Their Wonderlands Review (BIRMINGHAM, UK)Posted: January 23, 2012
WHAT: Public art exhibition
WHO: They Are Here
WHEN: 26th Nov, 11 – 29th Jan, 12
WHERE: MAC Birmingham (map)
MY STORY: ‘Here, take a torch,’ said the lady standing outside the exhibition room. ‘You’ll need it.’ She then opened the door, swept the thick curtain back, and plunged me into darkness. I found myself in a very dimly lit room with the only sources of light coming from a few silently flickering TV screens. A mysterious glow illuminated certain exhibits but cast deep shadows in corners its fingers could not touch. An eerie, indecipherable sound brought the air to life. It was very unnerving.
The main idea behind ‘Their Wonderlands’, a show curated by They Are Here, is to explore the realm of the imagination. The darkness, inspired by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s 1993 essay In Praise of Shadows, awakens parts of the mind that can only become active when the eye reaches its physical limits. We are supposed to feel a bit intimidated and a bit unsure of the surroundings. Still, it took me a good while to get used to this strange environment – if I ever did at all. The layout of the exhibition didn’t help as it was set up to be deliberately confusing to navigate around, but gradually I relaxed and started to embrace the unknown. I even found something quite playful about it.
Although I was fascinated by the entire collection, a few works carved out particularly deep crevices in my memory. These include Alice Anderson’s Cocoon (a massive ball of synthetic hair), Emma Hart’s video Dice (in which she plays a game of throwing the dice with the ocean waves), and Ayo and Oni Oshodi’s Brown Eyed Girl (a painting of a girl with holes for eyes, through which one of the artists would look through and make observations of what they see).
My favourite piece of all, though, was Eloise Fornieles’s The Body is an Ocean. With a few dim light bulbs hanging above buckets of water and speakers pumping out heartbeats interspersed with a woman’s panting breaths, it was definitely one of the most haunting works on display. And yet there was something undeniably beautiful and mesmerizing about it. I was also relieved to have discovered that this was the origin of the strange glow and unearthly sound.
Their Wonderlands was no doubt one of the most interesting exhibitions I have visited recently. The experience was thought-provoking and liberating. It embodies Freud’s idea of the Uncanny to a certain extent, in the sense that it defamiliarises the familiar, and constantly challenged what I would normally have been comfortable with.
It’s definitely worth a visit, so do try and find time to pick up a torch and have a rummage round in the shadows before it vanishes at the end of this week.
WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THOUGHT:
‘I like the eye.’ – May, aged 4
‘Scary but worth going in. Breathtaking. Noise is probably the most scary thing about it.’ – Imogen, aged 7
‘Beautiful works and a delightful through the rabbit hole experience.’ – Helen
‘Very strange experience. I like seeing things differently; it forced me to look in small areas instead of the bigger picture.’ – Anonymous
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Click here to read what Ayo and Oni Oshodi, the pair of identical twins who created Brown Eyed Girl, has to say about what art means to them.