I had plans for the blog this month. I was looking forward to writing some of my leftover prompts from Nablopomo. But life, as it does, intervened and among other things I found myself working in London for a week and didn’t get near a computer – unless you count using an iPad to wrestle a portable autocue into submission – all week. However, I did find myself with a couple of mornings free and with my colleague’s admonishment to ‘do something fun’ – I think he was more expecting me to hit Oxford Street – I headed out to see some art.
Last time I was in London I made my first trip to the Tate, so it seemed appropriate that this time I should head off to the Tate Modern. I can’t really talk about the Tate Modern without talking about the building that houses it. Much as the structure and nature of the Victorian era buildings that house Tate Britain and museums like it inform the nature of the experience, the collection and reveal the times in which they were built, the repurposing of the old Bankside power station speaks volumes about the times and priorities that shaped it’s creation and collection. The building itself seems to exist both as a work of art in it’s own right – modernist almost to the point of brutalism in architectural style – and in dialogue with the wider art world, a physical embodiment of the question of what should a museum be and look like, along with wider questions about what is art?
After all the controversy about the new viewing balcony spoiling the view/privacy for the surrounding luxury flats, I had no choice but to take the lift right to the top and see what all the fuss is about. (You can in fact see right into people’s living rooms, but the flats are equally overlooked but neighbouring blocks of flats, as quite frankly, are most high-rise flats in London.) The view in the other three directions, however, is quite stunning. The birds eye view gives you a sense of scale about the place that you don’t really get from ground level, demonstrating how vast the place is while at the same time how unexpectedly close to each other significant buildings really are.
One of my favourite exhibitions was the Living Cities gallery, in particular Kada Attia’s rendering of the ancient city of Ghardaïa in cooked couscous of all mediums and Naoya Hatakeyama’s light-box depictions of Tokyo’s night lights.
All the exhibits that I saw seemed to take on an element of foregrounding the relationship between viewer and artist. However, in Perfomer and Participant, this theme was made explicit. I particularly enjoyed the Krasinski room, less for the art itself – which is fairly simple – but because you could still interact with it, the each viewer’s experience was entirely unique and I took great pleasure on my return wander through, in watching how other visitors interacted with it. Whereas Lala Rukh’s Rupak was a strangely compelling, almost to the point of hypnotic experience a rare example of video art that completely captured me and held me hostage for the duration.
I feel that I would have got greater pleasure from the works of both Paul Neagu and Lygia Clark & Hélio Oiticica if I could have interacted with their works as originally intended. There was something decidedly odd about looking at art in glass boxes that was explicitly created to be interacted with, being at once told that the point of it was to interact with it, while at the same time being prevented from doing so. It makes sense, why you’re not allowed to touch these objects anymore, as they’re projects that the artist has finished and is no longer replacing/repairing or in some cases the artist has died and this is what remains of their work. Nonetheless it felt somewhat that the audience was being teased with the ghost of a time when this art had somehow more and less value at once.
I feel like I’ve been hearing about the Turbine Hall for the entirety of my adult life, and some quick research shows me that I’m entirely correct, as Tate Modern opened in 2000, the year I turned sixteen. When I was there, it was housing Kara Walker’s Hyundai Commission work, which I must say the pictures do not begin to do justice to the sheer scale of it. It is definitely a piece of art that takes advantage of the space available to it. (The first time I saw Kara Walker’s work was in the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the best part of a decade ago, her stark silhouettes sprang to mind the moment I saw this fountain, her style remains so distinctive.) There was something slightly surreal to see the fountain surrounded by parents with buggies and toddlers carefully balancing their way along the parapet of it, but as that appears to have been part of the point of the work of art, that it exists in conversation with public fountains such as the Victoria Memorial, and should be interacted with in the same way.