Last year, in the run up to Halloween, I was pleased to hear about the Bedlam exhibition at the Old Vic Tunnels in Waterloo. I often associate the area with the bubonic plague along with other tales of torture that the 16th century had to offer. And my thoughts were confirmed when I reached the secret side entrance to the tunnels.Walking across the bridge that leads to the Old Vic Tunnels I looked down on the road below and saw bright graffiti boldly illustrating the walls. At first I thought this was the exhibition. But later I found it was urban artists at work and free to express themselves on the walls of the railway arches. Passersby, myself included, stood fascinated and took photos. I snapped away like a tourist on MDMA.
The Bedlam exhibition was organised and sponsored by HTC. In fact I was told that if I showed my phone I would be presented with a gift at the end of the event. Regardless of the slight commerciality, I immediately felt like I was about to embark on something exclusive and (no pun intended) ‘underground.’
The exhibition began in a startling manner. Once through the curtained entrance you stepped into pitch-black room. It was some moments before my eyes grew accustomed to the dark and I made my way across a walkway, little specks of light on either side of it seemingly floating in space. The barely lit walkway led to the exhibition proper which took place in the vast, and thankfully brighter, tunnels beyond.
The Wind in the Willows was the first installation I came across, with television screens scattered upon the ground and a mannequin placed in front. The screens looped various abstract footage, which anyone could contextualize for themselves. In fact this was a key feature of this exhibition – nothing was heavily denoted if at all!
Before continuing ahead, I came across a sub-tunnel, where I found a 10ft Perspex hexagon sandbox with warped mirrors inside. Standing in the middle of the box I was confronted with distorted reflections of myself. I felt like a child again in what seemed like an upmarket version of a Fun House.
The Ecstacy of St.Teresa by Tobias Klein was fascinating. Carefully carved 3ft statues with mini-television screens in the faces. To add to the intensity, in the back of each Madonna, hidden in a cavity, were what I can only describe as miniature dollhouses, each with a different theme.
It was clear that nothing was overlooked in the tunnels, the areas lacking installations always had something to offer. This imprisoned soul was a favourite of mine. (show image)
Before eloping into further depths, a Clive Barkeresque piece hung like a centrepiece. Frosted white and menacing it almost upstaged the other delights I had just experienced. But not quite as there was more to come.
I think The Psycho installation by Doug Foster was excellent. It required me to lie down on a circular platform and look up at a kaleidoscope of powerful visuals projected on the ceiling. The sound scape was a secret Eden and I could’ve stayed there forever if it wasn’t for others also awaiting this hidden pleasure.
A dingy corner revealed a dungeon hammock that swung in a shaft of light giving way off ominous shadows. This was certainly reminiscent of Hellraiser and reminded me of the scene where Frank first summoned the cenobites and the shutters went down in the room.
An electric chair was slave to a massive screen that showed a series of psychedelic imagery – I think it was trying to depict the idea of being brainwashed, especially with the chair’s leather and buckle restraints ready to tie down the victim. Behind the chair was a fake control room, where you could watch from behind a window.
Expecting wine whilst I sat, a set of old theatre seats provided the perfect vantage point to view…paintings, in voguing glory. Filled with so many interlinking themes, these paintings didn’t provide the brief respite I was looking for, but fuelled my curiosity to continue my quest.
Diana V Pussy by Karim Zeriahem played video of a woman saying ‘I love you’ repeatedly before raising a gun and shooting from the screen. The build-up didn’t produce a satisfactory finale. The bang from the gun should have been much louder (perhaps with surround sound also).
The HTC themed vessel/organ seemed the most endearing, bordering on putrefaction art. It certainly wasn’t for a weak stomach, yet deliberate in its aim to demonstrate humanistic obsession with technology.
As promised showing my phone at the reception as I left, I was handed a poster with one of the pieces I saw in the exhibition. I hope to frame it soon!
Exiting the tunnels took me to the road where the graffiti artists worked. Vibrant colours echoed along each side of the street as artists passionately sprayed and painted their own inspirations on the walls. I felt privileged to be in what felt like their creative living room.
May the lust for art continue!