Sunday, 16 January 2011

Sarah Winchester's strange world

Review of INTERVAL; A narrative psychosis. Cornerhouse, Manchester.

Kai-Oi Jay Yungs exhibition, sadly just finished, lived up to it's subtitle. It was disorientating, confusing and noisy. However, it also offered a delightful and intriguing glimpse into the lives of Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester Rifle fortune, and of other eccentrics in a series of videos, running simultaneously, mostly in small rooms built into the space.

Winchester, in an apparent attempt to mollify the spirits of people killed by Winchester rifles, began a building programme which continued day and night for 38 years.  Starting with a unfinished farm house, she built upwards and outwards without any apparent plan, until at her death, the house had 160 rooms, 47 fireplaces, 17 chimneys, 10,000 window panes, with many other rooms and features having been built and then demolished as the project progressed.

Though there were other characters to absorb the viewer, for example, Marigold Verity, a collector of harps, and the Fung Shui master and reader of faces, Sarah Winchester's story held the key to this exhibition.  Her obsessive building, a spectacular example of the extremes that compulsive behaviour can achieve when money is no object, parallel both the form of the installation, and its content, the viewer becoming drawn into the obsessions of both the subjects and artist herself.  We were all accomplices in the madness. But the questions raised about identity, reality and fantasy will continue to resonate in my mind.  I loved it.

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