MATTHEW MILES: “There’s gonna be some trouble, a
whole house will need re-building – and everyone I love in the house will
recline on an analyst’s couch quite soon,” insists a typically distressed Morrissey
in ‘Now My Heart Is Full’. While The Surreal House might not have everything it
takes to push you towards hired help – we’ll leave that to parents and lovers –
the temporarily transformed Barbican Gallery is a twisting, turning abode in
which darkness lurks under the stairs.
The show draws together art, architecture and
artefact –including Sigmund Freud’s sinister desk-chair, its modernist leather
trapped behind glass and seemingly shaped as much by the wired-up butts of
death-row as Fritz Lang’s robots. It was Freud who insisted on the link between
the fragile mind and the fractured house, but this show, directed by Barbican
senior curator Jane Alison, is the first to explore the importance of
architecture and the home in the development of the Surrealist tradition.
“The Surreal House is an intersection between architecture and
the unconscious,” says Alison. “With Surrealism, the house is a key metaphor
for the mind and the person in the age of psychoanalysis. Previously there’d
been a connection between architecture and the body as harmonious proportions.
But in the age of Freud and psychoanalysis that house becomes fragmented,
distorted and prone to collapse.”
There are no fall-away floors at the Barbican
(unless you count a clip of Buster Keaton’s collapsing house), but the gallery
has employed architects Carmody Groake to break the lower space into bedroom,
bathroom, living room and, naturally, toilet. A long way from an ideal show
home, the subconscious rips through the fabric and becomes a trip-hazard – a
nursery of reanimated toys; a choir behind that toilet door – while the Femme
Maison paintings by the late Louise Borgeoius, with their housework trapped
women, are all the more unsettling for being spider-free.
The Surrealists declared the home a platform for playfulness but, like
the make-believe of kids, darker impulses kicked beneath the energy and
absurdity; were sharpened by new shapes in modernity. At the Barbican, unease
and claustrophobia are heightened by use of shadow and, particularly, by the
discordant key-clatter of Rebecca
Horn's ‘Concert for Anarchy’,
a grand piano suspended above the central room, its innards spewing out with
the notes. More random noise than music, Horn’s piece is an accurate focus for
the exhibition, as violence and confusion erupts from the polished surface of
an object designed for performance.
The tomb of Rachel Whiteread’s ‘Black Bath’ and the gender-gap
discomfort of Sarah Lucas’ ‘Au Naturel’ (buckets and cucumbers for adults that
never stop playing cars and garages), are the contemporary companions to the
spirits of Magritte and Breton, all house guests at the Barbican, along with
the likes of Edward Hopper and de Chirico. Dali was surely first on the list,
and his presence is felt in the less-intense upstairs space, where connections
between architecture and surrealism are more clinically exposed.
Here the slumbering, stilt-propped head of Dali’s painting ‘Sleep’ is juxtaposed
with an architect’s model of Office for Metropolitan Architecture's nineties
design Villa dall'Ava.
“The link between Dali and Koolhaus
was a revelation for me,” admits Alison. “It’s no accident that the most
influential architect working today has been massively influenced by
surrealism. I wanted to bring that
out and make it central to the story.”
Having had the chaos of kitchens and living
quarters pressed into you at every turn, upstairs at Surreal House is more like
escaping to your room as teen. Watching films on benches – a silent tour of the
completed Villa dall’Ava; a spell on the flat but fantastical roof of Casa
Malaparte in Godard’s Le Mepris (Contempt); the torched home of Tarkovsky’s
‘The Sacrifice’ – this is space to apply your own narrative and un-logic to
windows on a warped world.
Towards the close of the circuit, photographs of Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye in
its post-war dereliction are displayed with a quote by Bernard Tschumi,
declaring that architecture is at its "most alive, most meaningful, when
on the point of collapse". It’s a reminder of mortality that echoes with
Whiteread’s bath near the beginning; that insists our games and our ghosts will
pale against the stage we lend them when the time comes to hand it back.
House runs until 12 September, Barbican Centre
Silk Street, London EC2Y 8DS.
cost £8 /£10 with discounts for online bookings. There are various supporting events at throughout
www.barbican.org.uk/artgallery. Box office: 0845 1207550
Matthew Miles is a freelance writer, art
director and artist. His writes about arts and culture – high to gutter – and
photographs and interviews celebrities and real people. He also writes fiction,
creates visual digital visual art and shoots fashion with artist Konrad
Photograph 'Table Surrealiste' by Alberto Giacometti courtesy of Konrad Wyrebek:
Originally from Warsaw, Poland, Konrad is a young, London-based artist working
across various mediums – primarily in painting and 3D installation. His work
blurs the edges of art and fashion, and he photographs the latter as one half
of the team MilesWyrebek.
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