diamond geezer

 Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Meanwhile, back in the real world...
...have you been to The Tanks yet?

There's always something new at the Tate Modern. The annual Turbine Hall commission, for example, which this year features a lot of people walking up and down. You've probably not noticed, given that Tino Sehgal's creation launched three weeks ago amid the hubbub leading up to the Games. "These Associations" isn't the most visually arresting of pieces, unlike previous giant suns and swirly slides. But it's mighty intriguing, and it's cheap, or maybe not depending on how much it costs to hire fifty drama student types as participants. If you turn up unaware of what's going on then the spectacle may confuse, indeed you may not realise there is a spectacle at all. I entered the Hall's void in darkness, slowly observing there were others here, eventually that they were all walking in unison. I stepped back as other unwitting spectators arrived, when suddenly the throng burst into brief communal song. The lights lifted, and those newcomers looked somewhat embarrassed to be revealed at the very heart of the performance. Which then continued, in a completely different vein, with every paticipant walking incredibly slowly to the very back of the Hall and then all the way forwards again. We visitors watched, some from below, more from the bridge above... without ever doing what it seems the artist intended. Tino's work is supposed to be about social interaction, engaging in semi-scripted chat, but we didn't seem to get that bit of the performance. My Dad tells it completely differently. He went the following day and spent thirty minutes walking the length of the Turbine Hall engrossed in deep conversation with one of the participants, without ever hearing any singing at all. Always different, always unexpected, perhaps you'll be drawn into the verbal cabaret on your visit.

But enough of that diversion... back to The Tanks. They're only about four weeks old, or rather they're about sixty-five years old, formerly part of the original power station. Once filled with oil, they've been sympathetically revamped and are now part-filled with art. Access is via the middle of the lowest level of the Turbine Hall, passing into a large vaulted ante-chamber that's unlike any other part of the gallery. Up above are the odd ladder and the occasional serial number, which at least look old even if they're not. The fresh art's to be found inside the tanks - large cylindrical spaces, some larger than others. Nothing's permanent down here, the latest commissions last four months max. I enjoyed the video of an old people's tea party in the shape of a quilt hosted in a shopping mall, fast forwarded from setting up to taking down. In another tank a smoky projection runs to almost-random music, in another a sparse film plays which you might enjoy more than I did. But my favourite was Tania Bruguera's temporary performance piece, which closes today, on the theme of migration and the immigrant experience. It took a while to deduce that the queue was part of her artwork, with access to the main chamber not guaranteed. But patience and persistence paid off, and I was eventually ushered into the room beyond where the buzz of machinery I'd heard from outside revealed itself to be... well, stunningly unexpected. I'll reveal no more, in case you too get to be the sole observer in this vast brick chamber, but my first trip to The Tanks was searingly memorable. Perhaps it's hit and miss whether you'll think the same, but expect the unexpectedly modern in this Tate dungeon and you'll not go far wrong.


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