Alternative Guide to the Universe at the Hayward Gallery
Hung in the Southbank Centre’s Hayward Gallery, the exhibition title makes a bold claim but not entirely without reason: it draws together a collection of self-taught artists and fringe thinkers from various walks of life across the globe. When the Hayward Gallery hosted the first UK Outsider Art exhibition in 1979, it was a style that had not been seen before in this country. The pieces on display today are embedded with “Outsider” ideas. They bridge a variety of disciplines and are not necessarily easy to access.
There is an assortment of more traditional styles, running alongside note-heavy diagrams of anything from numerology to human energy channels. Marcel Storr portrays looming towers of intricately detailed, futuristic architecture, while Guo Fengyi depicts numerical anatomical diagrams. The overall result is like a cross between Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks and the drafts of a discordian-gothic sci-fi.
A guide to the universe is a tall order for regular scientists, never mind anyone else, so maybe it’s fitting that it’s difficult to pin down everything that is presented. You get the idea that they were trying to communicate something, but you’re not entirely sure what that is specifically. There are plenty of brilliant ideas from artist to artist, but it’s hard to say what they add up to as a whole. Perhaps art isn’t really an appropriate platform for discussing fringe theories like these without the accompaniment of several tomes worth of information. There’s a good reason that mathematics, conceptual architecture and esoteric lore comes in book form – there’s just too much technicality there to be communicated by anything but language.
With all of that said, it’s a genuinely fascinating show. The mixture of ideas and mediums on display keeps things from becoming dull – this is not simply a series of rooms full of pretty pictures. However, it’s still difficult to know what to make of it all. It’s worth seeing simply because the art on display is so interesting. Even if you haven’t looked into the exhibition’s context, Alternative Guide to the Universe is sure to make you think.
The Alternative Guide to the Universe is at the Hayward Gallery from 11th June until 26th August 2013. For further information visit the gallery’s website here.