‘open door and come inside’ reads the ominous sign hanging on the hobbit hole door of Nelson Street’s St. John’s church. Curiouser and curiouser is this invitation from artist trio Matthew Arnold, Brendan Arnold and Daniel Cioccoloni. As articulated lorries roar past on the busy road behind you, you push a tentative hand against the wood and step out of the dazzling sun to follow them down the rabbit hole and into darkness.
Unease prickles your spine. The natural expectation of a crypt is that it will be as empty, dark and silent as the corpses it houses. But when you step into this space, you realise not only that there is something in here with you, but that it’s breathing.
A series of red bursts of light draw your attention to the wall in front of you. As though they are being targeted by sniper rifles, three bisected geodes glimmer before you like anemones coiling from the cracks in the wall. Each is set like a gem within a sculpted guise that reflects in some way the objects sense of itself, for example one of them is a particularly pretty geode, so it surrounds itself with lights in order to illuminate itself. The choice of these objects in particular represents a core idea of this particular sculptor’s art, the exploration of the strange existence of perfect geometry within nature. The manifestation of mathematical, scientific structures and entities in wholly unexpected surroundings.
Realising that the aesthetically disruptive laser-tagging is in fact initiating a pattern of fluorescence in the three geodes, you turn to find the culprit, and see that it is so large, luminous and downright weird looking that you wonder how on earth you could have missed it in the first place, suspended above the doorway like a giant upside down fish. Upon closer inspection we can see that, set within its luminous body are the companion halves of the three geodes on the wall opposite, and its own body is a conglomeration of all three identities. This fourth geode is a sort of preacher, sending signals to its three disciples to respond.
A low bubbling breathing sound now draws our attention to a large shape lying on a low slab, propped up on wooden struts and throbbing with a dull light. From a distance its smooth, rounded off plaster makes it initially resemble a polished human thigh or a huge dismembered fish, something organic in hibernation, its ‘skin’ mottled with what look like veins. As you move closer though, you begin to realise all is not as it seems, what you thought were veins are becoming something else, something more precise, more unnatural, like blueprints or circuit boards. The object itself seems to be aware of your proximity and reacts, as though trying to ward you off. The light pulses and brightens, the sounds change to an uncomfortable metallic scratching as the objects artificiality is revealed and as it struggles to cope with your proximity. And then it glitches. Its digital circuits are failing. Your haptic response to light indicators kicks in; if something is flashing it means something is wrong. You leave it alone. You let it go back to sleep.
An artefact is hiding in a corner. Sitting in a cold light of its own emanation, surrounded by rocks as though attempting to blend in with them, it resembles an oversized egg or the tusk of an ancient giant. Quadrisected by more wooden struts (a recurrent theme in all of the sculptures) the artefact has been opened up, like the geodes, to reveal a strange space within. A pyramid, suspended like some kind of core, it and the space around it patterned with the minutely detailed and colourful concentric circles which have become the signature (and I would almost argue the obsession) of this sculptor’s work.
The sounds it is making are as distant as you are, but unlike the glitching sleeper, this artefact is encouraging you to come closer, rewarding every approach with new sounds and brighter illumination, until you can see the delicate ‘tattoos’ on its surface. These etchings are not merely there to continue the motif of all the sculptures to display abstract representations of themselves however, they are also there because the sculptor wanted the object to be beautiful both in light and in darkness. The musician has also made this one of the most audibly complex and responsive pieces by creating over fifty proximity activated soundscapes, making every experience of the object different for each observer. And again, the closer you get the more the digital nature of the thing reveals itself. The sounds become refined to digital tones, mathematical frequencies. Again, the artefact begins to glitch, and as you lean in close to admire the finite details, the lights go out.
It is time to face the behemoth.
Standing starkly in the darkness, a menacing two metres tall and mounted on an incredibly complex and fragile network of wooden struts and glass sheets, is the shard. Another elegantly tattooed plaster structure, it emerges from its stand like an overgrown flower stamen. As with the tusk, it has been bisected to reveal an inner space, but unlike the pyramid of the tusk, or the mathematical crystals of the geodes, the shard has a beating heart at its core. An inner gem, radiating with a dazzling light, and coated in a thinly stretched sheet of gnarled flesh (a cross-breeding of pig and lambs hearts). The shard is alive.
And it knows your there.
Your awe of the thing keeps you distant at first, and it appreciates this, illuminating itself brightly from the outside, displaying its exterior finery and emitting a natural sound like cicadas, occasionally releasing a pop or a click, an audible snag which, coupled with the detailing on its shell, inevitably draws you closer. A reflex action kicks in. With what the creators describe as ‘a semi-autistic response’, the shard closes in on itself. A swoop of sound, something between a sigh and a groan, and the lights change abruptly from exterior brilliance to interior glow. The entity begins to rustle, like an undulating nest of insects, and its heart, an inner homunculus of blood and diamond, shines out like a beacon. The sound becomes an unsettling high-pitched tone which builds to a cutting intensity like a perforating needle approaching your ear drum. Vivid ultraviolet images appear on its surface, simplified depictions of the object from certain angles which alter, appearing and disappearing, as your own position alters. As with a beautiful sea anemone which has drawn into its hulk to hide, you have to move away, keep your distance, before the entity will open up again.
Within this cold and hollow tomb, these three artists have created a living world of digital and natural visions and sounds. Instead of a vacuumed white cube space, they have chosen a canvas alive with its own depth of character. The belief associations, the engraved memorials, the sandstone of the tombs and flickering candle light, each sculpture reflects in some way. Even the accidental quirks of the space have created unforeseen behaviours in the sculptures. The rumble of an articulated lorry outside can cause the preacher geode to sway, causing its lasers to miss their targets, which in turn causes the light responses from the three disciple geodes to randomise, and entirely new sequences of light result. The more gung-ho observers will rush upon a sculpture and cause it to cut out immediately, leaving them literally in the dark. Curiosity always gets the better of us though, we step back, reassess, come at it from another angle. The chaos of environment made manifest.
‘open door and come inside’
This is one rabbit hole you will not regret tumbling down.