Turner Prize Entry: Roger Hiorns

In art|BOOK on November 17, 2009 at 1:17 am

By Julie Scrase

I don’t know that he’s the best, but my vote is with Roger Hiorns and here’s why…

Nietzsche said that the artist does not want to be read but to be learned by heart. Yet that most prosaic act of reading must occur before its more profound counterpart can take place, if indeed it does take place. So I ‘read’ the exhibition. Took in the works of all four artists enthusiastically, inquisitively, critically, contemplatively (God knows what makes for a good ‘reader’?). Then I waited a few days.

Push come to shove, which if any of the artists had I learned by heart? The phrase implies the engagement of the memory faculty pertaining to the intellect, but also of the emotional function commonly assigned to the heart. And without question it was Roger Hiorns whose poetic residue had clung on most stubbornly in the face of Colchester rain, cheap wine, essay induced tears and other corrosive fluids encountered in the daily life of an Essex girl.

Hiorns employs ‘active ingredients’ in his sculpture and installation which continue to play out developments of or conclusions to the works- beyond the influence of the artist himself. He sets a relationship between two elements in motion (generally finding 3rd elements to be superfluous) and as such allows the piece its own creative impulse. Functional objects may become ‘imaginative, poetic or esoteric’. Take, for example, his gully which, rather than receiving water, emitted fire from beneath the Pimlico ground (Vauxhall 2003).

Visitors to Hiorns’ room at the Turner Prize will encounter a beautiful, mysterious landscape. Evoking a post-apocalyptic desert in shades of grey. Its subtle, undulating form quietly emanates pathos. All the more so when we learn that this melancholic mass is an ‘atomized passenger aircraft engine’ -now devoid of any mobilizing power. Once full of the potency of the machine, then subject to that selfsame ferocity (powerful apparatus were used in the atomizing process). Once propelling itself on a high-speed journey, soaring through the sky, now slumbering, inertly spread across the ground.

‘An object that is a projection of our minds; our minds boundary is unlimited in this sense’ – So says Hiorns of the fruits of his labour. These words seem particularly apt in relation to his contributions to the exhibition: the material repertoire here boils down to plastic, steel and brain matter (that other great engine!). Hiorns ain’t joking about projecting the mind into his objects, boundary-less indeed! Literal as this in itself may be, the use of the substance is far-reaching in its potential, abstract allusions- triggering ideas of cognition and control. And that is just the tip of the iceberg regarding what the brain signifies in our culture. I was especially struck by the material juxtaposition of this seemingly timeless, organic and intensely personal substance with stainless steel. Their fusion formed a highly formalist image of repeated pattern suggestive of mechanical and not ‘animal’ activity. In another piece, brain matter and plastic are combined (another striking synthesis of materials) forming objects which this time hint at anatomy: bone or sinew; but are ultimately enigmatic; un-placeable. In a sly nod to the ‘what is (conceptual) art?’ problem, the lofty substance of concept and abstraction – brain matter – is, in this case, the very visceral component.

Hiorn’s has been nominated for his council estate installation, ‘Seizure’. This inner-city alchemist poured 80,000 litres of copper sulphate liquid into an abandoned council flat and watched as brilliant blue crystals automatically cultivated, multiplied relentlessly and eventually completed their dazzling seizure of this property which is now reminiscent of an Ali Baba’s cave in a grimly contemporary setting. Condemned flat, turned breathtaking gem-stone on a colossal scale, Seizure alludes to myth, science, real-estate, social inequality and altered states of consciousness. There is an uncomfortable quality accompanying this bejewelled beauty. Its eternally self-generating nature carries an archetypal foreboding. First on show to the public in 2008, Seizure returned, by popular demand, to run from July 2009 until January 2010 and I implore you, if you have not yet done so, to seize your second chance to bear witness to this most startling vision.

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