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Seizure by Roger Hiorns - The Crystal Wallpaper Exhibit

Updated on October 1, 2013
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Imagine walking into an abandoned apartment building and through the rundown halls and empty apartment units, until you come upon a unit whose every surface is coated in large, brilliant blue crystals. The walls are entirely coated in crystals, almost as though someone has hit a pocket of bright blue chalcanthite while splitting rocks at a collection site – except these crystals have grown inside of an abandoned and derelict man-made structure.

That is exactly the kind of presentation the London artist Roger Hiorns created when in 2008 when, after encasing the unit in a watertight steel structure to prevent leakage, he pumped approximately 80,000 gallons of copper sulfate into an abandoned London flat through a hole in the ceiling, filling it completely to the top before pumping the fluid back out. The result was that months later when Hiorns returned to his creation, blue crystals of copper sulfate had crystallized all over the floor and walls, and over every surface in the apartment. He dubbed the piece “Seizure,” and opened the exhibit to the public in September of 2008.

The piece of art was truly interactive – one could not view the exhibit without changing it in some way. The exhibit was initially open for two months, and every day hundreds of people would line up outside the abandoned building at 151-189 Harper Rd in London to see Hiorns’ creation. By the end of that time the floor had become more green than blue, because a layer of finely crushed copper sulfate crystals had become the exhibit’s new carpet. This gave the remaining brilliant blue crystals on the wall the effect of a blue, crystallized wallpaper.

When the exhibit opened again in the second half of 2009, the floor was a sea-green but every inch of the walls from floor to ceiling remained adorned in its brilliant blue copper sulfate jewelry. The exhibit was reopened in late July 2009 and remained open until early January of 2010. Attendants issued visitors rubber boots to help them navigate the rooms of the apartment unit more safely and sanitarily. Footprints on the floor collected puddles of blue liquid as the floor continued to deteriorate.

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Eventually, the derelict building was condemned and slated for demolition, and plans were made to save Hiorns’ sculpture. In 2010 the organization that had originally commissioned Seizure – Artangel – began trying to figure out a way to move the 31-ton exhibit before its host building’s inevitable destruction.

It was the watertight steel structure encasing the exhibit – originally built to prevent leakage when the flat was filled with copper sulfate – which eventually saved the exhibit and made its removal possible. At an expense of around £40,000, the entire exhibit was moved to Yorkshire Sculpture Park, in February of 2011. Architects were commissioned to build a new structure to house the exhibit, and in the spring of 2013 a new chapter in the exhibit’s life began when it was once again unveiled to the public – this time in a new home.

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Throughout all of this, Hiorns was pleased to sit back and watch the attempt to save his piece from the sidelines. Of course, it was his decision to let the exhibit stay where it was, or to donate it to an organization willing to pay for its removal and preservation. Hiorns said about his seizure project that “"It was always about a sense of homelessness or nomadic energy, and of inconclusiveness." He described his artistic role in the creation of the piece was passive – not to create the piece itself, but to provide the opportunity for it to exist. Sticking to this role, he donated the piece to the Arts Council Collection so it could be moved and preserved rather than destroyed along with its condemned host building.

After the successful move, Hiorns explained: "I was more than happy to complicate its future: if you have the opportunity to complicate things, then you should always take it… The object will now have an unknowable future: it will tentatively make its way in the world."

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