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The Minotaur

Lazarides and Pret A Diner collaborate to create an underground feast for the senses

by Leonora Oppenheim in Culture on 21 October 2011

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As a follow-up to the extraordinary Hell’s Half Acre, Steve Lazarides and his merry band of radical street artists have teamed up with KP Kofler’s Pret A Diner dining experience to create The Minotaur. Set once again in the dark depths of London's Old Vic Tunnels the space has been transformed into an atmospheric feast for the senses for London Art Week.

After singeing eyeballs with the impromptu rendition of Dante's Inferno at Hell's Half Acre last year, this time the creative inspiration comes from another classical myth—that of Theseus' quest to kill the Minotaur in the maze, with the help of Ariadne and her ball of twine. This dark tale of bravery and hubris is interpreted in many ways by different artists throughout the suitably-labyrinthine underground space.

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Unnerving from the start, the exhibition begins with an entrance that uses light and shadow spooky effect as Lucy McLauchlan's trash collage sculptures and Zak Ové's black magic voodoo creatures throw monstrous shapes on the walls. Soon enough, we discover Atma's crucified form of the Minotaur suspended from the ceiling, illuminated by candles, while the discordant soundtrack to a slow-motion film of bull-fighting sequences plays nearby.

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As we progress through the space, other versions of monsters emerge from the shadowy arches—in one corner is Jonathan Yeo's leonine portrait of high-society plastic surgery queen, Jocelyn Wildenstein, while in another, Rupert Murdoch looks down from on high, chipped out of a wall in Vhils's trademark graffiti style.

Commentary on contemporary culture as "beast" also comes in the form of Antony Micallef's works of genetic perfection. Highly-idealized, airbrushed images of women looking eerily like blow-up dolls seem to represent the daily modern sacrifice of fair maidens manipulated in our media maze.

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Other work was more overtly repellent, like David Falconer's enormous ball of rats, entertainingly titled "Vermin Death Star," on view on the way to the show's highlight, a beautifully-hypnotizing video installation by Doug Foster. He has recast the form of last year's Heretic's Gate as a smoking swirl of reflected and mirrored forms, out of which gleaming eyes and horns fleetingly emerge, then disappear into a silvery mist.

At the center of all the visual drama is the Pret A Diner space which, in the evening, turns into a bacchanalian feast of high gastronomy. Interior designer Nora Von Nordenskjold has created a space that, in her words, recalls "ancient civilizations and forgotten worlds. How it would be to feast with the gods in exile." This decadent underground tavern is dripping with candle wax, vine leaves and grapes, illuminated only by flickering candles and Pret a Diner co-founder Olivia Steele's neon writing sculptures.

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Four star chefs have been invited to create rotating menus to amuse the revelers' palates: Portuguese Londoner Nuno Mendes, Sushi sensei Ollysan, Germany-based Spaniard Juan Amador and Michelin-starred Matthias Schmidt. This deliciously-indulgent experience has the sinister undertones of being one's last meal before being sacrificed to the Minotaur, yet remains entirely enjoyable. One fellow guest we overheard probably put it best when describing the whole experience as something akin to a terrifying carnival ride you want to go on again and again.

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