My favourite bit of Sonic the Hedgehog on my megadrive was where you had to jump from platform to platform and if you got the timing wrong you’d be hit by one or both of these slowly rotating spiky balls or spiky flying insects. It turns out if you sellotape bin bags over rotary fans in a confined space you can get the same effect, as I discovered last month when Graham Hudson set up four of them in the corridorish Rokeby Gallery just off Tottenham Court Road.
It’s his second solo show at the gallery and this time he’s taken it over more wholeheartedly, engrossingly acknowledging the clumsy narrowness of the space with a room-sized installation/womb/contraption made from bits of found furniture and scrap wood with scratchy record players, bare light bulbs and moving obstacles. For all the mess of the place, there’s an ugly smoothness about it too – a very interior feeling – with laminated office furniture forming the glossy end walls and the feminine curvature of orifices through which we have to climb.
I had to go there twice because I didn’t have my camera the first time and I didn’t think I’d be able to get a handle on the experience of the show by just describing it – but of course now I find my photos aren’t up to the job either. Like most of his work, this sculpture only really works when you can see it in the flesh and clamber around inside, and worry about banging your head on something sharp or the flooring giving way if you land too heavily. You sort of know that Health & Safety doesn’t have the same clout in a private commercial gallery as it does in a place like the Tate, and that freedom – to do and to be done to – adds a certain necessary frisson given the cartoonish quality of the experience.
When I first saw the show about a month ago I wandered all the way through the central funhouse to the downstairs rooms at the back, since the open doorways, showy duck tape, cardboard boxes and indifferent invigilators made me think I was supposed to, and that it was all part of the exhibition. The friend I was with checked his email on a laptop he found down there on a scrappy office desk, which seemed like a reasonable thing to do.
But when I went back the second time there was no sign of the secret passageway apart from a doorway blocked with a wad of taken-apart cardboard boxes. The show came to an abrupt halt in a nondescript, emptyish room, which seemed like an afterthought now it no longer set the scene for a tentative trespass into what I’m starting to think might have been a real office space after all.
I’m not sure whether I’d prefer the back rooms to have been part of the show or not. On the one hand, they draw attention to the making of the work and hint at that crowd-pleasing D.I.Y. ethic that Hudson so definitively embodied last year. It’s nice to see the activity of the artist trail off into administration, off-cuts and trial versions. But on the other hand, seeing what I took to be mocked-up ‘real-life’ areas compromised the sincerity of the work over all. I’m not suggesting for a minute that we’re to take This sculpture is 18m long as a direct result of unmediated activity on the part of the artist, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask that the proposal it makes be left to stand on its own, without couching its ‘art object’ status within the inverted commas of a visible artistic persona.
Whether or not the back rooms are an element I’ve dreamed up, I think the question they raise is integral to Hudson’s practice and his presence within it. I wonder whether the occasional paint tubes dotted around the structure, stuck improbably to vertical surfaces by their own squeezed-out paint, are symptomatic of this unresolved tension between the maker and the thing made.
Graham Hudson at Rokeby, 37 Store St, London WC1E 7QF
28 August – 2 October 2007