Thursday, January 01, 2009

Tate Modern as Disaster Shelter

'It has been raining for years now, not a day, not an hour without rain. This continual watering has had a strange effect on urban sculptures. They have started to grow like giant tropical plants, and become even more monumental. To stop this growth it has been decided to store them inside, among the hundreds of bunk beds which, night and day, receive refugees from the rain. Turbine Hall/2058/London'.

The current installation in Tate Modern's Turbine Hall, TH.2058 by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, imagines the building fifty years hence, in use as a shelter from some kind of catastrophe that has also mutated artworks - hence the large scale reproduction of pieces such as one of Louise Bourgeois's spiders. Meanwhile clips of various science fiction movies (including Planet of the Apes) are screened at one end of the hall, while the bunk beds have appropriate books such as Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and Megacities by Mike Davis (when the exhibition opened these were liberally scattered around the hall, but so many of them got taken that the last few copies are now attached to the beds).

In the accompanying book, the artist points to the previous transformation of the building from a power station to a gallery:‘what happened to this space is in fact some kind of science fiction. A hundred years ago it’s impossible to imagine that the people working there could conceive of what it would become. This shift says more than any other about the art inside the building. So I though this was also a strong starting point. And then to imagine that there was one shift and what could be the second? And so I was imagining possible futures, something set firty or a hundred years in the future’.

The curator, Jessica Morgan, links the installation to other stories of drowned London: 'London has been subjected to near constant fictional attack over the last century. Destroyed or under siege in nov­els and films, it has been the victim of fire and invasion, but perhaps most frequently, of flooding. Many such tales of dev­astation were inspired by the very real London flooding of1953, which resulted in the construction of the Thames Barrier. While others, some of which precede this event, are influenced not only by documented events but also by the Ur-myth of the bib­lical flood and the accompanying notion of a cleansing of excess or evil- a dystopia common, it seems, during the In­dustrial Revolution.

In Richard Jeffries's After London; Or, Wild England (1885), a Victorian tale of industrially inspired gloom, London is retributively submerged in compensation, it would seem, for the woes of the new commercialism and its accom­panying toxic effect. Jeffries writes of this flood: 'Upon the surface of the water there was a greenish-yellow oil, to touch which was death to any creature.' Sidney Fowler Wright's Del­uge of 1927 is similarly influenced by scepticism in industrial and technological development, and his bleak vision has the whole of England reduced to a few small islands after an un­explained storm. The better-known J.G. Ballard's The Drowned World (1962), a prescient tale of solar radiation causing the polar ice caps to melt, depicts a flooded, tropical London of the future, the experience of which leads the inhabitants to regress to a pre-civilisation mentality... Even more recently Kim Stanley Robinson and Stephen Baxter have both envisioned the capital submerged in Blue Mars (1997) and Flood (2008) as the city continues to come under a watery, literary attack'.

TH.2058 will remain in place at Tate Modern, Bankside SE1 until 13 April 2009.

See also V for Vendetta.

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