Miroslaw Balka’s How It Is at Tate Modern (the tenth Turbine Hall commission) is a wonderfully evocative piece of art – but don’t go there at the weekend when it’s teeming with families.
I was immediately impressed by the Polish artist’s giant steel container, which fills about half the Turbine Hall (behind the bridge) and is raised from the floor on steel legs. I never imagined it would be so big. You can even wander underneath it which is a bit unnerving. Until you hit a ramp that leads into the open end of How It Is on the other side.
I walked up the ramp and faced a black, open void. Well it would have been completely black had it not been for the crowd of people, some unsuitably dressed in white clothing that reflected the little light that there was, some taking pictures (with flash) in blatant breach of the guidelines.
The multitude of screaming, rollerblading children frolicking in the space also didn’t help. I don’t really blame them for making this their playground, but did find it hard to appreciate the void.
It is a space that cries out for silence.
The idea is that you are completely enveloped by impenetrable darkness, which assumes mass and density, and distorts the senses.
It turns out How It Is is the title of a novel by Samual Beckett, which features a monologue by someone who remembers his life while crawling through endless mud. The piece also conjures up Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
Literary references aside, the container reminded me immediately of the cattle trucks that took millions of Jews to their deaths in concentration camps. Much of Balka’s other work evokes the Holocaust, his videos and photos taken around Treblinka and Birkenau and sculptures using soap, hair and ash.
He says, though, that his art is not about the Holocaust, but “about being”.
I’m gutted that I missed his show at the White Cube Mason’s Yard at the turn of the year. He installed a wooden walkway around the edge of the gallery that had no obvious destination.
I think I will try to go back to the Tate when it is less busy…