Another Autumn, another commission in Tate Modern's Turbine Hall.
So, what have we got thistime?
A big black floor and a room that makes you cry.
2018's artist is Tania Bruguera, and her theme is migration.
I mention this because if you hadn't been told, you'd never have guessed.
Most of the Turbine Hall's floor has been covered with glossy black tiles, for reasons which are not explained in the room, on the website, or in any review I've yet read. But one large rectangle, down at the far end where all the strange stuff usually materialises, is a different shade of black and intriguingly interactive. Take your shoes off before you step on.
This bit of floor is heat sensitive, and standing on it makes it turn white, so you can have fun leaving footprints that gently fade over time. Other parts of the body are available, so sitting down leaves a larger impression, and rolling over onto your front a completely different outline... but careful not to unintentionally reveal too much! Essentially what we have here is an adults' playground, which has been at the heart of several successful Turbine Hall commissions over the years, although this isn't one of the best.
But where's the migration bit? Well, if sufficient people come together and sprawl appropriately, the image of a Syrian refugee is revealed across the floor. Apparently it'd take about 300 people working collectively to achieve this, which is supposed to be the moral message behind the work, and maybe one weekend enough visitors will conspire to make it happen. But midweek, with a few mums on the mat and a group of schoolgirls running amok, not a chance. You couldn't even tell there was an image underneath to reveal - it simply looked like a floor that turns white.
Meanwhile, the room that makes you cry is down the side on the left, and fairly small. A pungent aroma hits your eyes and nose as you walk in, pumped out from vents in makeshift walls. It reminded me of Vicks vaporub, or being made to sit under a towel and inhale from a bowl of mentholated water by my Mum when I had a cold. It didn't make me cry, even though I hung around for a while. Apparently glasses and contact lenses lessen the effect, while being tall increases agitation as your face is closer to the vents. The walls of the room are blank, so even if you do start to weep, it's not clear what you're symbolically weeping at.
The title of Tania's work is an ever changing number, which is supposed to represent "the number of people who migrated from one country to another last year added to the current number of migrant deaths recorded so far this year". It's a variable, so doesn't appear on any walls or posters. The precise number is currently hovering around 10,143,175, and is supposed to be revealed by a stamp on your arm when you enter the pungent room. Unfortunately the member of Tate staff by the door didn't seem to be approaching anyone going in, or coming out, hence no stamping was occurring except on request. Again, nobody would have known what was going on unless they'd read the blurb in advance.
As for the "unsettling low frequency sound" visitors are expected to endure, I completely blanked that after about ten seconds. Tania's only deft stroke is that the Boiler House has been renamed Natalie Bell House for the duration of the installation. Natalie's a local SE1 community activist, part of the group who helped the aforementioned Syrian refugee on his arrival in this country (he's now studying biomedical science and working for the NHS). Naming the main Tate building after a voluntary worker is a clever nod, in sharp contrast to the new extension which has been named after a billionaire philanthropist.
To conclude, Tania's overall conceit falls flat because most visitors will completely miss the underlying message. But what she has created is a floor that changes colour from black to white, so if that floats your boat, you have five months to act like a big kid again.
Much more fun is The Clock, a film by Christian Marclay, currently being screened on level 2. This genius work of art is a 24 hour compilation of clips from other films in which timepieces appear, with each clip scheduled to play at the time depicted. If the grandfather clock in the period drama shows twenty past ten, that scene is spliced into the film to play at 10.20. Robert Powell dangles off Big Ben at 11:43 precisely, while Harold Lloyd's Manhattan clockface antics pop up at quarter to two. It took years to research and cut together, and the end result is an utterly absorbing montage where any era or activity could pop up next.
Sometimes the clock is the centrepiece of the scene, at other times merely a background detail as the camera pans past. Watches feature heavily, be they worn by a clipped hero in black and white or a sultry vixen in full colour. Recurring themes include large clocks on public buildings, trains departing stations and synchronised criminal activity. The film peaks somewhat on the hour, where clips must have been plentiful, and becomes a fraction less specific at, say, 8.33 or 2.54. Scenes sometimes extend to about a minute but are generally more brief, so you never ever get to find out what happens next.
One fun activity is watching to see when and where in each clip the clock or time reference will appear. Sometimes it never does - a character merely flicks their wrist to look at their watch, time unspecified. In other clock-free lulls a brief montage of time-related clips may appear, for example a sequence on "lunchtime" around one o'clock or a collection of afternoon naps nearer three. If you're a film buff you'll love trying to spot the famous movie before it cuts away (When Harry Met Sally! Spiderman! Columbo?!), but a lot of lesser known excerpts and slices of world cinema are interspersed throughout.
I've wanted to watch much more of The Clock since I fortuitously caught 2½ hours at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 2011. This time I managed 2, starting with the chimes of 1pm, slouched on one of the 50 sofas in the Tate's impromptu cinema. It being midweek there were no queues outside, but expect space to be more precious at the weekend, and to have to wait your turn. Once you are inside you can stay as long as you like, the excellent thing about this film being that nobody ever needs to get their phone out to check what time it is.
Tate Modern opens at 10am, and closes at either six or ten, so the portion of the overall work you have the opportunity to see is limited. But there will be three overnight 24-hour screenings on 6 October, 3 November and 1 December, so long as you can keep your bladder under control to ensure you don't lose your seat. You have until 20th January to enjoy The Clock, and I hope you'll love it as much as I do.