From the start, the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern has been unusual. Taking its name from the function of the vast space when the building was still a power station, it’s really not a typical museum space. The artists commissioned to make work for it have all responded to it in very different ways but it’s the response of the audience, almost as much as the work itself, that makes the annual Unilever Commission fascinating. From Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project (which I’ve written about before) to those brief few days when visitors to Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds were allowed the access the artist had intended before health and safety concerns caused the work to be cordoned off, the Turbine Hall somehow makes people behave more like they would at the beach than in an art museum. All of which makes Tino Sehgal (whose work I’ve touched upon before elsewhere) an intriguing choice for this year’s commission. How would an artist whose work lies in the dynamic between audience and performer make work for such a cavernous space? And how would the audience respond?
Miroslaw Balka, How It Is, 2009
Disorientation is a powerful force. Whereas Klein’s white void might have amounted to nothingness as art, Miroslaw Balka’s How It Is, the 2009 Unilever Commission for the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern, couldn’t be seen as nothingness in quite the same way. This was an altogether heavier void and, for me, its weight was a significant part of its power.
Mirrors can make a room look bigger. We all know that. They can also make a space confusing. We all know that too. At some stage, most of us have probably been in a public place with a mirrored wall and though the room extended further than it actually did. We may even have walked into the mirror by accident. These things happen.
The idea of a mirrored ceiling is a strange one. On the one, hand it’s an idea with somewhat seedy connotations. On the other hand, it can double the height of a room; okay, so it can only seem to do that, but you know what I mean. It’s this, somewhat disorientating, effect that Olafur Eliasson was going for when he installed a false ceiling in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern as part of his 2003 installation The Weather Project. In the event, it both messed with our perception of the height of the space and made people behave in a way that they usually don’t in an art museum.