Katee Woods examines a derelict site near Tottenham Court Road and comes to some surprisingly Freudian conclusions about the lost civilisation she finds there.
Emerging from the derelict remains of the old Odeon site, Artangel’s latest commission Dig is presented as an archaeological excavation, unearthing hundreds of culturally diverse statues of human-like form. The arrangement of limbs and partial body parts is both museum-like and reminiscent of a butcher’s shop, yet without the context of the larger sculpture (that is to assume these are parts of a whole), these cuts of meat often remain unidentifiable. This sense of mystery and the unknown pervades throughout the exhibition.
Inspired by Sigmund Freud’s extensive collection of Hindu, Egyptian and Chinese sculptures, does the layout of the sculptures suggest that this is the path to universal truths? Can we discover human nature by examining various representations of deities side-by-side? Do we see the similarities or the differences? There is something scientific in this taxonomy of specimens, but the exploration does not provide truths or answers. Taking a step back, Dig is positioned as artifice. It provokes questions, forefronts incompletion, and presents concealment and revelation as being within a tangled complex web of interconnectivity.
The sculptures are not without human similarities; the majority are marked as either male or female and their repetition in varying sizes throughout the space suggests that their deep concealment has enabled their multiplication. That which lay in the depths of the psyche has now been brought to the surface.
To reach the second section of Dig you descend a scaffolded set of steps taking you to the foundations of this carcass of a building. Several noble bearded figures confront you from across pools of water that have gathered. There is slightly raised path enabling you to walk around the space without getting your feet wet, yet it feels as if this also exists to create a distance between you and them. The path indicates safety. The presentation of these figures with the light behind them adds to their eerie and mysterious presence.
At the far end of the underground space is a scene in which Freud’s head hovers nearby a life-size sculpture of the artist lying on a psychiatrist’s couch. The artist’s body is covered in abscesses, so much so that the form is almost completely obscured. Are these visible afflictions a result of what has been long hidden or recently revealed?
One of the exhibition’s successes is the way in which it draws you into the installation, into the excavation; you enter the process of discovery in this very tactile experience. By entering the site in its current state, you are part of a historical moment; when the remains of the building are knocked down and construction begins, there will be no traces of this excavation as the paths on which you walk will be covered over and presented anew.