London Slant: What are these extraordinary treasures dug up near Euston Road?

Just opposite a Curry’s store near Euston Road I stepped into wasteland reminiscent of a bomb site—and down into a mysterious, haunting world.

Londn Slant Daniel Silver Dig

Curious “excavated” heads arrayed at the entrance to Dig.

Picking my way across rubble through rampant buddleia I entered the concrete remains of a building lit by a watery sun. Spread out on trestle tables in front of me were strange objects: limbless torsos, severed heads, splintered bones and broken arms. Some resembled Assyrian warriors in the nearby British Museum, with bushy beards and pointed helmets. Others were more like sphinxes or Francis Bacon dissolving men. As I moved through the pieces, they increased in size and stood erect; what began as pathetic fragments stealthily acquired a menacing air.

Daniel Silver Dig, London Slant

Gods, ghouls or something altogether different? What are these mysterious figures near Euston Road?

Metal steps led down to a dank undercroft, where heads on plinths loomed out of puddles of mud. Two god-like statues rose from still waters, one in flowing robes and with hands clasped as if in prayer. If this was the ancient temple in Mesopotamia it calls to mind it would be on every tourist beat. But why should it be any less evocative that most of these objects were made this year and set up in a derelict London basement area open to the rain?

This was one of many things that came to mind as I made my way through artist Daniel Silver’s Dig. Despite all appearances this is no Middle East excavation site, or even remains of Roman Londonium—but his latest site-specific installation.

Silver explains that his work was inspired by the collection of antiquities amassed by Sigmund Freud and now displayed at the museum in his Hampstead house. Many of the bearded faces seem to represent the Viennese psychoanalyst, and add another layer of meaning to Dig.

Daniel Silver Dig

Freud would surely have been intrigued by this priapic figure.

The installation was commissioned by Artangel, those well-named people who have brought us many celestial works over the years. Perhaps you saw Roger Hiorns’ Seizure, a mass of sparkling copper sulphate crystals that turned an abandoned south London council house into an Aladdin’s Cave. Dig is equally other-worldly, leading you from a dull, abandoned, urban void into a magic kingdom of the mind.

Daniel Silver Dig

Watch out for the mud or you may make a Freudian slip.

Dig by Daniel Silver, Grafton Way, on an old Odeon Cinema site opposite University College Hospital. Free. Until 3 November.

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