Artangel has become renowned for curating exhibitions that tempt audiences into unexpected buildings around London. For its latest project, created by Brazilian artist José Damasceno, we are invited to explore the Holborn Library…
Titled ‘Plot’, Damasceno work is spread throughout the four storeys of the library, with visitors encouraged to journey around the space, aided in their quest by a series of tiny yellow arrows. Works are placed in amongst the book stacks, on the ceilings, in the stairwells and on the outside walls, with viewers invited to piece together the links and meanings of the work and construct their own narratives.
In one room, a brightly lit, double height space, cut-out figures are arranged in groups that hang upside down from the ceiling. Oblivious to their situation, they stroll placidly, like people in an architectural drawing, offering a vision of an optimistic future. Less cheerful is another installation of cut-outs. Sliced from the pages of a 1960 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, they form thousands of child-sized feet, placed bleakly in piles in the stairwell window spaces.
Upstairs a lumpen figure formed from grey slabs slumps forwards over a library table (haven’t we all felt like that in a library sometimes?), while on a table nearby the text for a play, written by the artist and inspired by Monty Python sketch, is left for viewers to discover.
All these works are leading us to the main event on the top floor of the building, which takes place across a series of rooms, the most striking of which is an old wood-panelled theatre, renovated by the artist for the work. On the floor are a series of wooden islands, designed in a similar colouring to the walls, which seem to have grown out of the floor. Their shapes were in part designed by the room itself, with the perimeter measurements of all the shapes adding up to that of the room.
In a previous life this room was used by the Gothic Film Society to host screenings of Hammer Horror films and it is a treat to be allowed access. The meaning of Damasceno’s work is ambiguous and the pleasure in this piece lies as much in the treasure hunt around this dishevelled but delightful building as in deciphering all the clues within his story.
José Damasceno: Plot is on show at Hilborn Library until November 23. More info is at artangel.org.uk. All photographs by Will Eckersley.