If you approach Alisha Abate’s installation, Negative Spaces, from one side, you’re presented first with the steel frame. It immediately reminds one of a doorway. The biggest space forms a wall, and two smaller spaces a doorway and perhaps a window. The barest of lines are there in the frame, enough to suggest structure. Once one recognises a doorway, there is a slight urge to use it. Of course, one could just as easily walk any which way as there is no actual wall. But there is direction. There is an immediate ‘what-for?’ response from me. Am I being herded through?
If my imaginary wall was real, it would be hiding the human hair affixed to a square concrete slab on the floor. At first it was peculiar, odd, but the longer I looked the more perturbed I became, yet still interested. Where did it come from? How many heads of hair? Very soon I was thinking about the holocaust—hair, shoes, hairbrushes, the thin steel wire frames of glasses, toothbrushes, hats. More generally however, it brought to mind the architecture of it. By this I mean how bare everything was, as if it had been stripped away of its previous material, leaving only the remnants of something living: hair, negative space. When faced with a collection of human detritus like this, it’s hard not to mention Auschwitz with its enormous piles of hair clippings that sit behind glass, looking out onto a wide-open room full of curiously stunned visitors.
Directly opposite from the hair, and farther still from the steel frame, is an old wooden chair and atop sits a concrete block, its insides containing an irregular negative space exposed to the viewer. The space inside was, again, peculiar and made me curious as to what formed it. It could’ve easily been something living—a creature, an organ, a limb. The fact that it sits atop an old wooden chair only adds to this. I lean over, hands on my knees, trying to get a look in.
In fact, everything in the installation can be said to make you move in a certain way. The steel frame looks so much like a wall, doorway and window that you feel pulled towards the doorway, wanting to walk under the frame. When approaching the hair and after examining it for a time, you’re tempted to kneel down and take a closer look. The same goes for the negative space in the concrete atop the chair—something was there. It’s as if we’re being prompted.
There is a bodily, even deathly feeling to it, this direction through object and architecture, along with the plausible signs of life having once been. Dead things, dead people, empty space. I might be tempted to draw out the comparison even further and say that whilst it may represent how something like the holocaust used direction for the destruction of people—through this door, off with your hair—ordinary architecture and objects push us in such a way that kills the possibility of other things, or at least guarantees the actioning of certain actions: through the door, kneel down, look in.
Whatever the case, there seems to be a question of body and space. I’m left asking myself why? Why this direction? Why this action? Perhaps it’s my naivety—I’m terrible with art. On the other hand, maybe that’s the point, to question how the spaces around us, framed by architecture and filled with objects, affect us, how they make us act and feel in certain ways. We move through spaces shaped by forces aside from our own every day and rarely do we consider how we’re motivated or not because of it.
Before leaving I bent down towards the hair for one more closer look. Disturbed slightly by feelings of human decay and waste, I stand up and leave.