Jeppe Hein: Distance

Artvehicle 12/Review

9th February 2007 — 29th April 2007

Hidden sensors line the door of the exhibit, which trigger the release of a ball to trundle on a track around the gallery. Upon entrance the viewer is invited to follow this ball as it rolls down slopes, around loops and backspins on a track that runs the length of the space. This is Distance, the Barbican's most recent commission for The Curve gallery to Danish artist, Jeppe Hein.

Off I go, following this designated ball around the track. Because it moves slowly I am distracted by another ball moving on the opposite side of the room. I therefore abandon this ball for another and so on until I get to the end of the room. The balls are off-white in colour, hollow and made of plastic and are roughly the same dimensions of a 10-pin bowling ball. The surface of the balls bear the scratches and marks from previous travels. The tracks, on which the unleashed balls move, are unnecessarily large metal structures that line the gallery walls and wobble feebly under the strain of supporting the balls in motion.

Distance is just like a rollercoaster, except you aren't allowed to go along for the ride; your only option is the sidecar. I am disheartened by the ride however, as that rush of excitement doesn't come and instead I feel isolated - my activation has somehow become useless. All I have really done is trigger a go button for my ball to follow all the others; the only thing I was really in control of was what time I entered the exhibition.

Structurally the work is interesting, watching parts of metal sea-saw and tip, metal claws that scoop the ball and give it height before setting it down another slope. The structure controls every ball and forces it to travel in exactly the same path and movements as the one before it, even each little jump and every backspin is identical for every ball. Once I realise this I am disheartened yet again, as there will be no spontaneity in the work - that is unless some one picks up a ball and moves it, interrupting and diverting its path, but of course this could never happen as the guards would not allow it. So Distance moves away from the world of roller coasters and into the world of the Krispie Kreme doughnut factory.

Once the dough is formed into a perfect doughnut shape it travels on a conveyer belt ride around the factory until it is cooked and ready to eat. For each batch the processes are identical, repeated at the same time so that you can guarantee the result. Whereas with Hein's automated machine, Distance there is no product, nothing to take away with you; you are merely a spectator and the balls just return to their starting point to take another viewer on an uneventful tour of The Curve.


Barbican Art Gallery
Barbican Centre
Silk Street
London EC2Y 8D

Daily, 11am-8pm
Late night first Thurs, 11am-10pm

Jeppe Hein: Distance —  JEPPE HEIN THE CURVE
 Jeppe Hein Distance The Curve, Barbican Art Gallery, 2007 Images courtesy of Barbican Art Gallery Photo credit: Jasmine Bilson

Jeppe Hein Distance
The Curve, Barbican Art Gallery, 2007
Images courtesy of Barbican Art Gallery
Photo credit: Jasmine Bilson