MIRRORCITY offers diverse reflections of London life at Hayward Gallery

By Mark Sheerin | 10 November 2014

Exhibition: MIRRORCITY: London Artists on Fiction and Reality, Hayward Gallery, London, until January 4 2015

Representation of aural static with glitchy band of colour
Susan Hiller, Resounding (2013-14)© Courtesy Hayward Gallery
With big shows devoted to big names (Tracey Emin and Martin Creed) and big ideas (light and then the human form), the curatorial team at Hayward have set the bar high. MIRRORCITY looked set to be another high-powered, high-concept outing, a show about London no less. It sounded promising.

But what we soon learn from MIRRORCITY is that London artists are no longer painting the River Thames; they’re hardly featuring London at all, not in a direct way at any rate. This show barely reflects the ferocity, vibrancy and epic scale of the metropolis. The mirror is set at a very oblique angle.

So what of fiction and reality, the other two themes promised in the show’s billing? Well, you might be hard pushed to find an artwork anywhere which doesn’t deal in fiction and reality. So what we’re left with on the Southbank is a disparate show about 23 artists who just happen to base themselves in this city.

Thanks to Lindsay Seers, it has auspicious beginnings. A screening room has been installed in the hull of a seagoing vessel, with two of the artist’s signature rondo screens. The film, about a schizophrenic submariner and his dance-loving daughter, demonstrates Seers' narrative gifts. Those porthole-like screens offer long vistas.

Another involved and involving screening here is from Laure Prouvost. The French artist has staged a tatty, colourful, cramped grotto where you can watch a film with her grandfather as the ostensible subject matter. But so much is going on in here, you may find it hard to concentrate. The pleasures of association and mental wandering are those most on offer.

Emma McNally is another artist whose head you feel you could climb inside. Her large scale drawings recall naval charts, air traffic displays, cartographic surveys, but they are in fact fictions - ‘mindscapes’, as the notes would have it. The results are epic and sweeping interiors which must take heroic levels of introversion to produce. Visitors can lose themselves here.

There’s also some slippage at work in the iconoclastic work of John Stezaker. The collage artist, who is based in London yet could come from anywhere, has remixed a number of publicity shots from the Golden Age of Hollywood. These are, on the whole, analogue cut and paste operations, although he is also represented by a silkscreen diptych. Stezaker may be the best known artist in the show.

Colour flm still in which a woman poses defiantly in a studio setting
Karen Mirza & Brad Butler, Hold Your Ground (2012), still© Courtesy Hayward Gallery
London does at least appear in one of the two films here from Karen Mirza and Brad Butler. Their seven-minute video contains instructions for peaceful protest, focussing on body language.

Once seen at Canary Wharf, this guide to resistance clearly has resonance for a city with one of the world’s largest banking centres. Yet with footage of Egypt and Northern Ireland, Mirza and Butler are global rather than local artists.

But Susan Hiller casts her net even wider. The subject of her film is outer space, or at least visitors therefrom. As usual, with Hiller’s work, you wonder how credulous she is and how big a pinch of salt one needs to season her work.

On the face of it, the eyewitnesses gathered here are sane enough; it is hard to dispute their narratives of UFO sightings. And the artist ratchets up the spook appeal with copious amounts of aural and visual static.

MIRRORCITY can be enjoyed for what it is, a collection of artists who happen to live in an art world capital. But it may not change the way you view this city, nor the artists who dwell here.

  • Open 11am-7pm (8pm Thursday and Friday, 12pm-6pm Monday, 11am-4pm December 31, closed December 24-26 and January 1). Admission £8-£12. Book online. MirrorCity Events Weekend takes place November 13-16, read our Preview.

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