• The other day I came across these two very different shelters sharing a weedy stub of the Grand Union Canal: a domed wooden hut atop a DIY scaffolding jetty, and an icily-lit plastic pavilion borne on white aluminium branches. In the gloom of a winter afternoon they had a fairytale air, though both proved to be artworks, the former relating to Victoria Miro and the latter to Parasol Unit, who share a terrace overlooking the backwater. The ethereal bus shelter, an installation by James Yamada poetically entitled “The summer shelter retreats darkly among the trees”, is perfectly placed to sit and contemplate the colourful patchwork hut and its crazy stack of external hutches, which looked to me like a tramp’s rabbit farm (who knows, maybe it is – locally-sourced food is popular in east London). If the view doesn’t cheer you up then the bus shelter itself should, as it’s illuminated by full spectrum light, which supposedly alleviates SAD – aka Seasonal Affective Disorder, or feeling a bit grim in winter – an effect negated by the fact that you’d die of hypothermia while alleviating it.
The hut it overlooks was built by artist Alex Hartley, who makes work inspired by counter-culture refuges such as Colorado’s 1965-founded “Drop City”, one of the first rural hippie communes. Its inhabitants were early adopters of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome, using car roofs to build their hemispherical shelters; Hartley’s hut is a wooden reconstruction of one such home, in which to reside for the duration of his Victoria Miro exhibition, “The World Is Still Big”. Within the gallery’s sleeker confines he has mounted a set of large-scale photos of wilderness landscapes, each bearing a tiny 3-D model, in trompe l’oeil perspective, of an architectural structure. Some are industrial, some are folksy, but most look lashed-together with available materials, making temporary shelter in unpromising surroundings. The theme is continued on the top floor with a tragi-comic yellow tent, just big enough for one hunched human, floundering amidst a cartoony meringue of fake snow. This is part of Hartley’s ongoing project “Nowhereisland”, a utopian imaginary island inspired by two trips he made to the high arctic, whose citizens will collectively shape its constitution (you can sign up on Facebook). The Miro show ended on Saturday 21 Jan 2012, but apparently the dome will next be sheltering Hartley’s teenage son at the nearby Occupy camp in Finsbury Square, while “Nowhereisland” will be taking a 500-mile jaunt around England’s south west coast as part of the Cultural Olymiad’s rolling behemoth. An artist definitely worth catching, with or without a sad bus shelter to view him from.
• Alex Hartley: Victoria Miro, 16 Wharf Rd, London N1, until 21 Jan 2012, victoria-miro.com, nowhereisland.org
• James Yamada: Parasol Unit, 14 Wharf Rd, London N1, until 18 Mar 2012, parasol-unit.org