If you happen to be in the London neighborhood of Dalston, specifically in Ashwin Street, and suddenly you see Batman or Spiderman climbing a three-story Victorian house or a neighbor hanging upside down on the facade, don’t think that you’ve gone mad or are hallucinating. You are looking at Dalston House, an installation by Argentinian artist Leandro Erlich. This enjoyable optical game made visitors laugh like children.
In this House, you can climb on all fours without taking your feet off the ground, walk up the walls or hang by a hand or a finger from one of its windows without risk of falling down. Installation 2.0, games, interaction, laughter, photos and more laughs: this is what Erlich has envisioned for Dalston House. But what, in fact, is the installation? The artist reproduced a Victorian townhouse on a lot that has been vacant since World War II. The facade is actually lying face-up with a huge mirror positioned over it at a 45-degree angle. The mirror reflects what people do on the surface of the house, creating a fantastic optical illusion. Thanks to a seemingly simple mechanism people can see their own reflections as they climb or defy gravity like a super hero. Erlich challenges the concepts of perception, representation and architecture through an optical illusion.
This interactive game where fiction and reality collide caught the public’s imagination and the attention of the press. More than 50,000 “tenants” have already passed through Dalston House. The installation seemed to change its narrative every five minutes, as a different group of persons brought their own life stories and fancies to the house. Every guest wanted his own moment of glory, perhaps the best photo to hang on Facebook or Instagram. Many even came from distant countries just to partake and enjoy the experience. They didn’t mind waiting in line for hours under the sun for a bit of fun and bragging rights of having been there.
The project, commissioned by the prestigious Barbican Centre and carried out in collaboration with the Argentinian Embassy in the UK, is an idea developed by Erlich over 9 years. It originated in Paris and then traveled to Austria, Japan and Argentina, adapting to the architecture of each location. It is something you would expect from the author of captivating three- dimensional visual illusions like the earlier installation The Swimming Pool and the Tower, which used similar mechanisms. In the author’s words: “In most of my works my aim is to question everyday spaces, an office, a building or a house such as Dalston. The interaction creates the story. But, in addition, I want people to know how the trick is done, nothing is hidden. People who go to Dalston see the mirror and invent their own illusions,” said the artist.
The impressive thing about this piece is to see such direct relationship between the author´s artistic proposal and what visitors improvise. How many different stories have these walls seen in the last days? How many different postures configured the same work? How many different photos? How many languages? Could the photos taken by these occasional visitors be also considered works of art? Without a doubt, an installation that invites viewers to create their own fiction, to photograph it and show it to the world through social networks, has a highly creative and motivational component. When art ceases to be solemn, becomes an open interactive experience, and admission is free, we can speak of art for all. ■