Making links: The Russian Linesman

A show curated by artist of the moment Mark Wallinger connects seemingly unrelated works. It's both pleasing and puzzling, finds Tom Lubbock

Go in and you find yourself in the most boring sort of corridor: off-white walls, strip lighting on the ceiling, grey office carpet on the floor. Go a few yards along, and it turns a right angle to the right, and goes on the same. But go a few yards more and it turns another right angle – straight up. The carpeted floor rises directly in front of you, meets you like a wall. The whole corridor goes up with it, a shaft opening above your head. You look up into it. After a few yards, the corridor turns again, to the left, and out of view.

It's a beautiful illusion of deorientation. The impossible path invites, and you can believe briefly in your weightlessness, in your power to step out upwards on to the unused dimension, like a space-man or superhero. Monika Sosnowska's Corridor is a simple bit of carpentry that spins our spatial bearings on their axis.

But coming back out of Corridor, you may notice, framed by its entrance, on the other side of the gallery, a monitor showing a video by Bruce Nauman. He's standing on one foot. His torso is bent forward, his other leg is raised behind him, he makes a kind of corkscrew form, and with a joggling, hopping movement, he's gradually rotating himself on the spot. But the film has been inverted, the floor is above him, and he seems to be turning round on the ceiling. Only connect?

These are two pieces from the middle of Mark Wallinger Curates: the Russian Linesman. It's a show at the Hayward Gallery put together by the artist, opening tomorrow, and its timing is chancily perfect. Last week, Wallinger's colossal statue of a stallion won the Ebbsfleet Landmark commission, and for the moment he's British artist of the hour. His exhibition may surprise some of his new fans and critics. It has got works, art and not art, going back from now to ancient Rome (though no horses that I noticed). Making links between them is the puzzle and pleasure of this rich, original and fascinating anthology.

Frontiers, Borders and Thresholds is Wallinger's subtitle. (But no starting gates either.) His most basic theme is lines: lines literal and metaphorical, outlines, pathways, dividing lines, territorial boundaries, the lines between reality and illusion, belief and unbelief. His main title refers to the 1966 World Cup Final, and a literal line marked on the grass, and the uncertain path of a ball, and a still-disputed call, and the difference between England's victory or not.

Like any anthology, it stands both on the quality of its individual contents and on the quality of the links among them. Let me give you some more. Here's an Italian sculpture from the 1930s, Renato Giuseppe Bertelli's Continuous Profile (Head of Mussolini). It takes the outline of Mussolini's profile, and makes it its edge all the way round. It's like a fat chessman. It's like a head spinning on a potter's wheel. It's like a solid thing with a built-in blur. (The pity is, it's Mussolini.) And near it, an old Roman head with double faces back to back. Connect?

Or here are three great oblong sheets of glass up against the wall. But no, they're not. They're areas of empty air, outlined by lengths of black yarn stretched taut, pieces by the minimalist sculptor Fred Sandback. And on the opposite wall there's a Dürer print. It illustrates how to do perspective drawing by stretching a string from an object to the eye passing through the picture's surface, a string that represents the I-beam. And nearby there's a film of Philippe Petit doing his 1974 tightrope between the Twin Towers. Connect?

Yes, lines, outlines, taut lines, illusions, doubles. There are plenty of illusions and doubles, replications and ambiguities. There's a piece by Vija Celmins with a lump of rock and beside it a perfect copy of this lump of rock – a doubling with a replica. There's a copy of a feature that Marcel Duchamp had in his New York flat, a single door that is hinged between two doorways, so it could only close one at a time – a replication of a doubling! (And a threshold, too.)

Snap. These are finely chosen things, and they fit their themes remarkably well – a little too well, too neatly, and the curating becomes static, not dynamic. There are professional curators, whose job is to devise themes and assemble shows that prove them. Excellent exhibitions they may arrange, but they follow single-issue agendas, and their exhibits are examples. Artist-curators can show another approach. They put together exhibits in a way that's more like how art itself is put together.

That's mostly how it goes in The Russian Linesman. The case isn't so clear or so tight. The juxtapositions are tenuous and tangential and a little mysterious. Why is a gigantically enlarged image of a flea from Robert Hooke's Micrographia (1665) just along the wall from a series of Eadweard Muybridge's photographic split-second breakdown studies of humans and animals in motion (1887)?

There seems to be something relating them, something on the edge of vision, something I can't quite put my finger on – is it just the idea of living creatures being subjected to a scientific transformation? But no, move along the same wall, and there it is. We're back with Bruce Nauman's Revolving Upside Down, another study of human motion, and a man acting like a performing flea! And then across to Corridor...

That's how things should go, with a subplot rather than a plot. It should progress through degrees of separation, and distant family resemblances, in a network of touch points, and then suddenly there's a convergence where all kinds of overlaps and echoes strike.

As the show goes to its end, and the emphasis moves to war and death, the links become increasingly elusive, and I wasn't sure if it had lost its ways or I had, and either way that was OK. There's that painting from the National Gallery, A Dead Soldier, formerly thought by Velazquez, now Anon, but still with the distinction of having inspired Manet – is he like that borderline figure, The Unknown Warrior, both famous and anonymous, and is that why he's here?

And how about Raw Footage, a sequence of found films collected by the Dutch artist Aernout Mik, from things shot by news agencies during the Yugoslav wars but never screened. You can see why not. They show the complete intersection between casual everyday life and warfare, with men eating and joking and hanging out in a wood and firing mortars at an unseen enemy. Normality and terror – another borderline experience?

But then backtrack around the corner to where we started, in Corridor with its happy illusions. What connection can you string from here to there? Another case of not believing your eyes?

The Russian Linesman stretches its points. It deals in both the smallest differences and the biggest differences, the most delightful illusions and the most driven beliefs, and suggests that there's only a narrow step between them. (See World Cup Finals. See civil wars.)

This is how Mark Wallinger's art performs, too. The show is curating-as-manifesto. In his work, seeing and believing are always in question. It links up the optical, the political, the metaphysical. It does it with the most minimal transformations and illusions. It does it with dramatic spectacle, like Jesus arriving on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, like a replica of Brian Haw's Parliament Square protest encampment arriving in Tate Britain, or by sheer scale. And what else will that incredibly enormous white national emblem be doing, but forcing us to believe, and not to believe, our own eyes?



Mark Wallinger Curates: the Russian Linesman, Hayward Gallery, London SE1 (0871 663 2500), runs to 4 May; then touring to Leeds Art Gallery (0113-247 8248), 16 May to 28 June, and Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea (01792 516 900), 18 July to 20 September

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition