Whenever I imagine museums, I immediately think of posh art fanatics, sampling fine wine and pondering why Picasso is greater than Van Gogh – an outdated view, I’ll admit, but for a working class, black female from Aston, I can say with absolute assurance: mainstream art rarely speaks to me.
Thus, I entered the Roger Hiorns’ show at the Ikon Gallery with this same notion and for a while, I thought I’d been proved right. Surrounded by suspended machinery, penises and grey sand – I was confused. How was I meant to identify with this artist’s work, let alone write a review about it?
Thankfully, a young woman who worked for the gallery helped me through the exhibition. By the end, my views on mainstream art had changed forever.
Firstly, the show is a homage to Hiorns’s life-long work – and as a son of Birmingham, it is nice to see the city honouring home grown talent. I was welcomed into the room by a hypnotising blue copper sulphate canvas; a microcosmic version of his 2008 project where he transformed an abandoned flat into a maze of blue crystals.
As we moved through the show, the once alienating phallic symbols became a message of hope and representation. It is rare to find a straight male artist portray both physical and spiritual connections in homosexuality, but Hiorns shouts his message defiantly: make gay mainstream. It is also beautifully displayed in Benign, a short poetry and digital art piece showing the power struggle and sensual emotions in male homosexuality; all symbolised by two, plain fists.
Hiorns is also fascinated with the process. Recycled machines oozing soapy foam becomes a metaphor for the human body and our progression through life. He eerily highlights the irreversible process ageing has on the body and how our environment affects our state of being
On a more controversial level, he filled some of the machines with anti-depressant drugs. Hiorns openly professes it is his way of addressing the mental and physical effects of Mad Cow Disease, but I saw it as a bold statement about mental health and the effects drugs have on the body, mind and soul. A powerful piece, but it became uncomfortably human when I re-visited the same exhibition to find young, naked males sitting on the machines, gaunt and emotionless. Hiorns transcended his art into the realm of performance; like watching your favourite film in 3D for the first time – nothing is hidden.
The last two pieces of his show will never leave my mind. Hiorns’s pulverised granite altar stone, previously belonging to a church, was vertically scattered on the floor. A simple piece that fills the room with ghosts of a past power, now reduced to ash. Afterwards, I was invited to watch a recording of the Birmingham Cathedral choir during their Evensong – except, the all-male choir were lying on the floor of the church, spread out from one another. This powerful political statement rebels against the clique nature of the church; promoting individual identity in the midst of brotherhood. But through the continuous singing of the evensong, it reinforces diversity does not mean disruption to tradition. The old can exist with the new – if we allow it.
By the end of the show, Hiorns had awoken my inner lover, activist and philosopher all at once. His work took me on a journey through the process of life and challenged my relationship with religion, politics and authority. His work taught me an unforgettable universal truth: regardless of culture or background, art still has the power to re-define the world in our image.
The Roger Hirons Exhibition will be on display until Sunday 5th March 2017