Monday 30 July 2012

Invisible Touch

Jeppe Hein, Invisible Labyrinth, 2005
Conceptual art often has a reputation for being aloof and overly theoretical. But the Hayward’s exhibition ‘Invisible: Art about the Unseen, 1957-2012’ proves it can also be entertaining, fun and full of clever ideas.

The show seems designed to enrage the naysayers of contemporary art, those who like to proclaim that it is all just emperor’s new clothes, a joke on the audience. For, as its title suggests, there is little to see here, with the focus instead on artists who have played with the idea of invisibility in art.

It opens with a series of pieces by Yves Klein, the first artist to present a display of invisible art. In 1957, Klein put on the show ‘Surfaces and Blocks of Invisible Pictorial Sensibility’ at the Colette Allendy gallery in Paris, which consisted only of a white-walled room filled with “the artist’s sensibility”.

Among other classic works included are Yoko Ono’s ‘Instruction Paintings’ from the 1960s, a series of statements that audiences are invited to visualise and perform themselves, and a relic from ‘White Light/White Heat’ (1975), an exhibition by Chris Burden at Ronald Feldman Gallery in New York, where Burden lay out of sight in the gallery on an elevated platform for 22 days. While unseen, his presence affected viewers, with some describing the atmosphere as “haunted”.

Tom Friedman, Untitled (A Curse), 1992

Clever, mischievous ideas abound throughout the show. In 1991, when faced with having to create an artwork at short notice for an exhibition, Maurizio Cattelan went to his local police station and reported that an invisible artwork had been stolen from his car. Always efficient, the police dutifully filled out a report on the theft, which is displayed in the gallery as a symbol of absurdity, both bureaucratic and artistic. Tom Friedman displays a blank sheet of paper, titled ‘1000 Hours of Staring’ (1992-97), which according to the accompanying info uses only the materials ‘stare on paper’. Elsewhere, Friedman presents ‘Untitled (A Curse)’ (1992), a pedestal supposedly cursed by a witch.

More poetic is Song Dong’s ‘Writing Diary With Water’ (1995-present), displayed as photographs. The writing in his invisible diary rapidly evaporates, though still represents an act of catharsis for the artist, who remarks, “although it is just a stone, it actually has become thicker day by day, with my own thoughts added on it”.

Carsten Höller, The Invisible, 1998

A number of artists invite us to reimagine the gallery space. Carsten Höller displays ‘The Invisible’ (1998), which previously appeared in ‘The New World Race’, his installation of ten remarkable racing vehicles. While the rest were real objects, ‘The Invisible’ portrayed the dream of invisibility as a new technology, and is represented here only by a series of road markings.

In the final room of the space, Jeppe Hein shows an invisible labyrinth. The labyrinth features different designs, changing daily, which are activated for visitors via a set of headphones that, when worn, buzz to indicate when a wall is reached. The aim is for the audience to find their way around the maze held in the seemingly empty space without hitting an invisible wall.

Bruno Nylind, Breath, floating in colour as well as black and white (Venice), 2011. All photos by Linda Nylind

‘Invisible: Art about the Unseen’ highlights the role that the viewer plays in the creation of a work of art, and in particular how our imagination contributes to our understanding of artistic ideas. By relegating the visual, usually so dominate in the gallery environment, to the background, the show invites us to engage with the works with the whole of our senses instead, making for an exciting, unusual and often profound artistic experience.

'Invisible: Art about the Unseen, 1957-2012' at the Hayward Gallery closes on August 5. More info is at

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