As promised a few weeks ago, when I presented some pre-visit images of Mike Nelson's installation, titled A Psychic Vacuum, at the old Essex Street Market at Essex and Delancey in Manhattan's Lower East Side, here's some of my own images of the spaces, as well as some of my thoughts on the experience.
One enters from Delancey Street into an old restaurant that appears to be a found ruin, as if the artist barely touched the space. Visitors before me were enthralled with the detritus to be found in the front room and kitchen area, though I found it essentially to be a transition between the street and the installation itself. The view back to the entry above was especially nice, with the blacked-out windows, green neon framing, and glowing portal.
Once through a door at the back of the storefront restaurant, one entered the realm of A Psychic Vacuum. Immediately this is apparent as the spaces are much smaller than the albeit small restaurant, even much smaller than a typical bedroom, which many of the spaces recall in their construction, ceiling heights, and fittings. Its the contents, of course, that are what's important, in addition to the labyrinth of the rooms themselves.
Some rooms, like the second image above, are crammed with stuff that makes the resemblance of a barber shop, in this instance, an uneasy one. The extra artifacts complicate the thoughts of "this must be a barber shop as it has a barber's chair." While these and other spaces do recall certain real spaces (of which they are compiled), they seem to integrate these other artifacts in a manner like memories -- not clearly as clearly defined as the walls of the spaces themselves -- a la the installation's name.
My favorite spaces tended to be empty or shrine-like in their treatment of objects. Lighting is especially important in the installation, as once one is through the storefront restaurant, there is no natural light to be found. One walks from one room to another, some leading to dead ends, some into rooms with locked doors, some into rooms that are mirrors of other rooms. This last makes for an especially interesting experience of the work on an emotional level, as the feeling of "I'm not gonna be able to find my way out of this place" comes on upon entering the space, though leaves just as quickly when the distinction between it and its mirror is made apparent.
If my description is a bit vague or circuitous, this is unintentional but appropriate, as the installation is just that: vague in the space's purposes (past, present, and future), and circuitous in its path from entry to exit.
At the end of the labyrinth is a large space full of sand. The columns of the old meat market rise out of the sand to the roof and the skylights above. One is back in the land of daylight and the Modernist scale. The relationship between this space and the previous ones isn't very clear, though I like to think that some of the rooms are located under the tallest mountains of sand. This hypothesis may explain the waiver one signs when entering the installation, but on second thought it most likely pertains to the route's lack of a clear exit in the event of a fire.
But the idea of an above and a below, two sides of the same coin if you will, is very appealing. A labyrinth and an open space. A compressed space and a release space. Perhaps this notion is just a way for me to make sense of the two types of spaces being part of one installation, though I'm guessing I'm not the only one thinking that might just be the case.