The latest installation in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall is TH.2058 by Dominique Gonzales-Foerster. And it’s a disaster; just not, unfortunately, in the way that the artist intends.
As you enter the Turbine Hall the first thing you’re conscious of is the sculptures: outsize, mutated versions of pieces by Louise Bourgeois, Alexander Calder and others. These tower over an array of plain steel bunks, on each of which is placed a work of apocalyptic fiction, from J.G.Ballard to H.G.Wells. Next, you hear the sound: dripping water, far-off sirens and deep bass industrial shivers.
And then you see the signs.
The signs explain that TH.2058 is an installation that’s set in London fifty years from now: an apocalyptic future London where it never stops raining, where people have been evacuated to the Turbine Hall, and where public art has grown vegetal, mutated into gigantic versions of itself.
This is what the signs say. What they mean is that TH.2058 is a gigantic failure: a work that fails to dramatise its thinking well enough to stand alone. And, worse, that it’s a work without mystery. Because that’s the real problem here: there’s nothing unexplained, so there’s nothing for the audience to add. Imagine, for example, if Gonzales-Foerster had left out the sculptures, the books, the explanations, and simply filled the Turbine Hall with rows of plain steel metal beds. Then we would have wondered: are we in a hospital? A fall-out shelter? A mortuary? A boarding school? Are we in the past, the future or the present?What kind of institution is this — and who are we, inside it?
Alternatively, for a truly Ballardian installation, try the amazing indoor rainforest at Madrid’s Atocha station, which offers no explanation, no interpretation — is this a primeval past? a warming future? a colonial adventure? — but inspires everyone who passes through it to wonder, warmth and conversation: