Shonisaurus Popularis, the latest exhibition by the Slade School of Art graduate Hazel Brill presented at Croydon-based Turf Projects, will end in five days.
Earlier this year, the young artist exhibited her piece Woke Up in Spring at Zabludowicz Collection and from what I read, she utilised a similar theatrical staging, combining installation, video and sound, as she did now at Turf. This time, she leads viewers into an immersive and irresistible world of storytelling in which the video screens interact with other scuptural objects in the space to create a kind of ‘show’ – both flat and three-dimensional ‘props’ play characters that pop up and fade away, each knowing their turn, coming ‘alive’ in different parts of the installation and thus edging towards a kind of event.
The exhibition is a visually striking spectacle with two screens (with one of them being shaped like a head of the titular shonisaurus), three water ponds and an extra one with a horizontal mirror, side mirrors on opposite walls and ‘turfs’ of golf clubs as well as actual plants. The materials refer to the artist’s recent trip to Nevada mountains’ fossil sites where six aquatic Shonisaurus dinosaurs were found decades ago. Today, Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park houses these prehistoric-era remnants, having excavated a layer of time from 215 million years ago when these mammoth oceanic animals died out. Alongside the park footage, three voices in the video digress into other aspects of the trip, remembering (or dreaming?) walking down the aisle as if at a wedding; one of them shares the moment when an unfortunate pimple enlarged their cheekbone, another speaks about a tourist opening their vacuum-packed nuts and a male voice impersonating Steve Wynn narrates an anecdote in which a shark walked into his office one day.
The loose, elliptical logic of the work touches upon some of the realities shaping up this location which possesses geological and historical richness but is not immune to the hyper-commercialisation of the nearby Las Vegas: the voices tell us that golf courses are now being built at and around former fossil sites, complete with the feng shuei awareness. It seems that Las Vegas excels not only as the entertainment capital of the world or the place of infinite business development but also, appropriately to the artist’s concern with temporalities and sediments, it is also a time deposit and a restless re-enactment/ revival machine, bringing back ancient periods through fake architecture of classical columns or Egyptian pyramids.
By putting into contact strata of history and expanses of the present, stories remembered and researched, the authentic and the inauthentic, the found and the constructed, Brill’s piece (or rather site) invites us to question spaces and their functions; how they interchange the possibly real with the fictional with the personal with the commercial with the absurd with the insignificant with the disturbing. Berlin-Ichthyosaur Park shouts at tourists to come ‘discover Nevada’s newest state park!’, successfully monetizing history while other places do the same with health, rest, knowledge or fun. Locations, abstract and concrete, are considered to be composed of multiple levels – of storeys and stories – and, what all the mirrors at the core of the work remind us, further expand into a wider system, into an intricate ‘show’ in which time, geography, business, you and me are all reflective screens doubled up as characters performing our turns.