Later searching tells me that this was “The latest commission in The Unilever Series How It Is by Polish artist Miroslaw Balka” this is a bit self-indulgent because I want to remember how I experienced and ‘discovered’ it. Feel free not to read :-)
As blogged earlier when in London I visited Tate Modern (or should that be ‘The Tate Modern’?) and being somewhat underwhelmed by both its collection and exhibitions that I saw. As you work your way around the exhibition spaces the lobby areas on each floor overlook the massive ‘Turbine Hall’ (this building was originally a power station) and to be honest I had always thought that this was much more part of the Tate Modern – but by approach the building from the Millennium Bridge and entering through some anonymous doors there is no obvious way to go into the Turbine hall.
Anyway, I had looked out and down to the Turbine Hall a few times and couldn’t really see anything to go look at. One end was just the gradually sloping floor from the entrance and at the other was this big steel box. Then that I figured out that this huge steel structure was in fact ‘art’ !
It was big! To quote Douglas Adams “Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is. I mean…” It reminded me of way back when I worked in a Clyde Shipyard because it is simply an unadorned large steel box. “Hovering somewhere between sculpture and architecture, on 2 meter stilts, it stands 13 meters high and 30 meters long.” (the web site seems reluctant to say how wide it is )
So, it is a big steel box to look at and walk under, but as you walk to the far end (nearest the back wall of the Turbine Hall) the box is in fact open and has a ramp to walk up and enter the pitch black box – if you dare.
There were a few people inside when I walked up the ramp, an older couple a few meters inside and someone else further in that I didn’t know about yet. I stood at the top of the ramp looking into the deepest darkest dark darkness I’ve ever seen while the couple to my left gave up and turned around saying “that’s far enough, I don’t like it” and as they turned “oh, it looks better this way, when you’re looking out”. I gradually walked further in, savouring the atmosphere and immediately started to “get it”.
As a piece of ‘art’ to look at this big metal box could talk of scale, strength, power, etc. but that really isn’t much. This is all about the experience and emotional reaction you get as you walk into this complete darkness and it was an experience that blew my mind! You are walking forward in darkness, towards more darkness and your senses begin to disappear. The inside is covered with some kind of thick fabric so you aren’t walking on steel – no loud footsteps. I clapped my hands to test the acoustics and very little echo, the sound was extremely dampened which seemed to contradict the space. Darkness, no sound, nothing to taste, smell or touch – so other than the knowledge that you were walking and the feel of your own weight on your feet you are removed from all senses and have no point of reference for whether you are moving or not.
Out of the blackens I saw a guy making his way back out and by then there were more people coming in behind. I recon I was about three quarters of the way in at that point when I looked back for the first time – another totally alien and unique experience! The entrance is one whole side of the structure but with the perspective of where I was this huge gap appeared to be far away, and all that was outside was the structural end wall of the gallery itself. Silhouetted against this was the strange site of people in ones or twos making there way in or out of the structure, all uncertainly and with some trepidation – many not making it far in at all.
I managed to get all the way to the end wall to find it covered in the fabric (I think), like the floor, which is when I figured that was why the sound was muffled. I walked along the wall for a while running my hand against it then started to make my way back out.
The think I experienced this thing in exactly the right way by not knowing anything about it and having no expectations. It was an utterly strange and unique experience that was for me all about how you felt entering this space and being engulfed by –nothing-
Since (IMHO) art is about the viewer’s reaction rather than the item itself, this really is art.
More about “How It Is”