Do you dig contemporary art?
If the answer is yes, then you’ll love a new art installation located in a subterranean basement on a building site in the heart of London.
Dig is an ambitious presentation of artist Daniel Silver’s work in the former Odeon cinema site on Grafton Street off Tottenham Court Road.
It takes the form of groups of figurines and statues arranged across two levels of the abandoned site which was once the site of one of the city’s largest cinemas.
Walking down to the art installation is a slightly surreal experience. Part of me expected a building foreman to give me a hard hat and high visibility jacket before I could enter the exhibition.
This striking art installation is a bit like a visit to the British Museum’s antiquity displays with groups of statuary and broken body parts.
So it was intriguing to find out that the starting point for the exhibition was another collection of artefacts from a very different London museum.
Apparently the artist is fascinated by the sculpture collection of Sigmund Freud, the 19th Century father of psychoanalysis, which can be seen in his house in Hampstead (open to the public).
The Freud collection comprises about 2,000 objects from a variety of cultures including Assyrian, Egyptian, Roman, Greek and Chinese.
Many of the casts in the Dig exhibition relate directly to the sculptures in Freud’s home.
You can imagine them lurking ominously in the background as Freud wrote notes and analysed the patients visiting his consulting room.
As you enter the main room of the exhibition the first thing you’ll see are body parts, torsos, decapitated heads and random limbs laid out on tables, as if awaiting scrutiny.
It’s all a little unnerving but fascinating at the same time.
The sculptural groups also reminded me a little of Anthony Gormley’s The Field with its carefully assembled sandstone figures – but here the figures seem more random.
The pieces are arranged on the tables as if awaiting classification. Many are broken or fragmented, reminding me of an archaeologist’s work bench.
I learned that Freud thought archaeology was a metaphor for his own practice of uncovering the minds of his patients so perhaps there’s a suggestion of the viewer trying to dig deeper into what’s going on.
It’s as if artist Daniel Silver is exploring the pieces like an archaeologist – digging into history and the deities and spirits of the past.
Head downstairs down a rickety metal staircase and you happen upon a kind of subterranean bog people who appear like apparitions set amidst ponds of water.
Their ghostly presence and low light levels combine to create an unnerving experience.
There’s a cultish feeling to the whole scene and I was reminded of ancient pagan ceremonies and stone circles.
Artist Daniel Silver says that the figures are supposed to look like they’re emerging from a primordial swamp.
I certainly found them creepy and disturbing… and was pleased that I wasn’t alone in this subterranean ‘dungeon’.
Many of the heads have been eroded or have exaggerated features which add to the feeling that they’ve come from a different time zone.
It’s Assyrian archaeology meets a bunch of otherworldly Dr Who figures.
I was surprised to read that the face of the figure is based on a life-cast of the artist who seems to have become part of this surreal, dream-like landscape.
Overall, this is an intriguing exhibition which poses more questions than providing answers.
What do the sculptured figures mean? Why are some of them defaced, deformed or broken? What is the artist digging into?
Although it’s a compelling show, it’s not one of my favourites from the impressive Artangel stable which has in the past given us Antony Gormley’s burning, giant Waste Man – a modern art Wicker Man.
My favourite Artangel show remains Micheal Landy’s Break Down, in which thousands of people witnessed the destruction of every single one of the artist’s personal possessions in a vacant department store on Oxford Street.
Artangel has a reputation for producing some of the strongest visual art shows in London and they continue to challenge and invite visitors into unfamiliar locations and abandoned environments.
Why not go along and see if you can dig back in time?
Tammy’s top tips
The Dig art exhibition is located on the former Odeon Cinema site at 24 Grafton Way, off Tottenham Court Road in London. It’s easy walking distance from Warren Street Tube.
Dig runs until 3 November and it’s open from Tuesday to Sunday from 11:00-18:00 and admission is free.
Why not visit Sigmund Freud’s house in Hampstead to see where Daniel Silver derived inspiration for the Dig art installation.