diamond geezer

 Wednesday, November 13, 2013

JUBILEE: Southwark

With all the building work taking place at Tate Modern at the moment, the latest in The Unilever Series has gone mostly unnoticed. The landmark art project which currently fills the Turbine Hall is more understated than most, that's for sure. There is no blazing sun on the far wall, no crack snaking across the floor, no set of metal spirals to slide down. Instead a more subtle work has appeared, encompassing the void in an entirely new way, yet still with its own original voice.

Tate Modern: Ischan Ging
The Unilever Series:
May 2013 - January 2014

The first hint that something unusual is afoot comes on attempting to access the Turbine Hall via the usual channels. The main entrance from the west is sealed off, preventing access down the usual sloping walkway into the heart of the building. Instead visitors must approach along the passage past the cafe, squeezing past the queue for scones, where a high temporary barrier shields the view. One's senses are truly heightened - what is the mystery behind? Playfully there are no clues until three portholes appear on the right hand side, each of a different size and at a different height. The Tate have positioned a security guard close by in case these vantage points become too popular, but thankfully I was fortunate in timing my visit so as to observe without obstruction.

The latest Turbine Hall installation is somewhat of a triptych, as befits a masterwork of note. From this location only the central section is properly visible, this being the raised mezzanine overlooking the rest of the hall. Initially all appears empty, but look again. The barrier around the top of the stairs has been replaced by metal pipework, erupting from a wooden framework skirting the rim. This tableau reflects the safety-conscious nature of our modern society, encompassing risk and order within its temporary frame. This theme is further echoed by a red-framed installation close by - Twin Extinguishers of Fire - which stands poised and ready to put out the raging flames of 21st century society.

Again, closer inspection bears dividends. The floor is covered in a thick layer of dust, reminiscent of Ai Weiwei's carpet of porcelain sunflower seeds exhibited here in 2010. Throughout this powder carpet can be seen trails of repeated patterns forming sinuous lines across the floor. These are the footprints of the performance artists who labour daily to create the impression of a building site, an illusion so deftly created you might even believe it were true. Three further portholes on the northern side suggest the existence of extension works beyond, as if the gallery were expanding both vertically and horizontally to meet artistic need. As if.

Accessing the remainder of the Turbine Hall installation can be problematic - indeed building access is severely compromised for the duration of the work. There are no escalators up from the first floor, they merely sail past, so a more physical approach is required. Walk down to reach the start of the incline, else take the back stairs to ascend in dark twists. You may struggle with the crowds, so comprehensively has the Turbine Hall's temporary quarantine compromised access to the upper levels. But oh what vista awaits from the glass gallery on floor two. The entire void is opened up with unobstructed views to left and right, and only now can one fully appreciate the true extent of this year's project.

At the eastern end of the hall, seemingly nothing. No piles of cardboard boxes, no expanse of bunkbeds, no giant screen. All that's visible are the sober brick walls of this former generating station and a high vertical window. And yet this surely is the very conceit the artist has attempted to expose, showcasing the structure's very ordinariness as a counterpoint to creative hubris, or something.

To appreciate the substance of the western section - the slope down from Bankside to basement level - an increase in elevation is recommended. Climb to the third floor, or better still ascend to the fourth, to absorb the panorama. What disturbance is this? The entire floor has been ripped up, even the remains of Doris Salcedo's concrete crevice scarred here five years back. Scattered about are piles of rubble - some rocks, some pipework - seemingly random yet assembled with painstaking accuracy. A small digger has been placed parallel to the main door, again precisely aligned, close to a very lifelike sculpture of a wheelbarrow. Dust lies everywhere, some scraped as if by persistent motion into lifelike swirls. Meanwhile on the far wall a giant wooden scaffold rises high, then higher, its lower strata sheathed in translucent plastic skin. The overall result is a bold statement of intent, a parable for our times, an unmistakeable composition.

If you're on fourth, look to the right to view the project's crowning glory. A new footbridge is being installed at vertigo-inducing height, designed to link the existing galleries to the new. You'll need a head for heights to cross, but for now access is blocked, available only via imagination. Instead the Tate distracts with artworks under the umbrella of 'Structure and Clarity, from Mondrian to Jarman, in adjacent rooms opened for many a long year. But when the Herzog & de Meuron extension opens in 2016, this skyway path will be an alternative gateway to pyramidal heights. Until then the Turbine Hall's latest installation offers tantalising glimpses of creative horizons as yet unattained, of dreams unbidden, of aesthetic destiny. Visit soon, or maybe best wait a bit.

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