Saturday, September 10, 2011

That Blackness Before You

Richard Wilson's "20:50" is the only permanent installation at the Saatchi Gallery in London, and its permanence is beautifully terrifying.  It occupies Gallery 13.  You approach it from a specially made platform, a sort of balcony onto an abyss:  a vast expanse of blackness reflecting a dreamscape of windows, light fixtures, corners, slick perfect surfaces.  The smell arrives almost as soon as you start questioning what the hell is going on here.  It's the clammy, caustic stink of the way we all live without thinking, oxygen merging with exhaust, and the smell of that overwhelming all your other senses until the whole world somehow emanates from that blackness before you.

This is from the Saatchi Gallery website: 

Viewed from the entrance platform 20:50 appears as a holographic field: simultaneously a polished floor, infinite clear pool, an expansive and indefinable virtual space that clinically absorbs and mirrors the gallery architecture. The room is in fact entirely flooded in oil.
That oil becomes the way you see the world.  It's one of those experiences that transcends art because the artfulness of the stunt problematizes what art can do and mean, while also giving you a trippy, creepy epiphany that lingers and somehow pollutes the way you think and feel.  In a consciousness overloaded with computer-generated news footage and political bull-shit about gas prices and the Middle East and offshore oil-drilling and tar-balls floating onto beaches a year after an oil spill and fossil fuel emissions overtaking the actual climate here is a piece of art that sucks perception itself into its horrible pupil, and you are somehow sucked into that pupil as well, until you don't see what you're seeing.  That blackness, in fact, seems to be seeing you.
Hands down one of the most intense and terrible and gorgeous pieces of art I've ever seen.