Shape Shifters is the Hayward Gallery’s “most ambitious exhibition to date,” according to its director. For the 50th anniversary of the brutalist building, Shape Shifters looks back 50 years and explores how 20 artists have explored the idea of perception, space, and how we see each other. Viewer, art and space come together to form a whole optical experience across the gallery – from Anish Kapoor’s sky mirror, ‘Blue,’ a round sculpture that reflects the blue of the sky, which sits outside with the heavy presence of en extra-terrestrial that has just landed on our planet; to Richard Wilson’s ‘20:50,‘ a gloomy void created by filling an entire room with petrol. The exhibition also features some performance, as Josiah McElheny’s wood and mirror sculptures are carried slowly around the room, taking on a mind of their own.
If you have ever been in a gallery and looked at what people take pictures of, you will probably have noticed that the most popular place to snap a picture is in a mirror. One of the first pieces in this exhibition is ‘360 Illusion V‘ by Jeppe Hein. Completing one rotation every two minutes, this giant rotating mirror is angled at three beanbags provided by the gallery. The experience of looking at yourself, through this work, is encouraged, and is one of the main focuses of this exhibition. Many pieces are a lens through which to experience the space in different ways. Fred Eversley’s ‘Untitled‘ (Parabolic lens) is literally a big purple contact lens, made by the former engineer out of resin. If you look through you’ll notice a great bit of curating.
Through this piece, you can see Fred Sandback’s sculpture, a triangle of elastic cord attached to the ceiling and floors. The empty framed space of this slice of the room, next to the density of the parabolic lens, further accentuates the varied ways in which the idea of space has been explored.
A highlight of this exhibition is Richard Wilson’s ‘20:50.’ The smell hits you before you see it, the love-it-or-hate-it smell of petrol. You find yourself in the middle of a room which has been turned into a giant black mirror, filled up to waist-height with oil. It’s something you have to experience, because you probably haven’t seen anything like it before. The smell of petrol is reminiscent of being at a motorway petrol station at 3am; the feeling goes well with what peering into an inky void is like.
Dr Cliff Lauson, the senior curator at Hayward Gallery, remarked that this exhibition would probably “break Instagram.” He’s right for a couple of reasons; firstly, all the art by the artists featured in Shape Shifters is breathtakingly beautiful. Complex methods creating elegant pieces with an incredible visual and emotional weight to them, and no one could resist taking some pictures to document their time there. However, in a culture of images, how we perceive ourselves and the world around us has become distilled through social media and become quite specific. Shape Shifters opens up incredible new ways of seeing, of inhabiting space, to otherworldly standards. It’s an exciting and important look at a kind of art that can often be overlooked, and a perfect way to mark it’s 50th anniversary.
Shape Shifters at the Hayward Gallery opens on the 26th of September and closes on the 6th of January 2019.