Outside the front entrance were a row of press photographers and smartly-dressed City types all eagerly snapping shots of death metal band, Unfathomable Ruin. I know I shouldn’t pre-judge, but I’m guessing most people who work in the Gherkin get that excited about death metal very often. Not at 9am, anyway.
The band were about to become part of Portuguese artist João Onofre’s living sculpture, Box Sized DIE, which I was covering for CMU. First shown in 2007, the concept is pretty simple. The sculpture is an airtight iron box, in which is contained a death metal band who perform until such time as they run out of oxygen (about 20 minutes, I learned this morning). The piece has toured around various European cities, each time using a local band, and this is the first time it’s made it to the UK.
I’m not sure what I expected, but the thing I most enjoyed about Box Sized DIE was how quiet it is. The band began playing as the door was closed on them, for a few seconds filling the area with, well, death metal. With the door closed and locked, they became just another dull rumble among all the other dull rumbles. However, by going up and touching the walls of the box, the vibrations coming through reminded you that you were only an inch or two away from a ferocious noise.
Although The City had initially seemed like an odd setting for the performance – it’s part of the Sculpture In The City festival, which starts tomorrow – the idea of this noise being lost in the bustle around it suddenly seemed entirely appropriate.
As I was taking photos, a man walked up to me and asked what was happening.
“There’s a death metal band playing in that box,” I told him.
“What is death metal?” He replied with a smirk, at least proving my earlier assumption. Though after I explained a bit further, he and the Japanese businessman with him seemed quite enthused. “Oh, so they’re about to come out? Oh, marvellous.”
Off they went and joined the small but enthusiastic crowd, who had in turn been wandering up and pressing their hands and ears against the box. And then, a little over 20 minutes after they went in, the door popped open again and that sound rushed out into the air (they were still playing, and not, as you might have guessed, all collapsed on the floor).
Once they’d got their breath back, they explained that not only was it incredibly loud inside the box, but also very hot. All of them had forgotten to take water in with them, a first performance error I’d imagine they’ll not make again. However, they’d been keen to stay inside for longer than they managed in rehearsal – a brief break in the box’s rumbling during the performance having been them trying to decide whether to play one or two more songs (they went for two), rather than their sudden demise, as a large portion of onlookers and organisers seemed to fear for a few seconds.
I’d recommend going and taking a look at Box Sized DIE while you can. You’ll be able to catch the performance outside The Gherkin on Thursday at 6pm and again at 7pm. It’ll then take place at 6pm every Wednesday to Friday from 4 Jul to 1 Aug.