In some ways my initial experience of Roger Hiorns ‘Seizure’ started before I actually set foot into the glittering den of blue crystals I’d heard a few excited whispers about. Armed only with a vague description of a flat full crystals I managed to hunt out the artist, the title and its location. Not knowing London very well having only visited central and well-signed galleries before I felt a little bit like an intrepid explorer tracking down a fabled treasure. This all calumniated in a child like excitement when I eventually found the shabby council flats, donned some wellies and joined a short queue as if waiting to enter a theme park attraction.
My childlike trepidation accompanied me when I first stepped into an inch or two of inky blue water and a small sparsely lit corridor in which every surface was infested with vivid blue shimmering knife edge forms. Odd clusters were dangling perilously from the ceiling where light fittings had once hung and a protruding horizontal band continuously lined the wall hinting at the old architecture that lay hidden beneath a solid carpet of blue crystals. To the left it opened out into a larger room which I can only imagine was once some ones living room or bedroom and to the right there was another small corridor which led into a cramped space containing an engulfed bath. The lighting was simple in all the spaces; one or two bright white bulbs; these and the lack of natural light cast a claustrophobic air familiar to caverns underground not council flats. This cold artificial light also played off the angular sides of the crystals setting off the dazzling hues magnifying a sense of the peculiar and unreal.
At first I was happy to move around the building just taking in the awe of the spectacle presented, a strange and beautiful cavern of gems in a seemingly familiar environment. The more I explored however the more a creeping sense that something sinister had taken place began to override my thoughts. Like stepping onto the set of a sci-fi or post apocalyptic film set where normal human existence has been interrupted, invaded or eradicated. This brought uncomfortable thoughts about the fragile and somehow miraculous nature of our existing in a very volatile and hostile universe combined with a morbid fascination of how things would be if there were to be a return to a geological reign, a loss of human control on the environment. Yet there was still a niggling thought in the back of mind when I stopped my imagination running away with itself that this was a situation controlled and created by a human hand.
It was a lengthy process converting the apartment into a water tight tank which was flooded with seventy thousand litres of hot copper sulphate solution, this was left to cool and crystallize for two and half weeks after which the excess was drained and an entrance was excavated from the adjoing flat.
This notion of a fine balance between creating and control is something I feel is quite important in the work that Roger Hiorns creates, especially in his choice of materials. In the past he has worked with foam detergent and fire as well as other pieces where copper sulphate solution was used to generate a transformation, removing an object from it original function completely, but never before on such a grand scale. He sets up the parameters for the change to take place but what actually transpires is out of his hands, the forms grow by themselves taking shape far from any predetermined plan. On introspection this could be paralleled with a human experience of emotional and personal growth, we are all subject to uncontrollable and unpredictable forces that shape the people we become sometimes transforming us into someone we or other’s no longer recognise.
Taking this back into the physical the immense transformation forced upon the flat is all the more apparent for the site chosen, had this been done in a clinical white cube galley space I think a lot of the context would have been lost. The idea that something redundant and ugly like a drab concrete flat condemned for demolition being transformed into something so bizarre and harrowing is very integral to the work. I also appreciated the fact that to enter the newly adorned flat you had to pass through its neighbour, which still had remnants of its original purpose, a place for someone to exist; such as some tatty wallpaper or a sink with soap marks. In an unnerving way I felt a little bit like an intruder. This unlikely choice of a redundant piece of 60’s architecture could also be construed as having some deep-rooted social commentary on the class divide and way in which the beauty of life experiences are portrayed or the value placed on certain things. The title ‘Seizure’ also works on many levels bringing up ideas of a physical form being forcibly overridden by another, or the physical impact on the body of claustrophobia and asphyxia as well as on a more psychological level.