diamond geezer

 Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Philippe Parreno: Anywhen
Tate Modern (4 October 2016 – 2 April 2017)

Artists have been filling the Turbine Hall annually since 2000, and the good news is that this year's is better than last. Not difficult. French avant-garde artist Philippe Parreno has constructed what's perhaps best described as "an experience", combining sound and light and film, and things that go up and down. The most obvious of these is a set of ten large white screens, one large and used for projection, and the remainder capable of being lowered to create a makeshift cinema - three for the roof and three for each wall. Most of the time they're not a cinema, however, they rise and fall looking like they're going to do something and then withdraw, or rearrange themselves into geometrical patterns, or hide in the roofspace out of the way. There are also dozens of small loudspeakers on cables which occasionally descend en masse, plus one large one which sometimes comes down and plays classical music.

If it all sounds random then it's meant to be - a chain of events and activities coordinated elsewhere, supposedly according to the proclivities of a vat of yeast at the end of the hall. What happens next might be the lights flashing, or an impromptu thunderstorm, or commentary on a schoolkids' football match, or whatever. Apparently the sequence of events changes throughout the day, so a late afternoon visit is different to a morning one, and there'll also be some evolution as the six months play out. I hung around for an hour and I doubt I saw the entire range of activities, nor did anything repeat, not to say that the entire hour was a satisfying sequence of uncompromising variety, but it was agreeable enough.

I'd been there half an hour before the long-anticipated film moment kicked in, the signal for this being the lowering of the screens to their fullest extent. Many of the audience were sprawled out on the floor watching the aerial ballet, and you could sense growing disquiet as the walls came down without indicating whether they'd stop. It transpired you could still have sat (but not stood) beneath the two outer walls, but the main screen would have thwacked you unless you were lying flat on your back, and a member of staff was watching carefully to make sure that no harm was caused to the oblivious. The installation's big film features ventriloquist Nina Conti reading a speech, not that you can tell, and several close-ups of a squid. I was impressed that most viewers stuck it out for the full twenty minutes, but it appears that most young people can sit through anything when they have a smartphone in their hand.

And then there are the helium fish. This is Parreno's masterstroke, an excellent way to fill the Turbine Hall's cavernous space with something simple, charming and erratic. They float and bob, often low enough that it's possible to touch them, particularly if they've not been freshly filled. Small children in particular are keen to grab hold, seeing each fish as a trophy rather than as art, and parents sometimes have to encourage their offspring to let go and tap them back up. Another issue is that the Turbine Hall isn't a smooth box, so the fish don't always make it back down. I spotted three trapped high in the gantry, and four more on a ledge above the education rooms, stranded and going nowhere. Occasionally a member of staff emerged from the office at the back and batted a newly-pumped fish into the arena, but most of the time only two were airborne, and this just isn't enough. Beats last year's by miles, though.
[Unmissable - The Guardian ★★★★★] [Dull - The Times ★★☆☆☆]

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