For 60 years, the abandoned waiting room on platform 3 of Peckham Rye station has remained a semi-enigma.
Commuters waiting for their train to Victoria have been able to squint through glass into the dinginess of Charles Driver's grand Victorian room — just about able to make out the scuffed arches above its doorways, and the exposed ribs of its vaulted ceiling. But it's always been tantalisingly out of reach.
Now, a sculptural installation by New York artist Sarah Sze — called simply The Waiting Room — has given it the glow-up it so throughly deserves.
At the heart of the piece, a deconstructed globe — formed out of torn fragments of paper and cardboard, and sitting within a matrix of stainless steel tubing — dances with changing images. Volcanoes erupt. Cows stand in fields. Cars wait in traffic. The mundane rubs shoulders with the extraordinary. The fragility of the structure, says Sze, represents the thin membrane of life on the surface of Earth that scientists refer to as 'the critical zone'. But like all good art, you don't need to 'get' it. Standing and soaking it up is enough.
The images are formed by no fewer than 42 projectors; they're a favourite tool of Sze's, and themselves form part of the installation — stacked in ramshackle fashioned, and surely giving us an insight into the artist's cluttered mind. Projections bleed out beyond the central globe, plastering the rest of this spectacular room with white noise, swatches of rich sunset-hues, silhouetted flocks of birds sweeping across the walls. It's as if Sze has ushered the entire contents of the world into one murky space.
Trains pulling into and off from the platform outside add an incidental soundtrack — there's a lot going on, but it all has a calming influence somehow. It is mesmerising.
While The Waiting Room would impress in any setting, it's singularly special here — functioning in tandem with the distressed, cracked walls and vulnerable ceiling — turning the waiting room into the canvas. Best of all, Sze's work urges you to explore its nooks and crannies. Already, the waiting room has that delicious decayed-chic of a Wilton's Music Hall or Gordon's, but Sze butters on an extra layer of richness which'll have you gawping at the same spot on a wall for minutes at a time.
Writer Zadie Smith has compared Sze's works as 'like being in an opened-up iPhone'; the irony being that The Waiting Room will draw crowds of snap-happy art lovers into its orbit. But if that piques public interest in this remarkable setting, then that's alright with us.
The Waiting Room, Peckham Rye station, 19 May-17 September 2023, free (enter via the doors to the left of the station entrance on ground level).