Simon Faithfull at Chisenhale Gallery, London (1998)

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 15 September 2009
This review first appeared in World Sculpture News, 4(4), page 51 in 1998.

Simon Faithfull at Chisenhale Gallery

The state of the environment is an important issue for many artists, but not many of their works are described at the outset as “heroic failures”. Yet such was the case with Simon Faithful’s recent large-scale installation entitled Hertford Union (1998).

For the exhibition, Simon Faithfull pumped water from the nearby Hertford Union canal, through the Chisenhale Gallery wall using plastic tubing, and into the whitewashed exhibition space. The dirty water entered the dimly lit gallery through one tube and was then divided into further tubes to fill eight display racks that suggested a science laboratory. The water then flowed downward through three illuminated containers, each containing a collection of objects including brushes, plastic pipe pieces, and string, which provided focal points for the exhibition. Faithfull describes these as “a habitat for bacteria which purifies the water.”

Finally, the water returned through a series of confluences, back through the gallery wall and into the canal. His installation pitted the pristine gallery sanctuary against the polluted, man-made canal outside. This questioned ideas of technological process and remedies. Even while setting up the cleaning mechanism, he knew that the work was [actually] a futile gesture. He explains in this artist’s statement: “My work invariably hovers on the boundary between sense and nonsense.” His “heroic” deed has the effect of simulating challenges undertaken, while at the same time questioning the effort and planning.

In Escape Vehicle No. 5, exhibited earlier this year, Simon Faithfull used a concrete block to anchor a rope that led upwards through a hole drilled in the glass skylight of the gallery. Outside and above, a weather balloon was secured to the end of the rope with a chair attached. Back in the gallery, a pair of scissors were positioned on the wall behind emergency glass.