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When Forms Come Alive: A Review

By Melis Dumlu


Installation view of Tara Donovan, When Forms Come Alive (7 February — 6 May 2024). Photo:Jo Underhill. Courtesy the Hayward Gallery.

Rising, falling, dangling, expanding, and inflating shapes; featureless embodiments from 60 years of sculpture breaks free at the Hayward Gallery's new exhibition ‘When Forms Come Alive’. Don't be fooled though, these are not your typical sculptures, there is nothing rigid, geometric, or bronze. Everything here challenges the conventions of sculpture and how the viewer experiences art.

This exhibition celebrates the dynamism of sculpture in the past 60 years. Unlike traditional, static sculptures, the works blur the line between object and experience, inviting viewers to move around and engage with them. The viewer's movement alters the perceived shape of the engulfing sculptures, creating a dynamic interaction that fosters an awareness of existing within the same space of the sculpture.

Installation view of Studio DRIFT, When Forms Come Alive (7 February — 6 May 2024). Photo: Jo Underhill. Courtesy the Hayward Gallery.

The artist duo DRIFT’s silk light installations rise and fall from the tall ceiling as you enter one of the spaces. The Amsterdam-based artists Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta created these mechanical works to mimic the folding and unfolding of flowers in a daily cycle. The silk petals rise and fall like jellyfish responding to light, creating a hypnotic choreography.

In another space, Teresa Solar Abboud’s mighty sculpture feels transformative, as if the luminous orange forms are erupting from its earthy, rock-like base.  

Installation view of Teresa Solar Abboud, When Forms Come Alive (7 February — 6 May 2024). Photo: Jo Underhill. Courtesy the Hayward Gallery.

If you fancy feeling like an insect in a new fantastical world or becoming an enigmatic figure, then Marguerite Humeau has got you covered with a layered hybrid tree-like structure which will remind you of mushroom gills, honeycomb, and oceanic coral.

Installation view of Marguerite Humeau, When Forms Come Alive (7 February — 6 May 2024). Photo: Jo Underhill. Courtesy the Hayward Gallery.

Or if smaller-scale works are more your thing, Matthew Ronay’s brightly painted and textural wooden sculptures at times feel bodily and skeletal and at others remind me of children’s bead apparatus they may play with in a dentist’s waiting room. The playful sculptures, inspired by the natural world, capture the essence of leaves and flowers, but also the shapes and colours of organs and microbiology, reminding us of nature's inherent creativity.

Installation view of Matthew Ronay, When Forms Come Alive (7 February — 6 May 2024). Photo: Jo Underhill. Courtesy the Hayward Gallery.

In contrast to the historical focus on permanence and monumentality in sculpture, ‘When Forms Come Alive’ showcases works that embrace impermanence and movement. A prime example is the work of Ruth Asawa. Her diaphanous, wire-woven sculptures from the 1950s and 1960s, inspired by natural phenomena like spiderwebs and seashells, sway gently from the ceiling and cast ever-shifting shadows.

Ever since Gianlorenzo Bernini made stone look like silk in the seventeenth century or Umberto Boccioni made speed visible in ‘Unique Forms of Continuity in Space’, artists continue to strive to make hard look soft, turn lines into curves, and shapes into non-forms. Therefore, the ideas in this show are not particularly new or filled with narrative threads. They carry another purpose, it is about seeping, twisting, morphing, changing form and structure.

Installation view of Ruth Asawa, When Forms Come Alive (7 February — 6 May 2024). Photo: Jo Underhill. Courtesy the Hayward Gallery.

The philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder's ‘Sculpture’ was published in 1778 in Germany. He explored the relationship between sight and touch, claiming that in order to understand and appreciate a sculpture we need to employ imaginative touch. You might ask how, but everything about this exhibition will show you, as it puts the spectator, their participation and movement at the forefront, the most sought-after asset for the works.

This show is all about restless sculpture, but only once you are inside the space and walking amongst the works can you truly understand the term. Restless art is about participation, at times in a less performative way than you would think. Even just occupying the space with the forms is participation. It completely transforms the typical ‘look for a few seconds and then walk away’ experience of art. It gives life to the forms and encourages us to look for longer, to search for patterns and to question our relationship to the forms, at times creating a much larger impact.

Large-scale works can grab our attention quickly and typically hold it for longer, but I can’t help but think about the ecological impact of such works. Where will these vast installations end up in another 60 years? The world does not need another ‘Dream’ by Olaf Brzeski, standing almost 2 metres high and made from soot, ash, and polyurethane resin.

Installation view of Olaf Brzeski, When Forms Come Alive (7 February — 6 May 2024). Photo: Jo Underhill. Courtesy the Hayward Gallery.

While some may argue that the emphasis on spectacle and large-scale installations raises concerns about sustainability, the exhibition ultimately underscores the ongoing dialogue within the art world: Can contemporary sculptures balance artistic innovation with accessibility and environmental responsibility? ‘When Forms Come Alive’ invites the viewers to consider these questions and ponder the future of the medium.


For instance, Eva Fàbregas's ‘Pumping’ installation features hundreds of metres of pink latex and inflated balls. While the sprawling, interactive environment is undeniably captivating, its creation likely involved significant resource consumption for materials, transportation, and potentially special storage requirements. These factors raise questions about the long-term sustainability of such works, particularly considering the potential for damage during these processes and the ultimate disposal of the materials.

Installation view of Eva Fàbregas, When Forms Come Alive (7 February — 6 May 2024). Photo: Jo Underhill. Courtesy the Hayward Gallery.

My thoughts echo the spirit of Fluxus, a democratic form of creativity that encouraged collaboration and valued simplicity and anti-commercialism. The Fluxus movement embraced chance, accident, and humour in the creation of works, emphasising accessibility for everyone. This stands in contrast to a proportion of contemporary sculptures, like some of those in the exhibition, that seem to veer towards excessiveness.

Although ‘When Forms Come Alive’ is an unforgettable experience, it does raise important questions about the future of sculpture.

You can visit ‘When Forms Come Alive’ at the Hayward Gallery in London, until the 6th of May, 2024.



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