It's said that we English talk about the weather far too much. That's probably because we actually have weather in this country, where it can be cold and dry one day but mild and wet the next. We love to kick off our conversations by telling each other the meteorologically obvious ("sunny, isn't it?"). And can there be another country in the world where the weather forecast starts off with what the weather has been before going on to tell us what it will be? Ah, the weather, we do love it, even if it doesn't love us.
Every year the Tate Modern attempts to fill its giant Turbine Hall with a giant work of art. In 2000 they installed a couple of tall twirly staircases and a giant spider, sculpted out of steel by Louise Bourgeois. In 2001 there were lifts disappearing upwards through a series of darkened rooms courtesy of Juan Muñoz, and last year Anish Kapoor's giant red ring thing that somehow I completely managed to miss seeing. But now for 2003, rising for the first time last week, it's Olafur Eliasson's solar-inspired The Weather Project. And what better way to fill a huge space than with light?
I visited the Tate Modern yesterday for an early view of this new meteorological phenomenon. An enormous yellow sun now beams out from the eastern wall of the Turbine Hall. Clouds of fine mist hang in the air and the ceiling above is completely covered by mirrors, doubling the height of the sky. The whole place feels like a cathedral to the great sun god, which must be why half the population of London has come along to worship. Down on the floor a congregation has gathered, most gawping in awe and wonder at the great solar disc, others lying prostrate to gaze upon their distant reflection in the mirrors above.
If you walk right to the end of the hall to stand behind the sun, the illusion is shattered. Above your head is suspended a semicircle of yellow lamps, reflected in another mirror to form a ring of light. Look back into the hall and all you see now is a crowd behaving strangely, like a bunch of weather-obsessed primitives worshipping a scientific phenomenon they don't understand. But walk back into the light and the eclipse is over, the magic returns and you become a sun-worshipper again. Most impressive.
On leaving the Tate Modern yesterday it was back out into the autumn sunshine (10°C, northwesterly wind at 5mph, skies mostly clear, showers threatening later). There in the sky hung a distant small yellow globe, totally ignored by those exiting the gallery. Somehow the real thing couldn't hold a candle to the artificial sun inside. But then you can't walk round the back of the real sun to see how it works (well, not unless you're willing to wait for six months anyway). Let there be light. And do come and see it before it sets.