Daniel Silver: Dig
The Odeon Site (off Tottenham Court Road), London
Commissioned and produced by Artangel
with the support of The Henry Moore Foundation
12 September - 3 November 2013
Review by Rebecca Sykes
You never know what unexpected rewards a walk through a muddy car park can bring. My first clue that Artangel’s latest site-specific project ‘Dig’ - on show in a derelict site just off Tottenham Court Road - contains hidden treasures was the sight of children excitedly excavating puddles with their wellies at the centre of the exhibition space. As the title makes clear, artist Daniel Silver’s installation is an evocative archaeological site, and audiences are invited to survey the assortment of artefacts apparently wrested from the ground, now arranged on tables for closer inspection in this primordial playground.
Among the diverse fragments it is possible to glimpse what appear to be shards of flint and the frozen folds of a toga, in objects that work to dismantle any hierarchy of art materials - mud and marble are placed side by side without comment. But there are many forms on display that are not easily absorbed by existing categories of natural history; alien bones and gaping Martian mouths have been articulated into plaster. It seems that the divine power of naming has been gifted to audience members instead.
This suggestion of the supernatural is sustained by the fantastic army of figurines that occupy the rest of the space like giant chess pieces that could have been made to entertain a truculent god; the game’s Indian origins are suggested by the Ganesh-like characters standing guard like Knights. If chess is war on a board, however, then at first glance ‘Dig’ appears to host a curiously one-sided contest, as only White (plaster and marble) pieces are on display: the idols are in need of an adversary. As if on cue, a series of severed heads which bear an unmistakable likeness to Charles Darwin come into view. But unlike the divine bodies who proudly stand to attention, the naturalist’s inimitable beard is left to graze the floor, like a wonky tee supporting a golf-ball cranium waiting for the inevitable blow. The result of this unlikely congregation is a wonderful treasure trove that teems with the competing mythologies - whether born in the ancient world or a geologist’s study - that make up our intellectual inheritance.
The playful mood is paused, however, when you take a set of steps down into a lugubrious lair that unfolds like a crime scene. It is here that another regiment of Darwin’s doppelgängers (or is it Socrates’), twice life size this time and raised up by six altar-like columns that mirror the concrete pillars supporting the site, have set up camp. Past these phantoms we find a life-cast of the artist himself, his supine figure suspended beneath a brooding marble bust of Freud. Silver’s ghoulish self-portrait is more in need of a surgeon than a shrink however. His body is peppered with globular growths, and we are left to wonder about the world the artist’s subconscious inhabits: the audience as analyst.
What most enthrals, however, is the lone female figure, her head clad in a bonnet with tendrils of hair just visible, who stands at the far end of the basement, directly opposite Freud. Starkly at odds with the patriarchal relics on display, she quietly observes the scene, firmly facing off with the father-figures that haunt our collective subconscious. It is her tragedy and ours that she is left mute. What stories could she add to the mix’