Saturday, 20 July 2013

Art: Interview with Roger Hiorns about Seizure

In 2008, contemporary artist Roger Hiorns oversaw the creation of one of most unique works of art in recent memory by pumping over 74,000 litres of copper sulphate solution into a condemned London flat. The result saw the building’s interior coated with otherworldly blue crystals that formed on the walls, floor, ceiling, and even a bathtub.

The work, entitled Seizure, saw Hiorns receive a nomination for the 2009 Turner Prize. But in 2010 developers had set their sights on demolishing the block of flats that housed the artwork

“This wasn’t a work that we wanted to be destroyed,” explains Roger, “it took a lot of time and effort to make and I didn’t want it to become just a memory for people.”

The artist was concerned that the same fate that saw the demolition of Rachel Whiteread’s iconic 1993 work House – a plaster-cast of the interior of a London terrace – would happen to Seizure.

“House has become quite folklorey and about something in the past,” says Roger, “I wanted Seizure to go on being experience in the present.”

Luckily, Seizure was saved from destruction and has recently been installed in a custom-built exhibition space at Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

“The developers said ‘look, we’re going to start demolishing, so you need to make a decision about you want to do’,” recalls Clare Lilley, head curator at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, “Caroline Douglas, head of the Arts Council Collection, very quickly pulled people together and said ‘look, we’ve got an opportunity to save this thing’.

“It happened really quickly – maybe less than two weeks, which for something as adventurous as this piece is pretty fast.”

“It’s quite a coup to get this work – it’s very iconic.

Seizure was the culmination of years of experimentation with the process of trying to harness the natural crystallisation of copper sulphate.

“I started experimenting with copper sulphate by dipping model cathedrals into large buckets and allowing them to crystallise,” explains the artist, “I’ve transformed things like car engines into these crystalline forms – I like the idea of taking an object and removing its usefulness beyond the object itself.”

“I’m interested in this idea of allowing nature to do its work – all I provide is the proposition.”

But as the artist reveals, Seizure wasn’t initially intended to be made in an abandoned flat at all.

“Originally I had the idea of making this work in the interior of a 737,” recalls Roger, “but I live on a 1960s estate in central London and there are lots of derelict flats. So I found a bedsit on Harper Road in the Elephant and Castle area, and after negotiating with the resident’s association, the flat was turned into a factory.”

The interior of the flat was made water-proof, and equipment including boilers and industrial pumps were installed to handle the copper sulphate.

“It was a strange experience,” recalls Roger, “every day, a group of youths would sit on a wall and just watch what we were doing. It took quite a few days to set things up, and then it took a few weeks for the crystals to set – there was a lot of waiting around for things to happen.”

Going into the project, the artist had no idea how the work would turn out. It was a big risk on the part of all involved, as the artist had only mastered the technique on a much smaller scale.

“There was a worry that when we were making Seizure that it wouldn’t do what I wanted it to,” explains Roger.

“There are ways of documenting things, and presenting the process as a work of art, but it would have been quite an anti-climax.

When unveiled in 2008, Seizure quickly became a cult hit. It gain reputation for being a site of introspection and meditation, with audiences travelling from miles around to get lost in the shimmering blue glow of the work’s alien interior.

“What I found most interesting was that Seizure became a site of a kind of New Age religious experience. People would come to the space to meditate and try and connect with some kind of spiritual experience.”

The urban landscape of south London may seem worlds apart from the beauty of the Yorkshire countryside, but Roger sees parallels between Seizure’s original site and its new home.

“When you look around at the rolling hills and the cultivated landscape of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park it’s natural to question how this work relates to its context.

“With the park and with Seizure you get this proposition – this idea of nature being controlled and directed.”

Seizure was such a difficult project both in terms of its scope and planning that Roger believes that he is unlikely to attempt anything as ambitious again.

“I don’t have any plans at the moment to anything like Seizure – it was such a massive undertaking,” admits the artist.

“I’m going to be burying a Boeing 737 underground which will be a walk in the park compared to pulling off something like Seizure.”

This article was originally published by the Yorkshre Post July 19, 2013.


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