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2 sculptures of human bodies on wall
2 sculptures of human bodies on wall

Installation view of Roger Hiorns’s 2016–17 solo exhibition at Ikon.



Pulverized altar stones, naked youths, jet engines filled with anti-depressants—these are just some of the exhibits in a powerful new survey of mid-career British artist Roger Hiorns at Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, England, through March 5.

Hiorns is known for his Turner Prize–nominated work Seizure (2008), in which he lined an entire flat in a south London housing project with copper sulphate, turning it into a vast sparkling blue grotto covered with razor-sharp crystals. He has also coated small objects and reduced larger ones to dust.

His recent work, as he explained, is about “putting the human back at the center of the artwork.” To that end, the human element appears as naked youths; suspended dummies that periodically slump to the ground; and as various anthropomorphic sculptures.

“The show itself is really a lot about the predicament of the body and the pressures that that body is under and the flesh is under,” the Birmingham-born artist said as we toured the installation.

In the upstairs gallery, two naked youths move among sculptures, an X-ray machine lying overturned on the floor, a pile of dust from the pulverized altar stone, and a jet engine filled with anti-depressants. Why anti-depressants? According to Hiorns, it’s to do with the idea that there’s “a certain other reality that’s in play,” produced by the mind-altering medicine. He thought a military machine would make for an interesting collision. From time to time a fire is ignited by gallery staff on part of the engine’s body, recalling its original purpose and reinforcing its current dysfunction. It’s not enough heat to provide much warmth for the youths, one of whom complained that the metal was “quite cold and uninviting” to sit on. “If it gets painful we can give you some painkillers,” Hiorns replied, not altogether sympathetically. The youths simply represent a renewable material, unlike the objects in the sculptures that will eventually age.

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