Monday 26 October 2009

Miroslaw Balka: How It Is

This is the latest in the Unilever series of installation's at Tate Modern's cathedral-like Turbine Hall. It's a big metal box like a giant shipping container filled with darkness. Turbine Hall art is a new genre. It's got to be big and overwhelming. The dwarfed visitors/worshippers become part of the art.

Many religions include visits to a mocked-up Underworld, a dark underground space, a crypt, West Kennet Long Barrow, the Mallabar Caves. And art's meant to be a quasi-religious experience these days. Or is it a fairground attraction? Victorian London was full of "shows": Frith's Derby Day, General Tom Thumb, mind readers, the Hottentot Venus. If you set up an attraction and advertise it, people will come. Roll up, roll up, see the wonder of the age!

If art's a quasi-religious experience, there are too many of them. We're always being pushed to respond. If we do, how sincere are we being? Maybe that's the point - to confront us with our own lack of integrity.

Visitors to How It Is have complained that the crowds of children and tourists ruin the atmosphere by chatting and flashing their mobile phones as they take pictures of their mates groping around in the dark.

You approach with other pilgrims (like the ones who are visiting the bones of St Therese of Lisieux). The lights get dimmer as you walk down to the end of the hall. The "box" echoes the grim industrial style of its surroundings.

You climb up a ramp and walk forward into the dark and it is truly frightening. Yes, you're surrounded by chirping children - or are they twittering ghosts? What's spookier than the laughter of unseen children? Just when the darkness reaches pitch pitch, you bump into the back wall. When you lean against it, you hear a booming rumble. Turn round and you can see the light, and silhouettes of children walking happily into the dark. Turn back again and you see a crowd of ghosts.

Here in this truck, I, Eve, and my son Abel

If you see my son Cain, tell him...

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