The Waiting Room by Sarah Sze
Thanks to Katy Hessel
The heady delights of international travel plus days full of life admin has meant that walks have been few and far between this week. I did however, run away to Peckham Rye on Wednesday. I went because I follow the wonderful Katy Hessel, who did an Instagram post about an installation called The Waiting Room by the artist Sarah Sze. Sze was interviewed for Great Women Artists podcast if you want to find out more about her practice. This installation is in the old waiting room for Peckham Rye train station. It finishes on Sunday. I dashed off to see it before it was too late.
It is free to visit and was created in collaboration with an organisation called Artangel. They specialise in working with artists to create site specific pieces in unusual places. Some of it is permanent and some of it, like Waiting Room is available to visit for a specific time period.
The building itself is gorgeous. Faded and dilapidated, it has been made stable without losing its sense of purpose and history. Modern additions have been made to show their workings, like difficult maths problems. Half way up the stairs to the exhibition the Victorian staircase suddenly becomes a cast, concrete staircase, both resolutely heavy and floating up through the floor, past layers of sawn floorboards and the ragged outcrops of ghostly walls. Paint patches against the plaster, peeping its message of age and renewal. Windows are sliced about, showing glimpses in to what was and out to what is. The exhibition space is huge. Folding chairs are arranged across the undulating floorboards and the roof joists soar above you. To me, it felt like going to church, waiting for a miracle to happen.
I got my miracle.
You sit on your wobbly chair in the half darkness, lit only by the flare of lights coming from the installations. In front of you is a huge, half sphere, constructed out of thin, wire scaffolding and pieces of blank paper. The paper curves inward, inviting you into the hollow curl of space. Positioned around the scaffolding are projectors which click constantly as images whirl and play across the whiteness, filling the void with erupting volcanoes, splash patterns and floods of colour. Filmed footage of hands doing things and bodies in motion seem intimate but unknowable. You want to create a narrative. It seems important to decode what you see, but as soon as you grasp a sense of something tangible, it fragments across the paper, flickering out into completely other images until that unravelled narrative spools away into the darkness of the room.
The sphere empties and fills like the tide. It pulls you in and even as you accept the invitation, you are surging out again. Always in your ear is the tick, tick, tick of the projectors marking time. It is like watching the universe being made and unmade in moments. Tangible moments that you are viscerally aware of and a part of.
Other projectors spin images outwards. Colours shimmer and shift against the peeling walls. Sometimes flocks of birds fly, escaping through chinks in the windows and up into the roof space. As the colours pool round you and the birds fly up, glimmers of white light coalesce and shimmer across the floorboards. In this space, everything you thought you knew becomes miraculously new. It’s like being a child again and seeing everything for the first time. This is a machine for pouring magic back into a tired reality.
At the back of the sphere are two more projectors. These show different images which merge with the colours and shapes emitting from the orb in front. At certain times they cast strong shadows of the structure holding the orb in place. Geometry lights the floor, hinting at an order that disappears as you try to grasp it. Wires snake from the projection boxes, blooming with organic shapes of leaves and plants which when the lights catch them, ebb and flow, sharp and soft, big and small, growing across walls drenched with colour.
I stayed for a long time. I felt like I was standing inside a spell that was affecting me as it was being cast. After a while I stopped trying to make sense of what I was seeing. I just existed within it. I imagine it’s what meditation feels like if you’re really good at it, which I am not. Sze calls these pieces Timekeepers. For me, it was the gift of a time out of time, and all the more welcome because it was unexpected, just like a miracle should be.