by rebeccaswirsky

Artangel commission: Daniel Silver’s ‘Dig’

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Three footsteps remove you from the busy traffic of Grafton Way and Tottenham Court Road, into a derelict site where once was located one of London’s largest Odeon cinemas. You are confronted by wild purple flowers and ferns competing with scaffolding and crumbling brick walls, all surrounded by the city’s glinting glass edifices.

Daniel Silver, 'Dig' (installation view), 2013.
Daniel Silver, ‘Dig’ (installation view), 2013. Commissioned and produced by Artangel. Image by Marcus Leith.

Turn slightly to the left towards what looks like an abandoned car park and Daniel Silver’s ‘Dig’ installation opens up to you. In the car park’s two open-air levels, Silver presents an excavational dig of imagined  Daniel Silver, 'Dig' (installation view), 2013.
Daniel Silver, ‘Dig’ (installation view), 2013. Commissioned and produced by Artangel. Image by Marcus Leith.

cultural treasures, in an otherworldly ambience heightened by the objects’ reflections in dank puddles. The artist’s vaguely formed objects, made from a range of materials including marble, plaster and terracotta, are ordered on plain trestle tables by scale and body part, commenting on our need to assemble the world in a logical order. Further in, human figures are frozen in uncanny poses and grouping on the concrete car park floor. We are confronted with whirling dervishes, totemic rabbis, Grecian statues, Indian men with turbans, bare-breasted Samoan figures, females with multiple babies or breasts, dancing figures and, in one corner, a crowd disturbingly cowering against the walls. Are we witnessing armies? Troops? Lost civilisations? Like a repeated word, the multiple representations of these figures offer a surreal dimension.

Shape-shifting in the way of clouds, these determinedly vague subjects reveal as much as they conceal. Perhaps their meaning is our projections onto them, as if they were a series of three-dimensional Rorschach tests. The press literature notes that “Freud often referred to archaeology as a metaphor for his own practice of uncovering desires and phobias.”

Daniel Silver, 'Dig' (installation view), 2013.
Daniel Silver, ‘Dig’ (installation view), 2013. Commissioned and produced by Artangel. Image by Marcus Leith.

Gripping a shaky handrail and descending to the lower floor, the visitor comes eye-level with impressive ferns and lily-pad-looking plants. Adding to the excavation theme, nearby buildings have had their bellies ripped out, their eerie once-used spaces revealed. Large figures, their silhouettes backlit, rear up from the dark sheen of collected water – they maintain a secrecy and silence at odds with the busy traffic beyond. At the furthest end of this lower floor, a plaster sculpture of Freud reclines on a wooden version of his famous couch, covered with white clumps that look like a mass of brains. Beside the couch, Freud’s marble bust presides over the scene.

Silver’s buried-treasure world feels magical and spontaneous, ancient but at the same time futuristic – destined to remain there for decades to come, and not just until 3 November, when the installation closes.

  • Daniel Silver, ‘Dig’, commissioned and produced by Artangel, is at The Odeon Site, 24 Grafton Way (off Tottenham Court Road) until 3 November 2013.

Rebecca Swirsky is a London-based critic and short-fiction writer

This review was first published in September 2013 on the online Royal Academy of Arts Magazine.