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Clare Melhuish reviews...

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Hellman

Maurice Agis, for whom ugliness can mean violence

Maurice Agis, an artist working in the area of three-dimensional space and form, is angry that there have been 'no public temporary works of art anywhere under New Labour'. He has won numerous prizes in the course of his career, which has developed, essentially, as a response to the anti-sensory character of the industrialised urban environment and Modernist architecture; but his Dreamspace installation has been consistently turned down for funding by the uk art establishment, in spite of its relevance to problems of anti-social behaviour.

Agis believes that the 'shocking ugliness' of parts of the urban environment, and its impact on the human senses, must be a factor in stimulating people to anti-social, violent behaviour. Conversely, 'if you have very pleasant environmental conditions it reduces levels of violence ... there is something chemical in the brain which responds to beautiful things.' Agis makes no pretence to a scientific basis for his artistic practice, but, as an instinctive response to prevailing conditions, his work has allowed him to engage in empirical observation of people's behaviour in contrasting circumstances over a period of time.

Dreamspace was first erected in London on Shepherd's Bush Green in 1997 and Mile End Park in 1998 and 1999. Its next venue is Bologna. Each time it takes a slightly different, and larger form: 'The work will never reach a point where it is finished,' Agis explains. The installation comprises an air-filled, pneumatic structure with a single-ply plastic membrane, built up out of a number of identical cells of different colours, each glued to the next. Over a surface area of 1800 square metres, the whole structure can be inflated by means of 10 small blowers.

Agis believes the installation has to be 'a certain physical size' to achieve the 'limitless experience of space' and time which he is after. Although the honeycomb interior is organised around the diagonal axes of a strict grid system of identical components, the effect is both ordered and chaotic. This results from the dynamic created through the pattern of the colour, fading out towards the edges. The colours themselves change in response to changing light conditions during the course of the day, illuminated only by natural light from outside, penetrating through the thin structural skin. Sound, devised by composer Steve Montague, is emitted from 16 speakers. Once inside this environment, people 'immediately acquire a grace', and start to 'associate freely', while children 'respond in a very intense way.'

Agis says he 'used to make rigid structures without thinking about it'. By contrast, his more recent, 'organic' projects, 'working with the senses, movement, and the body' evoke what Malevich termed 'a more felt reality.' However, the political and social implications of work of this type in a public arena, and the difficulty of categorisation, seem to be too much for the uk authorities.

Maurice Agis was addressing the Landscape and Art Network at the Gallery, in London's Smithfield

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