With half an hour to spare I decided to explore Hauser & Wirth on Piccadilly which has been recently transformed into a fully-functioning community centre. I have been to Hauser many times but as I approached the normally familiar space, I began to feel disorientated – a feeling that did not go away. A ‘For Sale’ sign over the door makes you feel nervous about entering, a poster outside proclaims ‘Cheques cashed, payday loans’ and a charity collection box stands outside. Hauser is no longer Hauser – it really has transformed itself and no-one would know that this is one of London’s top galleries. The entrance hall is deserted – no one is manning the counter. Was I meant to be here?
‘The Piccadilly Community Centre’ is by artist Christoph Büchel, known for his overtly real installations. The exhibition is in response to the Arts’ funding cuts yet, ironically, this is not a cheap installation – the scruffy exterior and faded posters, the fake walls and realistic installations have been expensive to produce. At the top of the building is a squat – filthy, rancid and rather intimidating in its squalor. It somehow seems almost too realistic to be believable.
The squat at Hauser & Wirth. Image via http://buyersagentlondon.com.
Hosting a daily schedule of wide-ranging classes, workshops and events, the gallery is unrecognisable. You can go along to fence, sing, knit, try Brazilian Zouk dancing, take astrology classes… You name it and you can probably do it there as organisations are flocking to participate in the programme. Facilities include multifunctional spaces, a computer room, a non-denominational prayer room, an activity room, a community canteen, a community bar and a club.
Image via www.hauserwirth.com.
The classes inside were in full swing – literally, in fact, as they did appear to be swing dancing. But no, I wasn’t tempted (and didn’t have my dance shoes with me either)! Every inch of wall is filled with notices advertising the schedule. Many of the people using the community centre have no idea that it is a gallery. They are unknowing participants in Büchel’s installation, benefitting from the facilities but oblivious to the fact they have become part of the artwork. Like me, many of the usual ‘gallery-goers’ feel lost and displaced on entering. There are clues around the centre that all is not as it seems – try to spot them if you can.
A policeman enjoying a class. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.
I felt lost – I went in and out a fair few times before being brave enough to explore the whole building. Some people are making full use of the centre. But, many of us are wandering around like headless chickens not really knowing what to do or where to go (in case you hadn’t realised I was in this category) and we, too, are part of the installation.
Whichever group you fit into it’s well worth a peek – don’t be scared, go and enjoy.