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When Forms Come Alive at Hayward Gallery

When Forms Come Alive at Hayward Gallery 7 Feb 2024 –⁠ 6 May 2024

Eva Fabregas

The sculptures were frozen in time. They played the statues game with me; growing, exploding and shifting whenever I wasn't looking. It was probably this illusion of movement that made me feel small while walking around the When Forms Come Alive exhibition at Hayward Gallery. Nevertheless, echoing the belief that art is incomplete without an observer, my presence seemed essential for these spectacles to happen. It was as if the art required me to sense its vibrations, inhale its aromas, catch glimpses of its shadows and admire its scale to have a reason to exist.

The works, made of robust industrial materials and everyday objects such as foil, pencils, pins and wires, took the form of gigantic creatures. These feelings appeared in me even before reading the exhibition text. It delved into how the artists explore the processes that occur in nature by the use of everyday materials. Even those whose creators specifically revealed the mechanisms working to create the spectacle transformed into something beautiful and gentle.

In "When Forms Come Alive", the curator decided to implement an exciting element that appears more and more often in institutions, allowing the audience to touch a piece of the material from which some of the sculptures were made. However, this increasingly common step towards accessibility has not yet been fully mastered. The materials lie next to the employee who patrols a given room, but the lack of information about this possibility defeats the purpose of the idea itself. I was fortunate to arrive on time for the curator's tour, and when we were admiring Tara Donovan's "Untitled (Mayor)" work, she asked the lady sitting near the railing to give us the material from which the sculpture was made.

Tara Donovan

This is a slight digression from the review, but since this phenomenon is starting to become increasingly popular, and at the beginning, I was a big fan of it, after the last conversation with an artist, I became very sceptical. The artist mentioned makes sculptures that really tease the audience with their texture. Recently, someone contacted her on Instagram and asked if she would share the exact materials she uses and her processes so that this other person could recreate it for someone who commissioned her a similar work. 

It also made me wonder whether these great artists no longer have to worry about someone copying them. Is this demystification any good for artists whose sculptures give the impression of being very heavy yet made of aluminium and accessible to everyone? 

This exhibition featured works by artists on very different career development levels. It made me think about how trends in art arise and who has the power to shape and define them. In recent years, much has been talked about how history was shaped and by whom. I am interested in how a list of artists who may be separated by even decades can be positioned as equals under one topic just because an institution said so.

"Bouquet Final" by Michel Blazy was one of the pieces I wanted to see for a very long time. The curator said that the machine and liquid used were specifically chosen to make certain types and sizes of bubbles whose texture will remind plastic foam.

"Shylight", a six-minute choreography created by Studio Drift for the Hayward Gallery, greeted visitors as they entered the room. This installation stood out as the most stunning and arguably the most Instagramable. Almost instinctively, viewers pulled out their phones to capture the mesmerising dance. Clearly, this piece captivated the audience longer than others, as many aimed to record that perfect shot. This led me to ponder whether the physical experience of the artwork would be as vividly remembered as the digital images and videos preserved on their devices.

The sculptures by Marguerite Humeau amazed me as their pervasive aroma of beeswax occupied the space. As I stepped into the room, the intense, beautiful scent overwhelmed me, bringing a sense of warmth throughout my body. I have always appreciated the integration of scents in art—it's remarkable how a simple aromatic element can profoundly enhance the visual experience. Additionally, the artist enhanced the sensory engagement by collaborating with a musician who contributed layers of saxophone music, ensuring that no two auditory experiences are the same. This work transcended the physical realm, which was a central theme in most of the displayed works.

During the curator's tour of the exhibition, we stopped at Mathew Ronay's works. Often, the narrative behind an artwork can be more intriguing than its visual appeal, adding another layer of captivation. In this case, the artist, who is colourblind, collaborates with his partner to determine the 'feel' of the colours in his painted wooden sculptures. 

EJ Hill's "A Subsequent Offering" once served as a stage for his own performance, during which he lay down for nine hours a day over three months. It's both cool and bizarre.

The work presents a contrast of dynamics: the imagined motion of a rollercoaster against the stillness of the sculptures. Notably, the absence of the artist, whose body once integrated with the work, adds a layer of complexity. Just as a rollercoaster requires riders to come alive, this piece of art necessitates an audience's presence to truly exist. In this scenario, the artist acted as a vital catalyst for the sculpture work.

Upon entering the first floor, your attention was immediately drawn to Holly Hendry's installation, which intriguingly spanned both the interior and exterior of the building. This setup immediately made me think about the accessibility of art, highlighting how the allure of what is out of reach or unseen often heightens our interest. It was particularly compelling that a significant portion of this installation was only visible through its documentation. The works were meticulously site-specific, with pipes intertwining and weaving through each other and glass lumps appearing to cascade beyond the confines of the display area.

This exhibition held a special significance for me as it marked my first in-person encounter with Ernesto Neto's artwork. I was somewhat let down by the selection of this particular piece. Despite its complex and impressive construction, I was disappointed by its small size and the absence of the interactive component that is so typical in his works. However, the shadow cast by this piece, which could itself be considered a work of art, created a fascinating interplay with the adjacent wall, where Ruth Asawa's wire sculptures were displayed.

Yet, upon reaching the final room downstairs and encountering Eva Fabregas' installation, I appreciated the curator's choice to feature a smaller piece by Ernesto Neto. This allowed Eva Fabregas to construct a monumental installation that reminded me of some of Neto's aesthetic qualities with its soft, expansive forms. Fabregas's work was isolated on the lower floor in a dedicated room, creating a fully immersive experience with vibrations and sounds. One could walk beneath and through it, almost feeling the shapes internally through their resonance.

This work starkly contrasted with Holly Hendry's as her installation extended outward, mainly positioned outside and primarily observable through photos, Fabregas's work pulsated with vibrant reds and purples, offering a dynamic, engulfing presence that filled its enclosed space.

I enjoyed the exhibition overall, but one aspect was disturbing. The plaques detailing the artists and their works were wrinkled and peeling off the walls. This isn't my first time encountering such a thing in a big institution setting. However, it was more perplexing this time because my visit occurred just a few days after the exhibition had opened. The lack of care for such BIG detail is weird. 


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