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Artists take on Architecture in Psycho Buildings

indesignlive.com’s UK Editor, Alexi Robinson, reports on Psycho Buildings – an exhibition which takes its inspiration from the “brutalist outcry of its host building, The Hayward Gallery”.

Artists take on Architecture in Psycho Buildings


June 20th, 2008

Alexi Robinson is indesignlive’s UK editor. An Aussie expat living in London, working for design legend Tom Dixon, who better to send us a monthly report on ever dynamic design scene over the sea.


Watching a grown man clad in business suit and tie remove his shoes and regress to the state of an immobile one year old is not a pastime I would generally like to admit to. The fact that I and many others are perched on the roof of a building famous for its abandonment of archetypal gallery design means that being encased in a giant inflatable bubble with man-child crawling overhead is merely in keeping with the architecture.

This is Psycho Buildings, an exhibition which takes its title from a book of photographs by the late artist Martin Kippenberger and its inspiration from the brutalist outcry of its host building, The Hayward Gallery. Many artists have individually played with architecture in all sorts of perceptually challenging ways but here we have a collective spirit vying in its ‘take on architecture’ to inspire detachment from reality, the persuasive nature of some works requiring physical might to do so.

It is makeshift oars one has to fight with to paddle around Viennese collective Gelitin’s open air boating lake, and a staircase to heaven, or hell depending on one’s sense of adventure, that grants unlikely interaction between observer and the observed in Argentinian Tomas Saraceno’s plastic sphere. A childlike play cannily distracts from a momentary yet entertaining lack of self-awareness in both cases.

Atelier Bow-Wow, a pair of Japanese architects, present an enlivened approach to the internal workings of a building with a steel-plate tunnel reminiscent of ductwork only injected with rebellious personality. Sloping between the mezzanine and the floor below, visitors ascend and disappear into a quickly vanishing sightline, their trusting flow mimicking that of broken toys on a conveyor belt destined for a sharp drop.

‘Transcultural displacement’ felt by Korean artist Do-Ho Suh inspired Staircase V, a re-creation of the staircase in his New York apartment block and a moment of quietude within the exhibition. A glowing plane of translucent red fabric with everything, from light bulbs to banisters, made from this same red fabric instils in its inhabitants a certain unspoken expression of movement sympathetic to the materials fragile stitching.

The stretchy organza skin of Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto’s walk-in skeletal environment evokes a similar gentile parade although its counterpoint to the less precious, more violent interpretations on other floors means a less captivated response from its audience.

To interact freely with the scarred debris of Mike Nelson’s remade version of his To the Memory of HP Lovecraft (1999) is to unleash imagination onto converging planes; the memory of a presence, an unmentionable thing trapped in the blankness of an empty gallery, clawing, tearing, aching to get out as if the very walls that entomb it ridicule its bestial instinct. There is something particularly unnerving but wonderful about the vigour in which Nelson casts his hatchet.

In the Frozen Study of a Disaster, by Havana-based Cuban collective Los Carpinteros, another type of aggression is inherent, this time suggestive of nature’s fury; a materialised still of a furniture showroom showered in the remnants of its once pristine domesticity.

Beneath the surface of Place (Village) 2006-08, domestic unrest further lingers as Rachel Whiteread uses doll’s houses, which she has been collecting for more than 20 years, to install a townscape constructed from travelling crates. The disturbing emptiness of every miniature dwelling suggests a certain psychosis you get with suburban architecture but I can not help but feel a sense of lived space from the warm light spilling out of the tiny mullioned windows, the association to home unavoidable with such ambiance even if intended to confront.

Maybe that’s why, as it celebrates it 40th year, the Hayward Gallery has finally come to be revered. Comfort in familiarity.

The Hayward, 28 May to 25 August 2008

All images taken at The Hayward

Los Carpinteros
Show Room, 2008
Cinder blocks, fishing nylon, Ikea and B&Q furniture
Courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York
Photo: © Stephen White


Atelier Bow-Wow
Life Tunnel, 2008
Steel plate
Courtesy Atelier Bow-Wow


normally, proceeding and unrestricted with without title, 2008
Mixed media
Courtesy the artists
Photo: © Stephen White



Ernesto Neto
Life fog frog…Fog frog, 2008
Polyamide textiles, digital cut plywood, spices, beads and hooks
Courtesy the artist, Fortes Vilaça SP and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York
Photo: © Stephen White


Rachel Whiteread
Place (Village), 2006–08
Mixed media: doll’s houses, crates, boxes, wood, electrical fittings and fixtures, electricity
Courtesy Rachel Whiteread
Photo: © Stephen White


Tomas Saraceno
Observatory, Air-Port-City, 2008
Mixed media
Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York


Mike Nelson
To the Memory of H.P. Lovecraft, 1999, 2008
Mixed media
Courtesy the artist, Matt’s Gallery, London and Galleria Franco Noero,Torino
Photo: © Stephen White


(Hero image above article)
Do Ho Suh
Staircase – V, 2003/04/08
Polyester and stainless steel tubes
Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York
Photo: © Stephen White

Alexi’s ’Design Opinion’ pieces are uploaded once a month. Look out for her next piece in July.



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