Abraham Cruzvillegas takes over Tate Modern's sublime Turbine Hall
This year it was Mexican artist Abraham Cruzvillegas who took over Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall for the museum’s annual major installation set up in its central space. In an age where interaction is an almost obligatory element of any artwork, not mentioning installations that operate more often as gigantic playgrounds, Cruzvillegas decided to take a radically different path.
Most definitely inspired by the sublime eternity of the Turbine Hall, his aptly entitled Empty Lot celebrates silent observation instead of careless participation. He raised two triangular platforms on the two sides of the hall’s staircase, with stepped cross-sections, based on a structure of metal tubes that are composed into rectangular columns. What this construct is holding is a barren landscape: above, on wooden boarding recalling a building site’s scaffolding, 240 wooden planters are filled. The triangular, parallel-laid containers are filled with soil taken from London’s parks. The installation is finished off by two kinds of lighting: a few lamps emitting soft light and collected from constructions sites across the museum, are scattered around randomly, while along the edges of the triangle high-output reflectors were placed in a systematic line.
Such dramatic lighting implies that some sort of action would take place - which, in fact, never happens. Since the landscape can be perceived as a whole only from above, a viewing platform of the staircase, the audience is excluded from entering the space and is condemned to a passive role. Cruzvillegas’s invitation to tranquil gazing is not only refreshing, but it is more in line with Tate’s re-builder Herzog & de Meuron’s perception of the Turbine Hall as a sacred space.
The artist managed to revive the romantic notion of sublime with all its divine, awe-inspiring and slightly loury characteristics that can be unfamiliar for a contemporary spectator. Looking below the platforms, however, the secret is revealed, and the sublime dissipates. The idea of a non-event space void of any quality is only reinforced by the bottom, keeping the audience away booth physically and mentally.The Empty Lot therefore, while is an exquisite effort from Cruzvillegas’s part to near architecture and art, is reintroducing the nearly lost tradition of silent observation in exhibition spaces.
Photo: Andrew Dunkley
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