Sir John Soane’s Townhouse Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields is one of the most popular museums in London. Its neo-classical Georgian architectural design has certainly earned a place on the list of ‘essential visits’ for architecture students worldwide. What most people did not know about is that there is another house built by Sir John Soane called Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing, a few minutes’ ride by tube from central London. The manor house was his country retreat, built from scratch to showcase his architectural vision.
For the past decades, Pitzhanger Manor was owned by Ealing Council, who used it as a public library. Now the Regency period building is reopened, after a full restoration back to Soane’s original vision. When I heard about the reopening of the manor and gallery space from a friend a couple weeks ago, I was very excited to visit.
The ingenuity of Sir John Soane’s architectural design is his exemplary use of mirrors, lights and shadows to manipulate, dissolve and augment space. It is not surprising then, that Anish Kapoor was selected as the first artist to exhibit in the newly refurbished gallery space to mark the reopening of the Manor House. After all, Anish Kapoor can be considered to be the modern day equivalent of Sir John Soane when it comes to mastering the art of altering perceptions of space.
From press photographs, the exhibition looked like just another minimalist contemporary art exhibition. After having visited the space, however, I must say that photographs did not do the artwork justice at all. Their real ingenuity could only be acknowledged by physically visiting the gallery, preferably with at least one friend because you will need each other to experience the full ‘space-bending’ effect of each sculpture.
The square concave mirror in the second room of the exhibition was particularly intriguing because upon standing at the threshold, one’s reflection was flipped upside down inside the mirror. Once one started walking straight towards it, however, the mirror created an illusion of moving forwards forming an imaginary wall about 2 metres away from its real position on the wall. As one continued to walk straight towards the real physical location, it felt as though one actually walked through a liquid wall into another dimension, feeling dizzy and getting goosebumps! It was intriguing how optical illusions could cause one’s body to feel strange physical sensations even though nothing physical touched one’s skin.
As I moved sideways to make way for my photographer to experience this optical illusion, I noticed that she disappeared from the mirror altogether while she was walking towards it! Unexpectedly, we had such a fun and mind-boggling afternoon playing with the mirrors, experimenting with different outcomes from different vantage points. It was like being lost in a film set of the movie ‘Inception’ starred by Leonardo Di Caprio. We tried to capture the intriguing effect of this mirror in a series of photographs here. We also tried making some videos too, but they still could not quite capture what it really felt like being physically there.
If you are looking for somewhere new to spend a fun and intriguing afternoon in London, I highly recommend a visit to Anish Kapoor art exhibition at Pitzhanger Manor and Gallery. The house itself is also meticulously restored overlooking a beautiful park, which I will write about in my next post.
Bye for now.
P.S. Please don’t forget to let us know what you think about these reflections we captured from the exhibition!
PHOTOGRAPHER: Julija Jevzikova