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Hell’s Half Acre was a mixed media installation presented by Lazarides and The Old Vic Tunnels. The creepy space was converted into a large-scale evocation of Dante’s Inferno, with artists providing their own interpretation of Hell. The Devil was in the detail, says Stewart Who?
This temporary art event was held in a dank maze of tunnels, converted into a multi-media promenade inspired by Dante’s Inferno. Yes, really. Thankfully, my companion for this descent into Hell was The Lady. Sleep deprived, dehydrated and overly sensitive, we were perfect candidates for a cabalistic, multi-sensory evocation of eternal torture and damnation. Some might say we deserved it.
The labyrinth of tunnels under Waterloo station were the grim location for this event curated by Steve Lazarides, ‘graffiti’s über-dealer’. He gleaned this moniker as the original conduit between Banksy and his buyers.
Entry to Hell’s Half Acre was via a ticket lottery. Successful applicants were given a specific time slot to explore the nine circles of Hell via artists including: George Osodi, Antony Micallef, Polly Morgan, Jonathan Yeo, Conor Harrington, Paul Insect, Mark Jenkins and Doug Foster.
Within seconds of entering the sporadically lit, dripping tunnels, we were gripped and intrigued by David Choe’s spray paint wall paintings, featured beastly monstrosities either mating or eating each other. Zak Ové’s ‘Serpent’ sculpture sat squatly, looking nasty. This mis en scène was sound tracked by a relentless barking dog, a film of which was showing round the next musty corner as the audio-visual gateway to the rest of the exhibits. A snapping, barking pitbull on an eternal loop? Hell indeed.
In the next arch was ‘The Heretic’s Gate’ a mind-melting installation by Doug Foster. It’s a hypnotic film created using ink, water and careful lighting. Reflected dramatically in the oily waters of a subterranean pool, it’s without doubt, the most beautiful artwork I’ve ever seen.
Sistine Chapel? Mona Lisa? Adoration of the Magi? Worth seeing, of course, but this really moved me. YouTube or iPhones don’t really do it justice, you had to be there, in that room and witness the detail. Accompanied by a surging adagio featuring mournful chords and overwhelming climaxes, it was bewitching, malevolent, stomach churning and at times, terrifying.
Foster explains its creation, which we assumed was computer generated: “The ectoplasmic shapes and textures evolve from the natural behaviour of liquids. I’ve mirrored those forms to create the potential for our pattern-seeking brains to create the faces and other anatomy that we find so fascinating, within the ethereal cloudiness”.
Scream and rumble
The Lady and I were transfixed, speechless and awed for about 40 minutes. I worried that it might be impossible to look away and that it may have subliminal messages within the fractal-esque flames. We both saw a variety of devil faces within the fires and agreed its awful beauty was paralysing.
In the next arch, we were disturbed by the sea of hanging golden galleon ships, which cast spooky shadows, but didn’t know why they were unsettling. The barking dog at the entrance had faded somewhat and were superseded by the lulling symphony of the muttering public and the scream and rumble of the overhead trains.
We were agog at Paul Insect’s sculpture Object Desire. At first glance, it looked like a mirror ball with a golden glow, sparkling glamorously in the subterranean gloom. On closer inspection, it turned out to be an enormous sphere of hypodermic needles. The Heaven and Hell of drugs, eh? The execution was breathtaking.
Both menacing and exquisite, it neatly highlighted the iniquitous lure of mainlining. As mirror balls and drugs have both been diabolical friends of mine, Object Desire had a deep resonance.
We enjoyed Paul Insect’s ‘Maggot Planet’ but there’s only so long you can stand in a low-ceilinged room that smells slightly rotten and boasts projections of giant maggots writhing around on the walls. Gross, but effective. In an adjacent room that looked fit for housing an abused hostage, we found a film installation called The Wake by Christian Lemmerz.
Based on James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, this 3-screen assault on the senses was a maximalist nightmare. It boasted machine-gun editing and loopy scenes of landscapes, people fighting, binge drinking, grimy nudity, creepy rituals and churning mix of colour and monochrome.
Tokujin Yoshioka is a bit of a trip. He grows crystals in a mineral aquarium and plays music to them to help them form into a giant stellar sphere. Or something. Swarovski were involved in this installation and to experience the ‘Stellar’ ‘chandelier’ one had to go through an uninviting black curtain into a seemingly eternal room swirling with dry ice, spotlights and ghostly silhouettes. It was celestial and awful, stunning and scary. The Lady accidentally found this installation while looking for the toilets and declared that it was a good place to do drugs. She was right.
There were many artists and works not mentioned here, as one is inclined to report the sensational over the subtle, but there were no weak links. Staggering into the graffiti strewn underpass that served as the exit, we felt enriched, unsettled and strangely blessed to have dipped into the dark bowels of the art world, surely an arena where the devil resides quite comfortably.
First Published: TheHospitalClub.com, October 2010