For those of you who’ve been to see Kurt Hentschläger’s ‘ZEE’ piece currently showing at FACT, you’ll understand how crazy and impressive the multi-sensory marathon is. I went three times to this particular installation, staying for the duration, but failed to review my experience. It seemed like it was out of my reach to adequately describe an extreme piece like this, so I tried to think of alternatives. In the end, I approached the person who I knew was knowledgable, straight-talking and wise, and who would put an interesting perspective on it. My grandmother, Liz.
I like to think I am fairly young at heart. I’m 74 but still enjoy travelling the world, going to see films and I always like to go to see art. Everyone is living longer now, so it is not a big issue. I am still healthy and mobile and hope to be for many years to come.
My grandson told me about an exhibition in Liverpool at the FACT gallery. I had been to FACT before, to see films with my husband. We travel up to the city from Cheshire every few weeks. But I had never looked at any of the art there. We prefer the Walker and Tate where we can walk around for an hour or two.
I was initially hesitant about this artwork. There are health warnings beforehand, such as not being allowed in if you had suffered from epilepsy. I hadn’t, but I was still cautious because I didn’t want any underlying health issues to be uncovered. I was told that this was an intense experience, but I looked at the people coming out of the gallery and they all seemed fine, but shocked. There was a lot of people saying “wow” to each other. I didn’t want to be the one who was carted away in an ambulance. I’m 74 but that would still be embarrassing.
I can understand now why so many, my grandson included, found the artwork difficult to describe. I am not a big admirer of modern art normally, and this to me was very modern art… it was light and sound, rather than paint and pencils. There is nothing tangible for you to describe afterwards, just an experience. It is different from a film, where things happen and there is a story and characters. In this, you are the character!
This was all to do with your senses and that does not have any regular grounding. The only reminder that you are in an art gallery is the rope across the side which you can hold on to. I let go of it but stood still, but other people tried walking around slowly.
The smoke and colours at some points made it feel like heaven
The room is filled with heavy fog, and you can barely see in front of you. What you can see are lights which change and move and create illusions. My mind started playing tricks on me… you think you are seeing things that aren’t there. I was seeing faces and shapes. I would say the experience at the beginning is startling, rather than scary. It is always a shock to have your vision impaired. But over the 15 minutes it becomes calming and almost peaceful, like meditating. The smoke and colours at some points made it feel like heaven. The colours were nearly always beautiful.
It is curious and sometimes unnerving, but not in a bad way. I don’t know anything about the artist but he has definitely done research and understands how people’s minds work. He could have easily made it into a scary ‘theme park ride’, but I respect the fact he has made it into a positive experience, even if it is a strange and disorientating version.
At certain points I remember my body tingling and I had tears in my eyes. It was a euphoria or emotion that was neither sad nor happy. At the end I became one of the people coming out of the exhibition and saying “wow”.
I don’t know if I would ever go back and try it again, but I am pleased I did.
Kurt Hentschläger’s ‘ZEE’
FACT, Wood Street, Liverpool
Until 27th November, free.