A Review of Nexus Space at Platform Southwark, London
When I was 3 years old my mother took me to Disney World, and together we embarked on what would be my earliest memory of an emotional rollercoaster. The only ride traumatizing enough for me to still remember involved us sitting in a canoe on a synthetic bed of water that slowly carried us into the dark belly of an enormous cavern. We gently glided across the opaque water to the sounds of children singing in unison while glimmering stars sparkled amidst the black surroundings. It felt like we had been dropped into a real version of Fantasia. I immediately hated it and cried as soon as we set off. But gradually as the daylight dissolved further behind us, I fell silent and let the darkness wash over me. I view interactive multimedia art installations as the evolution of Disney World’s scariest rides from the mid-nineties. They immediately induce the same feeling of apprehension, followed by wide-eyed fascination.
For the 2017 edition of Art Licks weekend, Platform Southwark was taken over by sculptor Emily Motto, carpenter Ed Haslam, and audio/lighting design duo Flow Conceptions to create a multimedia interactive installation titled Nexus Space. The show is a continuation of their sculpted, habitable pods that lit up the woodland at Brainchild Festival earlier this summer. Black web-like structures which are actually audiovisual rigging, have been dissected and scattered around the space, encircling the sculptural creations of Motto and Haslam that sit lurking in the darkness, until illuminated in sudden flashes of light and music that were triggered by my movements as I wearily navigated my way around. I associate dark rooms with two things – intimacy and loneliness. Nexus Space immediately beckoned to my subconscious urge to turn the lights on, and then, just like my three-year-old self, I allowed the darkness to engulf my senses. Motto’s works however, as it turns out, are extremely friendly. One giant pumpkin sits with an elaborate glass beaded hat like a freckled old lady. All of the sculptures sit on wooden blocks wrapped in kaleidoscope-coloured paper or chicken wire like futuristic totem poles. Above one a rubbery pepper that looks like it has been covered in flesh coloured latex hangs on a piece of string at eye height, and taunts me like a bobbing candied apple.
Nexus Space is a dizzying maze of new combinations that have never been seen before. Tissue paper, neon yarn, garden hosing and plumbing tubes enter each other to make singular creations. Their well-intentioned man-made purpose has been turned on its head and Emily has created utterly useless, bizarre, wildly imaginative concoctions. I joined in a ‘Goggle Making’ workshop on Saturday, and tried to leave my inner control freak tied to the railings outside. While chatting to Emily I asked her what drives her work, what is she obsessed with. Immediately embarrassed by my mundane, civilian question, I realized that hers is the purest of art practices. This is not an art that asks for analysis. Art history studies do not prepare you for this sort of thing. It is uncontaminated, making. Motto’s work is a wonderful childlike fuck-you to common sense. Like a toddler who has no intention of eating her dinner and would rather decorate the room with it. Her unification of autumnal vegetables, plumbing hardware, and textiles shows that the possibilities are endless. It has not all been done and anyone who thinks it has is a fool.
Something tells me I would not have been as engaged had the works not been shrouded in darkness. Each sculpture held within it a motion sensor that triggered synths and streams of blinking lights from the surrounding rigging. Henry Howe and Jack Dale of Flow Conceptions spoke to me about analog and digital data, infrared sensors and nodes, all the things that ensured the sound produced by my movements was kept harmonious and melodic. A sudden step summoned deep, warm synths, and basked the objects in flashing rainbow shades of light. I wonder if the rise of virtual reality and interactive installations in art is a response to our increasingly hyperactive brains and weak attention span. I certainly feel that my visual memory of each work is stronger due to the darkness that hones our focus and demands more careful consideration that most pieces in a white walled gallery can only hope to attract from the right visitor.
Nexus Space should soothe anyone’s fear of dark rooms, and give a lucky visitor the chance to be lonely and intimate with Emily Motto’s work.
Written by Hedy Mowinckel, a Contributor to Arteviste.