Thursday, February 14, 2008

Mind The Crack!

Returning from an amazingly sunny week in the UK, it feels a bit cold and gloomy today in Madrid. To resume blogging, let’s start with a reflection on Britain’s ever stronger safety culture, as a follow up to last years post on the surveillance and constant warnings you get now in public places. Spending a day in London I strolled through what was signposted as an “Alcohol Control Area” to get to the Tate Modern museum. My objective was a retrospective exhibition of work by the Spanish sculptor Juan Muñoz. Entering the museum, I looked down into the massive Turbine Hall to see a long crack snaking its way lengthways across the floor of the room. It looked like the result of an earth tremor, and I assumed that some clever artist had stuck something to the surface of the floor to make it look like a crack. Once I went down the stairs, I realised that it was a work of art and that the crack was real; in the three dimensional sense, not because London has started getting earthquakes.

The work is by Colombian artist Doris Salcedo and the crack apparently prompts “a broader consideration of power’s divisive operations as encoded in the brutal narratives of colonialism”. You can walk freely around this work, and this is where the connection to the safety culture comes in; scattered equally freely around the hall were signs warning parents to hold onto their children because of the danger of falling. On the back of the booklet about the work was printed in huge type “Warning, please watch your step in the Turbine Hall”. Now the crack was real, and if you tried hard it was possible to trip on it, but the maximum depth at its deepest point was not much over 18 inches. You are probably more likely to damage yourself by focusing on the work itself and then falling over one of the warning signs. I suppose it’s all to guard against the possibility of someone suing and claiming that nobody warned them there was a huge crack in the floor! No wonder, in this atmosphere, that even government ministers are now trying to persuade British parents that they can allow their children to go out and play occasionally.

Meanwhile, the Muñoz exhibition was very good. I say this as someone who has always belonged to the “I don’t know much about art but I know what I like” section of society. Sculpture has rarely attracted my attention but some of the works by Muñoz are quite fascinating, combining sculpted figures with optical illusions. One room contains around 100 figures based on a single bust of an Asian man, all in smiling groups as if they were passing the time in a Beijing park. It was a strange sensation walking amongst the figures (quite safely, no warning signs here), and I was the only visitor in that room at the time. I first heard about this exhibition on the news here in Madrid and I seem to recall that it will be moving to Spain at some point, but if you are passing through London with time to spare before the 27th April then I recommend it. Just be careful, this blog accepts no responsibility for anything that happens to you as a result of your visit.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There was also someone at the door fo the museum handing out safety leaflets which said nothing much more than "Mind the crack". All a bit much I thought.

Maybe expecting a 'yawning chasm raching down towards the centre of the earth' or the like was a bit of boys-own wishful thinking on my part - but overall I was only moderately impressed. The stuff upstairs was defintely more worthwhile even if felt like the whole museum a bit empty - maybe was waiting on a delivery.

'I went to Tate Modern for the crack' is a joke I trotted out for a few days afterwards...maybe you need to be Irish for that one.