Monday 10 December 2012

The Tanks at Tate Modern

During our last visit at Tate Modern we went to see the Tanks, the three buried concrete cylinders that held the fuel that powered the turbines, that generated electricity for a large section of London. Each has a height of 7 metres and a diameter of 30m, made of concrete in order to withstand the risk of explosion.

They were converted by Herzog and de Meuron, whose approach was largely to let the size and mass of the cylinders speak for themselves. One of the cylinders has been converted into a performance space, another for temporary installations and the third one has been subdivided into small areas to serve as dressing rooms, toilets, etc.

With an exhibition area of 1,800 sq metres, there is a lot of scope here.

 'It is an underground space. Each tank has a door and that's it. It's just very straightforward',  stresses Jacques Herzog. 'It is mostly good advice to disappear, as you leave your traces anyway. It looks as it has been so forever but it was actually different before', adds Pierre de Meuron.

This is a small, round room, with a diameter of 3-4 metres, dark, womb-like. I do not know what the function of it was.

Suzanne Lacy, The Crystal Quilt, 1985-87

Suzanne Lacy, The Crystal Quilt, 1985-7 Photo: Gus Gustafson LIMITED

On 10 May 1987 in the central atrium of the Crystal Court shopping mall in Minneapolis, 430 women over the age of 60 took part in this performance, dressed in black and seated at tables arranged in a pattern based on a quilt designed by painter Mirriam Shapiro. The women shared their views on growing older. An accompanying soundrack by the composer Susan Stone mixed the voices of 75 of the women with personal observations interspersed with social analysis. Witnessed by 3,000 people the women talked and moved their hands at prearranged intervals in gestures choreographed by Sage Cowles. The performance ended with the audience joining the stage, transforming the formal pattern of the quilt. The resulting performance, The Crystal Quilt, was broadcast live on television. The event was an attempt to consciously comment on the representation of older women in the media.

Lacy has stated: 'In some sense the Crystal Quilt was successful politically, in that the work was bigger, it had more social impact in the region, but do one or two events change the way people - other than those who directly experience it - see? This raises this issue of whether you can expect art to create social change, and at what point it is no longer art'.

The Crystal Quilt now exists in the form of a video, documentary, quilt, photographs and sound piece, combining performance, activism and broadcast in a work that fuses activism and aesthetics.

William Kentridge, I am Not Me, The Horse is Not Mine

The South African artist's eight-channel video installation is simultaneously projected across the walls of the larger space of the Tanks, each film played on a continuous loop. Each film contributes layers to a story that references Russian  modernism, from Soviet film of the 20s and 30s to the calamitous end of the Soviet avant-garde.

These videos were made as part of the preparation for Kentridge's production of Dmitri Shostakovich's 1928 satirical opera The Nose. The opera is based on Nikolai Gogol's story about an official whose nose leaves his face and develops a life of its own. The title I Am Not Me, The Nose is Not Mine is a Russian peasant saying used to deny all guilt.

The phrase is borrowed from the transcript of a meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party at which the Bolshevik politician Nikolai Bukharin - executed during Stalin's purges - attempted to defend himself.

Kentridge has described this work as 'an elegy for the formal artistic language that was crushed in the 1930s and for the possibility of human transformation that so many people hoped for and believed in, in the revolution'.

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