Thursday, 8 November 2007

Stairwell - The Hayward Gallery by Tom Trevatt

Hayward Stairwell

Tom Trevatt

Clusters of concomitant stairs dissect the upper and lower planes, rising and falling in folds. Twists of browngrey concrete. Cleaving floors; holding them apart and bringing them together in a diremptive and connective orientation. Navigation between spheres made possible by these brutalist coils scarred by years of hurried heels. The exhibition continues upstairs, the unceasing tramp of increasing audience figures. Figures of ‘appreciation’. Expansive yet simple modernist forms that scythe through white walled space, reminders of the external architecture. Brutalism in abundance on the South Bank, walled out by the requirements of the aesthetic project. What would it mean to strip back these walls? No longer would we find old render. Concrete, cold and unforgiving lingers in beautiful exigency. Concrete nothing but pure building, no adornment. But mendacious concrete. From distance this stairwell is wooden planks. Slats, greyed with the years, here a grain, a knot, there the mark of a saw. What mendacity, what lies this material plays. Concrete formed as blocks in wooden trenches take on the appearance of the wood. The modernist project, the stripping back to pure forms, the continuation of a certain enlightenment. How these constellations of buildings bear their late-modernist credentials with ease, yet the conceit runs deep. Examine the stairwell. At one point, halfway to the upper floor on the north side, between two flights of stairs there lies a knot in the wood/concrete, yet it is not grey like the rest of the stairwell. It is a rich cherry-wood golden brown. No more than an inch diameter this strange abhorrence offers nothing more than itself and its difference. How to understand this anomaly? It neither feels soft like wood or hard like stone, it is smooth but rippled. As though a knick has been had out of the wall and under lies the thing we though it was all along. As though the appearance was a double lie. A further inspection confirms the fact that the whole of the Hayward is not wood that looks like concrete that looks like wood. It is obviously real concrete. But were we to believe that we were standing on wooden slats, held together by hidden nails, then, surely our history not just the building would collapse.


ABC said...

This, I am afraid to say, is one of the most hideous pieces of writing I have had the displeasure to read in a long time. Not only is the language employed oozing pretension in its desperation to be 'writerly', but the subject matter is utterly absurd. To expostulate on the formal qualities of a concrete stairwell in an art gallery (housing art objects that certainly are worth writing about) when there is mass genocide happening in Darfur is nothing less than the sad emblem of the society we live in.

HOLD & FREIGHT said...

What Darfur has to do with anything is beyond my comprehension, and i also don;t understand the commentator's insistence on this as an emblem of the society we live in. Has ABC ever read Francis Ponge? One can only wonder what he'd make of the mundanities evident in his writing.

Oozing pretension seems an odd criticism given the propensity of the commentator to appeal to world wide catastrophes and art as the only thing worth writing about. This belies a turgid moralism at the heart of this conservative commentator: art somehow holds a sacred position whereas mere stairwells and by extension interior architecture and gallery furniture is profane.

I'd be interested to know what abc writes, but given his/her wish to remain anonymous we shall never know.