Martin Boyce

Under the majestically scaled projection of the phrase THIS PLACE IS DREAMING, a choreography of sculptural elements evoked an urban romanticism that took the beholder toward horizons of futurist reverie. Or: Under the looming projection of the phrase THIS PLACE IS DREAMING, the chain-link fencing and steel elements recalled the stage designs of the theater of the absurd and their tortured signs of mid-twentieth-century European spirituality. Each of these descriptions of Martin Boyce’s installation Our Love is Like the Flowers, the Rain, the Sea and the Hours, 2002, is in accordance with the facts. The work’s openness to such disparate readings might provoke an ambivalent frisson, of course, but it seems to offer itself up to that without resistance. The questions are, then, What is the space dreaming about and what does the dream reveal? If the space dreams, what is the beholder’s frame of mind?

The installation constituted an imaginary exterior, a park whose most prominent feature is a series of fourteen rudimentary arboreal structures constructed out of fluorescent strip lights and steel and suspended from the ceiling—a forest of signs hovering just above the floor. There were two beds, one with a mattress, the other overturned with a blank sign on it; abstracted waste-paper bins; and bench frames with and without seating. The tall, black chain-link cut through the gallery with a Constructivist dynamic. Just as a park is both city and nature, the installation seemed at once a room and a cosmos. The text projection went on every fifteen minutes and, after the strip-light trees darkened, displayed the phrase in Boyce’s trademark diagonal grid, accompanied by an evocative soundscape. The music flowed for a few minutes, then dissipated as the letters faded one by one to black and life flickered back into the strip lights.

If space is a metaphor for the mind, then this space wanders to thoughts it has never pondered before. Here, Boyce has freed himself of the direct referencing of modernist design and architecture classics that characterized much of his earlier work, and this must be what gives the piece its interpretative wingspan. In his comments on it, Boyce has emphasized the work’s romantic and melancholic nature rather than its evocation of cultural unease. But the sculptural elements and the dark space render an existential limbo: a bench from which one can watch life go by, an open spot for taking a stroll, a fence to look through, and a bed to sleep, breed, and die on. The benches are placed far apart, and anybody taking up a position on the bed will be as exposed as a figure in a Bacon painting. One might also be reminded of places that by any rights should be bad dreams but unfortunately are real as the day—control scenarios such as prison camps, like the one at Guantánamo Bay. But when the lights dim and the music starts, the space is transformed as it begins to perform and narrate. The green of the text piece is impossibly optimistic, like neon signs from the ’50s. In Boyce’s twilight zone, dream, reality, and fiction clash and cross-pollinate while the rest of the world goes about its business like a sleepwalker. It is good to know that somewhere in the city, there is a space that dreams. But keep in mind that it is the space that does so, not its inhabitants—we are the ones who will have to find out whether we are awake or sleeping.

Lars Bang Larsen