In a web forum, when questioned on this, director of Tate Modern Chris Dercon explained the following about him:
"Sung Hwan Kim presents a generation of new artists or better to say producers of a new visual culture who work in many different places at the same time. Originally from Korea he studied in Amsterdam, produced work in Munich and currently lives in New York. He's collaborating with many different artists, exploring and mixing different disciplines, while always returning to the question - Who am I? Where do I come from and where do I go to in this complex global world? He talks and shows his family and friends in his work, who don't always understand his ideas or where he's going with them, but feel that because they are 'family', they have an emotional bond with Sung. We all need this kind of trust and support today. His work reflects the lives of many other young artists and cltural [sic] workers. His work is not immediately made for the market, it is difficult to show, yet he's being closely watched by the visual arts world, the film world, the music world and even the opera world. He creates a completely different type of art production."
Given that the over-abiding feeling I got was that the artist was just dicking around, what worries me about this statement is that it doesn't give any reason that we should engage with him, other than that various 'in-the-know' people are. I wonder if this showing will be the high water mark for his art. There are surely a lot of 'artists' messing around today who don't really have anything to say. For whatever reason, this guy has been elevated. Whether he will survive sustained scrutiny is doubtful.
I'm a little more confident when it comes to Modern Dance. Luckily the first performance was by the incredible dancer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, who is mostly associated with Steve Reich, although kids nowadays might know her more as the choreographer Beyoncé stole her moves from. I had the good fortune to be sat a metre away from where she and her partner performed 90% of the dance to Reich's Clapping Music. It's not my favourite piece by him, but the dance really added to it. After a highly mechanised beginning, as the phasing comes in, de Keersmaeker really throws herself into it, adding some humanity and a real sense of joy. I returned a couple of days later to catch a free performance of her dance to Violin Phase. I'm not exaggerating when I say I believe this to be one of the pinnacles of Western Culture, although again I find the piece without the dance a bit much to handle. Please do follow the link above and watch it: give it at least 6 minutes as it starts quite slowly. In the last 2 minutes, when the release comes, I find it profoundly moving. De Keersmaeker might be famous for repetitions and minimalism, but I find her a deeply passionate and human performer.
Finally getting to see this live was a revelation. There was a palpable sense of being trapped in the music, and this is reflected in the way de Keersmaeker circumscribes the geometrical space. Yet at each moment when the 'tune' breaks through the throbbing phasing of the violins there's a joyous freedom that comes through in de Keersmaeker's shimmying. Joy is certainly not the go to emotion that most people imagine when they think of Modern Dance conducted to austere, Minimalist phasing, but that's certainly what came across to me as the defining difference of experiencing it live. I don't want to get into my controversial interpretation of the early Wittgenstein here (I'm sure you're all gutted), but I can't help but think of the way we can find freedom and release in our own busy, repetitive, cacophonous lives.
Overall, then, I have mixed feelings about the Tanks opening. I'm excited about the performance space, although the cynic in me wonders if they're just hoping to turn it into a cash cow. If you're not able to catch the free performances de Keersmaeker is giving throughout the day, you can pay £15 for the privilege of watching it at night. Still, the hope is that Tate can bring Performance Art and Modern Dance to a wider crowd, and from a selfish perspective, I'm hoping this can really open up a new world for me. With regards to the art on show in the tanks, it definitely feels like a missed opportunity to open with a big bang. I can be quite open and admit that the Sung Hwan Kim goes over my head, but it's not for want of trying.
A qualified hurrah, then. Let's see how this pans out...