Daniel Silver: Dig @ 24 Grafton Way

Dig is the new exhibition by London based sculptor Daniel Silver, commissioned by Artangel and supported by Arts Council England.

Spanning two levels of an early 20thcentury derelict building just a few meters off Tottenham Court Road, Silver’s site specific exhibition instantly intrigues the curiosity of visitors and passers-by alike. The ground floor encompasses a section with an extensive assortment of fragmented plaster cast pieces laid on tables and another unit features grouped medium sized statues. A staircase leads to the basement, a semi dark, wet and muddy environment filled with a cluster of large clay statues overlooked by a marble bust of Sigmund Freud, near his legendary couch occupied by an androgynous figure.

The ruined building with the fragmented and deformed nature of Silver’s works emerges as a clear parallelism of an excavation site hence the title of the show, Dig. But Silver expands his metaphors even further by introducing Freud into his narrative. The exhibition literature informs us of Freud’s credence that psychoanalysis is the method of excavation of the psyche. Personal and peculiar fragments of the past are dug up and unearthed to be analysed and to be eventually reconstructed.

Freud’s collection of statuettes encompassing a plethora of cultures and civilisations is reflected in Silver’s works. Imbued with elements of ancient Greek, Egyptian and Southwest Asian art iconography, they are grouped in diverse formats. From the fractured and catalogued looking pieces of the ground level we are taken to the more sizeable and structured sculptures underground. A set of Mesopotamian figures (male and female) with their hands clasped, right over left, in a gesture of spiritual attentiveness gaze at a constellation of five life-size hermaic steles featuring male busts. Visitors find themselves caught between the two groups as they walk in to an unsettling locus. At the opposite end and in a separate, higher raised section, sits the bust of Freud overlooking the entire space. An entity lies in the Freudian couch to the left, facing the light and indirectly the figures across.

This anthropomorphous being with the physical characteristics of male (apparently the face is cast from the artist’s own) and female, impregnates the collective unconscious of the human mind. The inanimate chorus turn their backs to the source of light. These ‘archaic remnants’ stand inaudible and critically confronting the viewer as they walk passed them. They could be effigies of ancient Greek philosophers or just cloned paternal figures undergone facial deformation and erosion. The viewer witnesses an excavation of buried emotions echoing and reflecting the patterns of childhood, family, society and religion.

Silver’s choice of the derelict site for Dig is poetic. Not only has he made use of the raw hypostasis of the building but he has also appointed all ancillary elements to compliment his narrative. From a curatorial point of view the underworld domain is magnificent and a must see. He wittingly engages the viewer in unfolding his narrative right from the start and he dares us to face his enigmatic ghosts from the past. Nonetheless, it proves a bit disappointing to find someone else lying in that couch.

Daniel Silver talked to REVma -/+ about his exhibition and work:

REVma -/+: Your show encompasses iconographical elements from numerous ancient civilisations. Which of these have been the most inspirational as well as influential in your work?
D.S.: I grew up in Jerusalem which is littered with archaeological digs and was fascinated to visit them as a child. The inherently robust material nature of sculpture has allowed it to be one of the more prevalent art forms to survive from ancient civilisations. There is also a complex discourse of re-appropriation of these sculptures that I think informs and inspires all sculpture since.

REVma -/+: The archaeology of the soul has been the discourse of many; what in particular attracted you to Freud?
D.S.: Freud had his own collection of figurines, Egyptian, Greek, Indian, Asian and African, that he kept in his consulting rooms. He was said to have compared archaeology to his own practice of uncovering desires and phobias. The disciplines of archaeology and psychoanalysis have a similar basis in fact/science, yet also rely heavily on the art of interpreting the past.

REVma -/+: What were the criteria for selecting the derelict site on 24 Grafton Way?
D.S.: I studied at The Slade around the corner and had been cycling past the site for years. The half built structure suited the project because it has the structure that we see all over the city and the lower ground floor looks like a dig.

REVma -/+: Where would be your ideal location to exhibit? Do you prefer the outdoors as opposed to indoors?
D.S.: I have shown work in both environments and will be showing part of Dig in Jerusalem from next summer.