Monday, November 16, 2009

"Please Stay Off The Tracks"

For the present time the Barbican Curve gallery is a dark, dimly lit bunker space, scattered with dust, reminiscent of a Second World War or Cold War past with the various remnants of an industrial and military installation. A historical space of discarded machinery, tools, furniture, workshops and small offices. Polish artist Robert Kusmirowski's re-imagined installation slots into the existing brutal concrete of the Barbican's interior with references of films, the fictions of Harry Palmer's world in “The Ipcress File” or “Funeral in Berlin”, but also a seemingly real post-miltary reality emptied of people, abandoned, like the day after an atomic or nuclear attack. Dripping memories, a place of power stripped as history moved on.

This is an Art in which the viewer immerses themselves in an environment. The conceit of the work, constructed to alter perception, taking part in a visual theatre or cinema, one suspends belief and steps from the outside rational world of a dispassionate art viewer into the theatre of this experience. In this space denuded of its military personnel we are viewers of a seemingly real post conflict military installation, voyeurs of an exciting but ultimately doomed history.

Just as I explore further into this absorbing and unsettling space a voice comes out of the darkness “Please stay off train tracks”, not a shout from a unseen participant in this theatrical space but a jolt back into the real world, heading towards me is a black shirted Barbican employee. Chastened and with all enjoyment removed my thoughts move from the unsettling beauty of Kusmirowski's work to a failure of art to be allowed to truly and honestly communicate.

I fail to believe that the artist would wish that the full exploration of his constructed space be restricted but now in the hands of an unimaginative host one sees an inability for a true experience to be gained. Is art not to be explored but just viewed from a knowing distance? Surely to curtail the exploring of a viewer is missing the point of such an installation, this implies a lack of honesty, integrity or true respect of the artist, the work or the viewer to determine for themselves what the work should be. What would have been a beautiful, poetic and thought provoking immersive experience is denied.

This artwork should be poked, prodded, scratched and explored, reality suspended and recreated so that one might believe that only the space we have found ourselves in exists until we once more re-enter the real world outside of the gallery, but unfortunately for this viewer and in a manner that does not best serve the ambition of the artist this opportunity was denied me.

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