London Life

INVISIBLE: Art of the Unseen 1957-2012

Looking into Air Conditioned Room from The Air-Conditioned Show (1966-67)

“Invisible art flouts our expectations and might even make us wonder if we are being sold the emperor’s new clothes… At the end of the day it is a type of conversation between artist and audience that can only ever be fully realised in our imaginations” – Invisible at the Hayward Gallery

Invisible at the Hayward Gallery is absolutely brilliant.The show is an artist’s playground – totally mischievous and fun, yet surprisingly intellectual. The artists are pushing the boundaries, having a play and just seeing what they can get away with.

Invisible at Hayward Gallery

Lai Chih-Sheng “Life-Size Drawing” (2012) pencil, marker and talc chalk drawing on walls, ceiling, tile grouting, concrete pillars, glass and brass ballustrade

The entire exhibit forces you to reconsider how you consume art, how you think about it, what you know it to be. Forget the expected mediums – paints, clay, bronze, photography – and welcome a host of new ones, including brainwaves and invisible ink. Forget consuming and appreciating at face value – you’ll be forced to think about each individual work, what is meant to be there, what the artist intended and the methods used. I’m also pretty sure that, for some of these pieces, the art may just be our individual experiences.

To bring the show together, work titles and descriptions are printed in light grey text on a white background so they fade into the wall, invisible from a distance. A small touch that goes a long way in solidifying the overall tone.

James Lee Byars’ “The Ghost of James Lee Byars” (1969/1986)

Behind a black curtain is a totally dark room. So dark that your eyes won’t adjust. It’s creepy, it’s eerie, and you can hear people coughing and shuffling from other parts of the room. My first thought? So, this is what it’s like to be blind.

I am totally uncomfortable.

After about 30 seconds I begin to feel anxious and leave the room the way I came… only to realise that I have to go through the room to get to the rest of the exhibition.

I break into a cold sweat and follow a middle-aged man back into the room, hoping not to bump into him. I hear his footsteps shuffling and my bracelets clinking. It feels like an eternity but is probably only a minute. Am I even going the right way? 

He’s found the curtain and light streams in but appears to be stuck in the doorway because the room is so dark. I rush towards it and wait for my eyes to adjust to the bright lights and white walls, ready to see more invisible art.

Instruction Paintings by Yoko Ono

“Instruction paintings make it possible to explore the invisible, the world beyond the concept of time and space. And then, sometimes later, the instructions themselves will disappear and be properly forgotten.” – Yoko Ono

These instructions for paintings are hung in the exhibition, detailing how to create and handle the work. As I read them I envisioned creating the works myself and in my mind the pieces existed, if only for a moment. It was an absolutely incredible experience and a different way to consume art. I love that I was forced to think, to use my imagination.

And I love knowing that what I created in my mind is unique to me, and that anyone else who created a piece in their mind may have a totally different image.

Hopefully someone, somewhere, follows these instructions and sees the tangible work for as long as it is meant to exist.

‘Invisible’ at the Hayward Gallery is on until 6 August 2012.

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