Today was the new Tate Tanks members preview day. For those that don't know, the Tate Tanks are the first stage in the redevelopment of Tate Modern, which will eventually allow 60% more of the collection to go on show. This is great news. It will also allow for even more touring exhibitions. The Tanks themselves are vast underground oil tanks, and will be used for a mixture of contemporary art and performance. They open to the public tomorrow.
It was interesting being able to walk down the iconic ramp and then turn right. Whilst the Turbine hall is an incredible space, I think that having things on both sides of it helps to create a sense of balance, something that will only increase as the new structure takes shape, and a new high level bridge arches across it. Walking into the Tanks leads to a sense of palpable excitement. The architecture is chunky and, to a fan of Brutalism such as myself, deeply appealing. I did wonder if the air conditioning would be up to scratch, though. With hundreds of excited members all crammed into this thick walled, subterranean space, it was a little bit sweaty and unpleasant at times.
I was asked to contribute to a piece of devised theatre recently, on the subject of restoration, and the urge to restore order. I'd just read an article recently on Isaac Asimov's Foundation, discussing how it was in fact a giant metaphor for the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. I had read the book when I was a child, and perhaps understandably this all went over my head. However, one passage in the book had disturbed me so much I had stopped reading it. It wasn't graphic or adult in nature, it just described people tirelessly trying to impose order on the galaxy to stop the increase in entropy, which eventually would cause the universe to end (I had to some extent sublimated my trembling fear of death into a terrible fear of the universe ending, even after I was dead). I thought the text might lend a rather leftfield angle to the play, so I thought now might be a good time to revisit the book and see how it matched up to my childhood reading.
Surely everyone who frequents galleries has had this experience: You're wandering round an exhibition that you don't really care for, your scepticism slowly rising. You're not sure if you're missing something or if there's nothing to miss, but every time you're confronted with another indifferent picture with an obscure title you care a little less.
Then you come across something that stops you in your tracks, something that announces its greatness and makes you take your time to consider it. Zarina Bhimji's recent exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery had this exact effect on me. As you enter you are presented with a series of stills from her latest film. Anyone who has had the misfortune of sitting through my holiday snaps knows my predilection for shots of urban decay ("When are we getting to the Pyramids?" "After the two rolls of film I took at the cement factory.") but when coupled with portentous titles of little discernible relevance my guard was up.
Upstairs, the samples of earlier work manage to achieve the unhappy balance of seeming both facile and obscure, with a tedious insistence on poking sexuality into every orifice, even those where it doesn't belong. Does a photograph of some spray painted pubes really complete an exhibit of photographs of gardens owned by slave merchants, and mirrors engraved with old press cuttings of slave auctions?
It's understandable, then, that I approached the centrepiece of the exhibition, a new film called 'Yellow Patch', with some hesitation. I am not against Video Art, yet only a few of its practitioners seem to approach competency in my eyes, and a previous work by the artist shown upstairs had all the clumsy literalness of an overexcited student documentary maker.
Luckily this film captivated me within a few seconds, such was its beauty. It's a cliché to say that each frame could be a work of art in itself, but the photos outside testified to its truth in this case. Each shot, whether of mouldering books in dusty courtrooms or houses filled with ruined furniture slowly collapsing, was ravishingly beautiful. When I went to see it a second time, an entire class of 5-year-olds sat transfixed throughout its entire 30 minutes runtime, without making a peep. Credit has to go to the cinematographer for composing such beautiful shots, as well as moving the camera so precisely, slowly, and gracefully.
Little ideas that spin through my mind.