidating.
Rist ends with a dark video installation, giving the sensation of floating between dreaming and waking consciousness. The calming installation completely overwhelms the senses and traditional order of the mind.
The Hayward's exhibition is certainly an experiential adventure into the artist's imagination. Ranging from the meditative to the disconcerting, the installations manage to continually envelope viewers in the artist's mind. Where else will you be offered such an interesting opportunity to explore someone's mind this summer?
Open 10am-6pm (10pm Fridays). Admission £6-£9, book online or call 08703 800 400 for tickets.