Every so often I will venture to London for live concerts. Arguably too often, as most foreign acts seem to have decided that as they will perform in London, that they won’t perform anywhere any closer to me in Portsmouth, such as Southampton or even Brighton. However, I recently realised that I have only rarely exploited this and made a day out of the visit. It’s simply been getting to London not long before the show, and going home straight afterwards. Last year, my mother and I visited the National Gallery before watching The Planets at the Royal Albert Hall, but that was about it.
In the knowledge that I was going to a show that I couldn’t convince anyone else to go to, I decided that I needed to visit a couple of places that I also knew that I couldn’t reach with anyone in tow. I toyed with splashing out on jumping off of the London Orbit, and even visiting the Floatworks spa and paying too much money to float naked in a dark tank for an hour (as I did my research that was the top thing to do in London according to TripAdvisor). I want to say that common sense prevented me from doing so, but to be honest, they were actually closed that day. Having been told by my mother that she didn’t care that the Tate Modern was free entry, and that she couldn’t be paid to go there, I decided that today would be the day.
In particular, I had been enticed by the Olafur Eliasson exhibition. I had read a lot about his landmark The Weather Project installation which gathered a lot of attention and acclaim in 2003, to the point that it received many repeat visitors. The air was full of a mist made of water and sugar, the ceiling replaced with a giant mirror, and at its centre was a massive dome-shaped light, forming a sun-like entity above. It looked incredible, and while there wouldn’t be anything on such a scale there this time, I could at least take the opportunity to see his work.
This did not begin nearly as hypnotically and pleasantly as I had hoped. Eliasson’s signature use of light manipulation began at the entrance, and it was a surreal moment as I stepped out of the elevator onto a floor that was completely submerged in yellow light. Not yellow beams. It was like I had yellow lenses on my glasses. That colour choice was particularly jarring and felt like switching on a light in the middle of the night. I assume that striking change was exactly what they were going for, even if it was slightly sickening.
However, there were also beautiful physical pieces that made use of wire, glass and mirrors, suspended from the ceiling and projecting much more pleasant light. In this room it looked especially odd, because those projections looked more natural than the artificial yellow glow. It felt as though it should have been the other way around.
In one room there was artificial light drizzle falling from the ceiling, which refracted the light into rainbow colours. While I had seen photographs of this beforehand, I didn’t know that this area wasn’t bordered off, and I was surprised to find lots of children playing underneath it. They were all soaked. Paying little attention to this warning, I threw caution to the wind for the sake of getting a photo.
Then came a 37m long corridor full of very thick sugary fog, appropriately entitled your blind passenger. You could not see more than 1.5m in front of you. This was really bizarre as it conducted the light around you, but you couldn’t see the source of the light itself. Luckily this wasn’t nearly as abrasive as the entrance. Considering the giggles of overexcited children who were still running around after their technicoloured shower, I was concerned that I would kick one of them.
For the less impressed children who had been dragged around by beret-wearing parents (I know that sounds like a stereotype, but they were there in their droves) who had stroked their chins raw by the end of the exhibition, there was an area for them at the end to make their own artworks. The nice way of saying “loads of K’NEX with background commentary about art from Eliasson”.
I am glad that I went to the exhibition, but I’ll admit that I was slightly disappointed. Besides the corridor, the ‘experience’ element as should be expected of something entitled ‘In Real Life’ was quite minimal. I felt that something so immaterial needed scale, like the weather project before, to justify. This retrospective didn’t seem like miniatures of a larger installation yet to come.
So, how did the rest of the gallery fare?
A few notable moments:
- Shooting Picture by Niki de Saint Phalle. I had to find this one, albeit less for its artistic merit, and more for its history. Created from shooting bags of paint on the canvas, this had been contributed to by Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.
- The Rothko Room. I liked this room. Not only was I surrounded by possibly the most valuable works in the gallery, in a calming, dim light, but the guy next to me had smuggled in some Walkers Sensations crisps, and it had a pleasant odour. A meditative experience.
- Self-Portrait by Christian Schad. I admit that this made me smirk than it probably should have. Schad was bold to reveal just how poorly that evening with his beau went, let alone put so much effort into a painting of it.
- Untitled by Malanatana Ngwenya. If anyone is having a worse time than Schad, it is this poor man having his limbs chewed off. As horrible as it is, I kind of want this one on my wall.
- BRINCO Shoes by Judi Werthein. I wasn’t aware of this story at all, and the room devoted to it was fascinating. For the uninformed, Werthein created designer shoes that were ingeniously equipped to help illegal immigrants skip the US-Mexico border, featuring a light, compass, painkillers and even a map printed on the sole. There were news broadcasts from 2005 on screens, discussing the shoes, and print outs of the abusive, often racist hate mail that Werthein received.
For the most part, I had kept an open enough mind and enjoyed the gallery, though I will admit that there were moments where my patience was rather tested. For anyone who thought Damien Hirst was alone with needlessly extravagant names (his famous pickled shark is entitled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living), look no further than by Joseph Bueys’ Lightning with Stag in its Glare. Yeah. Because the first thing I think of when I here that is clay styled to look like poo, next to an even bigger pile of poo, towering over a trolley while allegedly represents a goat.
This sentiment continued on my final stop, during which I tried and succeeded in finding the scar of “Doris’ crack”. Alright, that statement probably requires a little explanation. In 2007, as part of the Unilever series (the same serious of exhibitions that Oliasson’s the weather project was in), Doris Salcedo created a very unusual installation named Shibboleth, which was a 167m-long crack along the Turbine Hall floor, beginning as a hairline scratch, thickening, splitting halfway and ending two feet deep.
This had since been filled in, but has left behind a scar. I think that this piece defined my confusion during my time in the Tate Modern, as it really was nothing but a cast of a cliff face. However, Salcedo insisted that it addressed racism and immigration, but I have no idea how one is meant to know this if you don’t know its title (or what the word ‘shibboleth’ even means for that matter’.
After this, it was time for some food at Pop Brixton, and an outrageously loud concert from Sunn O))). I’ve decided that I’ll give that part its own post as it’s a bit much of a departure. To read about that, click here.