One of the most talked about exhibitions during Gallery Weekend was the sculptural installation Turning the Seventh Comer by Tim Noble and Sue Webster, created in collaboration with architect David Adjaye at the Blain/Southern gallery’s massive new Berlin space. A pitch dark, intestine-like passage leads – after turning seven corners – to a gilded sculpture that casts a shadow in the form of the artists’ face-to-face profiles. The “heads” are made of mummified rodents that were collected by Noble’s mother’s three cats and tucked away under a comfy armchair in her country cottage.
sleek: The labyrinthine tunnel takes after the Egyptian pyramids, whose riches were (somewhat ineffectively) protected by a malediction that would befall intruders who disturbed the peace of the pharaohs. Are the dead, mummified creatures in your sculpture a warning sign? Will something bad happen to those who enter the installation?
Tim Noble: It’s not about the decay of the flesh or a curse; it’s about finding a secret. The gallery space seemed to suggest that a lot of objects should to be put in it, but we didn’t want to do that. We said to Harry [Blain], listen, this is a brilliant space, but how about we show in the dirty old shed over there? We wanted to create a personal, intimate encounter with just one piece. And we wanted to put a delay on getting to it.
sleek: This space, which used to house the printing presses of the German daily Der Tagesspiegel, is not easy to work with and will probably influence the art shown here. Do you think the gallery will now specialize in huge installations?
Sue Webster: In a way, we influenced the decision of where to open the gallery, based on what we wanted to do with our installation, because we went with Harry to look at spaces together. We looked at a lot of locations, but this was the one we all wanted the moment we saw it. There was something going on in the building, a resonance which was tremendously exciting. So we were quite adamant that they should not make a gallery out of it yet. We wanted to keep it really raw.
sleek: When Harry Blain and Graham Southern closed their former Berlin gallery, Haunch of Venison, nobody expected them to reopen a new space so soon. But here it is. Why the insistence on Berlin? Does the city have a special meaning to you?
SW: Berlin was the first place I ever travelled to, my dad took me when I was 16. The Wall was still up, we stayed in the West and went on a tour to the East one day. As soon as we crossed Check Point Charlie I was struck by all the red communist flags. Everything was black and white, with a sea of red flags. Berlin still feels black and white to me. My favourite album cover of all time is David Bowie’s “Heroes”, perfection in black and white, recorded in Berlin. I’ve kept coming back year after year and I noticed that the parts that I liked about Berlin are slowly disappearing…
TN: This was also one of our main struggles with this space. We asked them to keep as much stuff in as possible, but they want to turn it into a conventional gallery. Every day we came in we noticed that more and more things were missing, cleaned away. But we managed to keep quite a lot of stuff here.
sleek: They’re probably just waiting for you to leave to change it all!
SW: It’s like anywhere else, anything that’s slightly edgy gets conventionalized, sanitized. Galleries, especially in London, have come to resemble shop windows. You can take it all in, consume the art quickly. We wanted to bring it back to the intimate experience of looking at art and thinking about it. We wanted to do something memorable that would haunt the viewers during a weekend where everyone is shopping around.