Art Exhibition Review: Space Shifters At Hayward Gallery – Southbank London

The Hayward Gallery in London’s Southbank Centre is a contemporary art gallery by definition. In actuality, it is a portal to a world of illusion, perceptive mystery, and mind-bending experiences. Here is all you need to know on its current exhibition, Space Shifters, as well as my takeaway thoughts on a few of my favourite pieces. 

Where is the Hayward Gallery?

The Hayward Gallery is part of London’s Southbank Centre, sat on (unsurprisingly) the Southbank of the Thames. Situated in brutalist style buildings of harsh concrete walls, the gallery is tucked behind the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

The entire Southbank Centre is a hub of culture. With exhibitions, concerts, talks, shops, and more, there is so much to explore in the area. The nearby National Theatre and British Film Institute are sat right alongside the Southbank Centre, surrounded by food stalls, benches, and street performers at every stop. Topped off with incredible views across the River Thames it’s hard to beat this area!

Blue sphere reflecting the sky sits atop a gallery rooftop
Sky Mirror, Blue by Anish Kapoor sits on the gallery rooftop

How to get to the Hayward Gallery

The nearest tube stations to the Hayward Gallery are Waterloo or Embankment. If arriving into Waterloo, leave the station and follow signs to the Southbank and turn right at the Royal Festival Hall, there are plenty of signs to guide you. If arriving at Embankment, cross the river and head towards the Southbank Centre, aim for the yellow steps and follow signs around the building to the gallery entrance.

London's Southbank Centre seen from across the river with The Shard behind
Southbank Centre

What is the Space Shifters exhibition?

The Space Shifters exhibition at the Hayward Gallery explores concepts of perception, space, and illusory experience through contemporary art installations and sculptures from a range of 20 artists over the last 50 years.

Space Shifters is the final exhibition to conclude the Hayward Gallery’s 50th anniversary, making it an ideal exhibition to visit in appreciation of all the great curated work done at the gallery. The theme of the exhibition is an appropriate end to this special year for the Hayward Gallery, offering a poignant yet minimalistic consideration of all things reflective and optical.

Man stands observing large contemporary art work
Observing the art

How much does Space Shifters cost?

Entry to the exhibition costs £16.50 for adult tickets (including donation). Concession price tickets are also available, so check with the Hayward Gallery for discounts you may be eligible for.

When can I see the Space Shifters exhibition?

The exhibition is open daily except Tuesdays until the 6th of January 2019, so plenty of time to visit however the exhibition does get quite busy on popular days such as weekends, and queues can be expected. The exhibition is open between 11am-7pm on all days besides Tuesday when it is closed, and Thursday when it is open until 9pm.

What to do at the Hayward Gallery

Explore! The Space Shifters exhibition is comprehensive but spacious (no pun intended!), so you won’t have to feel crammed into the art space or herded around the works. I also used the exhibition as a chance to play with my camera. With so many blissfully fascinating subjects and an array of lighting conditions, it was fun to explore different settings and styles.

There is also a cafe and small shop at the Hayward Gallery, an ideal pitstop for a bite and drink, or even a chance to debrief the exhibition after your visit. The shop has a healthy choice of exhibition-specific items as well as more general souvenirs that might suit any art fan, or yourself!

Bokeh effect of silver balls with blurred light reflections
Playing with the camera in Narcissus Garden

What to expect from Space Shifters

The exhibition hosts many diverse pieces covering a number of artists, including a few well-known names. A particular favourite work showcased in this exhibition is by Yayoi Kusama; her Narcissus Garden is an intriguing work of reflective silver balls scattered across the gallery floor. Seemingly at random, each ball has the appearance of being weighty and sturdy, and the light that bounces off and between them in a dream for photography fans to play with bokeh. The magpie in us all is utterly mesmerised by the dancing light. I sat surrounded by the balls, half thinking they might spring to life, half calmed by their immovable presence.

People standing amongst silver balls on the floor of art gallery
Narcissus Garden by Yayoi Kusama
Man stands observing silver balls on the floor of art gallery
They all look the same after a while…

Another surprise favourite was Parabolic Lens by Fred Eversley. This purple hued structure felt almost glowing, almost other-worldly. With two people standing on each side, the other is suddenly propelled to another dimension, one that feels so far away yet they are just a few feet from you. Humorous caricature visuals aside, one might even think that this piece instills the eery curiosity that sci-fi stories would dictate the observer is whisked away to somewhere far away. Alas, that isn’t the case here!

Man stands behind concave purple glass giving the illusion of being very far away
Untitled (Parabolic Lens) by Fred Eversely

Take time and care to explore each work individually; it can take a moment or two to understand what you’re observing. This is often the case with contemporary art, however, in this instance it’s especially true as the works are frequently warping your perception, so try to take a step back to understand and appreciate first (or you might even walk into the works!).

Contemporary art installation of mirrors, metal, and rocks
Spotting the mirrors in this installation is vital to avoid tripping or crashing into things

The beauty of such exhibitions is that often the works are somewhat interactive. While you might not be allowed to touch the works, some move around you, or you around them. This added element provides a depth to the exhibition; it is more than standing and looking. It is creating and evolving. Reliant on you as well as you relying on it for the work to be complete.

360 Illusion V by Jeppe Hein - Mirror rotating slowly on a wall
360 Illusion V by Jeppe Hein

Reflections

Many of the works are reflective in some way, a notion I found particularly intriguing. Reflections, in one way, are the are mirror images of ourselves. In this exhibition, those reflections are warped, creating grotesque versions, or surreal, dream-like figures.

Silver balls on the floor of London art gallery
Reflective surfaces of Narcissus Garden

And in the contemplative sense, art has always given a sense of reflection for me, as I’m sure it does for many others. In this forced sense of staring at oneself, guided to focus on perceptive concepts in the quiet and empty rooms of a gallery, it is in these instances one can feel most reflective. For me, I felt reflective on self-image. How we see ourselves, and which surfaces that humans create we consider most optimum to project the best version of ourselves.

Concave mirror reflecting warped version of two people
Non-Object Door by Anish Kapoor

Some works guided these concepts more than others. The shattered, neon glass of Magic Mirrors (Pink #2 & Blue) by Ann Veronica Janssens in particular instilled such thoughts. Besides the aesthetically enjoyable effects of the glass, seeing oneself literally in shattered pieces, yet still projecting bright colours, reminded me of internal and external projections of the self, and how these can often be blurred more than we think. It is often that we may offer a better version of us than we perceive ourselves to be, and in some ways this piece is able to demonstrate that notion.

Couple stand taking photo of their reflection in shattered, neon pink glass
Pink #2 & Blue by Ann Veronica Janssens

The main attraction

Arguably the most popular work in the Space Shifters exhibition is 20:50 by Richard Wilson. Entered one at a time, the work consists of a room that has a single walkway with a gentle incline through its middle, while the rest of the room is flooded with engine oil. Metal barriers the only prevention from the thick dark liquid spilling over. At its highest the liquid is just below your waist once you are in the centre of the eerily quiet room. It’s here that you feel most vulnerable. One missed step and you could be face first in this inky mirror. I myself peered cautiously over the glossy surface, my own, shadowy face staring back. It’s a rather dramatic experience, and one that grows more meaning in hindsight (remember the point about reflection?).

The staff explicitly remind you that you should not touch the liquid, but of course this only heightens your curiosity to touch the damn stuff (don’t worry, I didn’t). The childish need to do something you’re told not to do rising to the surface of your mind, you resist the urge and simply admire this undeniably impressive feat. How did they get the oil in here? How will they clean it up? It’s a fascinating piece, and well-worth the wait to see it.

room filled with engine oil serves as an art installation in art gallery
The stillness of 20:50

On that point, it is worth noting that as the entry to the room is one at a time. Not just single file, you must go into the room alone – adding an element of gleeful discomfort at having the art all to yourself to admire, but exclusively alone with a queue of onlookers watching. This means that there is likely to be an ongoing queue to see it, which is neatly organised by the staff – who remind you of a few basic rules (DON’T touch it or they’ll have to close it, basically). We waited around 30 minutes for our turn, but it can be up to an hour wait time. The seeping smell of oil did start to get to me in the queue, almost causing a tickle to my throat. As the main attraction, however, it seems silly not to persevere to see it though, right? If beauty is pain, art is suffering, I suppose.

Girl looking at reflective engine oil in an art exhibition in London
Inspecting 20:50 by Richard Wilson

The benefit of single entry is that you can get some pretty unique photos from the experience, and not a single bobbing head or awkward photo-bomber in sight – hurrah.

Summary

Before we knew it, we were exiting the exhibition. Time may not have been a core focus, but it was certainly manipulated during our visit examining the works. We spent around 2 hours throughly exploring the gallery which felt like enough time.

If you’re in London and looking for a unique art experience, I can’t recommend the Hayward Gallery enough. I’m always blown away by the exhibitions they offer, and Space Shifters is no exception. My top tip would be to choose carefully when you visit, if you’re able to do so. Parts of the exhibition (such as 20:50) can become busy, and slow down your experience. So, if you’re tight for time it may be wise to bear in mind the busier works may take some manoeuvring around.

Walking through a room filled with engine oil, art exhibition in London
20:50 by Richard Wilson

There are a wealth of other works not mentioned here, if I were to go through the experience and analysis of each I think this post would be a small novel! Check out the Hayward Gallery site for more information on what you can see at the exhibition.

Does Space Shifters sound like an art exhibition you’d like to visit? Let me know your thoughts on art, perception, London or anything else that’s on your mind!

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London, UK

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