LONDON — Sometimes, curatorial conceit need be nothing more than a conceit, a frame that occasions the presentation of stellar art. While lacking a sharp concept, the exhibition Everything at Once offers a bird’s-eye view of the global contemporary art scene’s ascendance, convergence, and rupture.
Quite literally, Everything at Once is a celebration: it commemorates Lisson Gallery’s 50th anniversary with three floors of works by artists from the gallery’s roster. Partnering with the Vinyl Factory, Lisson has filled the Brutalist Store Studios building with works by fan favorites like Marina Abramović, Anish Kapoor, Lawrence Weiner, and Ai Weiwei. Kapoor’s phantasmagoric “At the Edge of the World II” (1998) stands shoulders above the rest. Given in its own gallery, this enormous, maroon, hat-shaped sculpture snugly fits into its confines. A master of depth perception and spatial manipulation, Kapoor knows how to entice viewers to fall into his art — or in this case, to fall up. His massive bowler hat shifts perception, elongating the viewer’s sense of height reaching toward the depthless vacuum of dark space. “At the Edge of the World II” performs on the viewer something like a Surrealist thought experiment: we want our heads enshrined in the void, wearing it like a hat.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Near the official start of Everything at Once is the entrance to Ryoji Ikeda’s “Test Pattern” (2017), an experiential new commission that twists audiovisual materials into undulating experiences of both meditation and unrest. Here, Ikeda is playing with elements of serialism. Does the pulse of an electronic beat spur the flashing binary barcode patterns on the floor, or vice-versa? What dictates the erratic pattern of both?
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Ikeda’s wonderful and disorienting techno deluge makes for a perfect aperitif before Everything at Once. Although not technically part of the exhibition, “Test Patten” is a poignant riff on John Cage’s legacy, which is the supposed frame for the group exhibition — its title, Everything at Once, derives from a Cage quote: “Nowadays everything happens at once and our souls are conveniently electronic [omniattentive].” But the exhibition, curated by Greg Hilty and Ossian Ward, begins with analog art. Alongside Kapoor’s magical hat are works by Richard Deacon and Ai Weiwei. This hefty dose of dense art lays the conceptual framework needed for the digital work seen in subsequent galleries, fomenting thinking about how Minimalist aesthetics, the methodic reiteration of forms, and a general sense of disorientation have inspired electronic art.
Meandering through this art historical sequence of sculptural and digital pieces are also a handful of amusingly mischievous works. Behind the Kapoor is a room where Rodney Graham’s “Vexation Island” (1997) plays on repeat. In the video, Graham appears as a shipwrecked sailor who washed ashore on a deserted island. Or is he? Gradually, we see the artist walk toward a nearby coconut tree and give it a shake. A coconut falls from the tree, smacking Graham on the head and knocking him unconscious. Soon thereafter, the artist wakes up and begins the cycle again. There’s also Ceal Floyer’s playful “Taking a Line for a Walk” (2008), which snakes up the stairs to the second floor. You would be forgiven for initially mistaking the white trail of paint slinking across the gallery floors as another one of the Brutalist building’s quirks. Following the line upstairs, it leads to a simple paint canister on a trolley. The mysterious trail tragicomically ends in anticlimax. Nearby is another Floyer work, “Line Busy” (2011), a sonic series of telephone busy signals that provide a surprisingly pleasant melodic chant.
Shirazeh Houshiary’s transcendent installation “Breath” (2003) also uses chanting to arouse feelings of meditation. In a barely lit room, four monitors faintly illuminate what look like celestial bodies on the verge of either splintering or collapsing. Behind each monitor are speakers playing chants from Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Like Ikeda’s digital jolt downstairs, Houshiary blurs the formalistic connections between cause and effect. Here, though, the disorienting effect of audio and visual synchronicity feels more affective because of the religious content of the chants. Houshiary’s installation evokes a spirituality that paradoxically allows the space to become simultaneously Zen and a conduit for conflict. The volume of “Breath” invariably crescendos, catching the four chants at moments of miraculous harmony or disastrous discord. The result is haunting, a call for peace that simultaneously acknowledges wounds.
Rifling through the remainder of Everything at Once’s museum-sized offerings, we see an extravagantly long Richard Long painting near Lee Ufan’s monastic abstract composition “Dialogue” (2017). There’s also Susan Hiller’s “Channels” (2013), which consists of a cavalcade of 104 analogue televisions radiating white noise and monochromatic minimalism. In a rather anonymous corridor of the exhibition is Tatsuo Miyajima’s wonderfully Proustian “Time Waterfall” (2017). Despite its discreet positioning, Miyajima’s work brings the exhibition full circle thematically. Time slips off his LED obelisk weightlessly. The drop is soundless, with numbers of varying size counting down to zero, the mathematical void. Here, we have an expression of circuitry from the inside out, electronic art as a Cagean abstraction, a Cagean abstraction as an existential abyss.
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