There are a lot of action words that can describe the expectations of an installation - whether or not it is actually experienced by the viewer is another thing. However the words 'terrifyingly immersive' could not be more apt to articulate William Mansfield's latest work Inferno. 

Drawing inspiration from the dark humour of Dante’s InfernoMansfield creates his own hybrid of this mythic tale – subjecting the viewer to eternal damnation in playful, multi-sensory space altering abyss.

The formality of white-cube gallery space is quickly done away with at the entrance of the installation. Mansfield’s tongue-in-cheek sense of humour is made clear, with a dark quote “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here…” welcoming the viewer, titled above a cartoon like, inflatable devil’s mouth as the entrance to the inferno.

Engaging the viewer’s inner child, the tactility of the installation continues as you are assaulted from all angles by large, soft polyester fabric red forms which resemble fiery flames. The effect mimics the licking of flames as they lunge out chaotically, directed by the turning fans that circle on the walls. The success of Inferno is it’s play upon the tensions of play and fear, control and chaos, rationality and irrationality – with the experience pushing the boundaries of the individual’s sense of control in the installation.

A-kind-of child’s play gone wrong, Inferno blinds all the senses – the deafening roar of the fans is met by ludicrous loud cackles, and consumed by a lurking intense smoke that bewilders any sense of direction. Personally after 5 minutes, I bordered on the frantic as I repetitively walked into walls and fans in the attempt to find a way out. Adding to this state of unrest a fellow viewer appeared out of the depths, to which in a half thought seemed as if it was the devil himself paying a visit, or had Mansfield had paid an actor to complete this haunted mansion fear factor feat?

It is this chaos and growing fear that Mansfield hopes to inspire, subverting the tales and stories of hell and retribution taught to him in his youth through his Catholic upbringing, as he outlines, “this installation incorporates the spectacle and kitsch theatricality I recall from my own experiences of Catholic school masses and liturgies, imbued with exuberant performances, colour, symbolism and craft”. Inferno capitalises on the aesthetic eccentricities of Catholicism and takes them further – now a hybrid, tragicomic display of the absurdity of historical presentations of hell and eternal damnation.

In an increasingly digitised world, the attraction of Inferno is that it can only be understood properly through an analogue experience. By embracing the kitsch and the value of the real, the tactility of soft forms, blaring fans and chaotic smoke results in a lived experience that nostalgically recalls the rush of childhood amusement park fun houses, or even MacDonald’s playgrounds.

Rather than purely eternal damnation, Inferno successfully engages the viewer in a rush of experiences from initial adventure and excitement to a dawning sense of chaotic, lack of direction and control. It is an open-ended narrative for the viewer to write the ending to.

You can see the installation documentation of the work below.

William Mansfield, INFERNO (2016), mixed media immersive installation with 4.1 surround sound, dimensions variable, sound design by Rob Cornish

William Mansfield | Inferno
4 May – 27 May 2016

Courtesy the artist.

Latest  /  Most Viewed  /  Related