DRAF: HOUSE OF LEAVES, 1ST Movement
by Emily Burns
‘A House of Leaves’ marks the inauguration of DRAF’s new roomier premises, a 19th-century former furniture factory in Mornington Crescent. The choice of location fits with the Director Vincent Honore’s vision that ‘a museum is a production site’. This is where the similarity ends, however, as from now on the space that once churned out formulaic domestic utilities will facilitate the creative and varied outpourings of a contemporary art museum.
However, DRAF is not your ordinary art museum. Emerging from self-imposed incubation to propose a de-institutionalised and anti-authoritarian vision for the future, DRAF claims it doesn’t possess a Collection but is instead responsible for an autonomous collection (read: assemblage) of works that are ‘activated’ by human engagement through contemporary debate, and choose their own trajectories through time, space and the imagination. Furthermore, DRAF has laid the foundations for this envisaged culture of ‘co-production’ with an ambitious programme of events, interventions, special commissions, study ‘Labs’ and a library. Whether the Foundation has bitten off more than it can chew is yet to be established but, if the present show is anything to go by, the priority certainly isn’t to be navigable for the casual observer. While a leaflet is provided to explain the show’s multiple tangents, the fact that it indulges in thirty paragraphs suggests the phrase ‘less is more’ is not one DRAF holds dear. Nevertheless, armed with information on DRAF’s core ethos, interdisciplinary points of reference and key themes, the exhibition proves a rewarding experience.
The exhibition title is derived from an acclaimed ‘ergodic’ novel by Mark Z. Danielewski, ‘House of Leaves’ (2000), in which various narratives intertwine using different fonts and copious footnotes that often reference books that do not exist. The central premise is of a house whose internal measurements inexplicably grow larger than its external dimensions, eventually engulfing its occupants. DRAF’s exhibition mimics this flux by evolving its space and meanings over a six-month period through the substitution of artworks and shifting thematic focus. The vehicle for these changes is a visual symphony composed in three movements plus an epilogue, inspired by John Cage’s minimalist work, ‘Quartet,’ a performance of which will close the show.
Each Movement has been allocated a central work as a point of departure. The First Movement, the focus of this review, is concerned with the concept of the museum as a structure and is inspired by Louise Bourgeois’s ‘ECHO VIII’ (2007), a bronze cast of the artist’s own jumper. The Second Movement is centred on Gerhard Richter’s ‘Fuji’ (1996) and will explore abstraction and minimalism as represented in Cage’s music. The Third Movement will focus on Pierre Huyghe’s ‘Silent Score’ (1997), addressing the museum as a stage for conceptual art and performance, and evidently in homage to Cage’s seminal silent work 4’33 (1952). The closing Epilogue will represent ‘a movement towards the void’ as the exhibition space empties and reveals its base structure of architecture and volume.
The interdisciplinary influences of ‘Quartet’ and ‘House of Leaves’ challenge and broaden the viewer’s interpretation of the exhibition, and can be identified from the outset in Bourgeois’s anthropomorphic ‘ECHO VIII’: Danielewski recounts the classical myth of Echo in his novel, and the abstract tones of Cage’s music recall the nymph’s disembodied, recurring voice. Moreover, like Danielewski’s house, the artist’s unnaturally stretched clothing is abstracted from its previous purpose as a comforting screen from the elements and is instead objectified as cold, hard and, characteristic of Bourgeois, phallic.
As form-less clothing haunted by Echo’s lonely voice, Bourgeois’s work powerfully establishes the themes of memory, hybridity and bodily fragmentation which pervade the exhibition. The surrounding room is expertly curated to echo these, with Bethan Huws’ word vitrine ‘Untitled (And I sleep)’ (2007) reflecting on the human condition and ‘impulse towards destruction,’ while the distorted face of ‘Uberlebende (Survivor)’ (1998) marks Miriam Cahn’s response to the physical and psychological destruction of the Bosnian conflict.
These references to time passed, the destructive impulse, and the unnatural reappear throughout the show. Kris Martin’s ‘Mandi VIII’ (2006) is a cast of the famed ‘Laocoon,’ but bereft of the snakes which directed the figures to their fate; they now struggle pathetically with air, their story a historical caesura, suspended in time. Thomas Houseago’s tribal-like masks on totemic platforms are contrasted with Tony Cragg’s towering, faceless silver monolith of modernity, ‘The Fanatics’ (2006). In a corner, Man Ray’s fetishist glove ‘Le Gant Perdu’ (1967-1968) is sealed behind glass, objectified, out of context and, like Bourgeois’s clothing, ironically devoid of human touch.
The nine Interventions are used to great effect; discreetly arranged without labelling to maximise the pure interpretive experience, they exist in a separate dimension to the temporary exhibits. Particularly intriguing is ‘Eye or the War’ by Benoit Maire, a paradoxically introverted performance piece where the artist created a hole in the wall which he filled with an assortment of everyday objects. Through deconstructing and creating new space, and opening up where convention decrees there should be solidity, the artist simulates the mutation of Danilelewski’s house.
Perhaps the most powerful work is Matthew Day Jackson’s ‘August 6, 1945’ (2012), its title the date of the Hiroshima bomb. This majestic and tragic piece is a 3-D birds-eye impression of the aftermath of an atomic bomb in London made out of burned found objects. With the cacophony of the devastating event now in the past, the charred beauty of the city brings a new meaning to ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’, its entirety now equalised in indiscriminate destruction. And yet, as a thread of hope, the river progresses like liquid mercury through the blackened ruins, impressing on the viewer that even at the perceived end, in darkness, the moon still reflects off the water and there is light. This elegantly encompasses the main themes of the First Movement, referencing the memory of a time before; the fragmentation of the bomb and its targets; and the prospect of re-development and, ultimately, change.
As each symbolically named ‘movement’ progresses towards the final note and ensuing void, and the interior of the ‘House of Leaves’ swells outside its own walls, the catalyst that is the collection inspires the making of meanings and revelations extending beyond the confines of the exhibition space. Through insisting on a collaborative museum experience and putting trust in the interpretive capabilities of its audience, DRAF has certainly put the right foot forward.