Simon Starling: Phantom Ride at Tate Britain

By Culture24 Reporter | 11 March 2013

Installation preview: Simon Starling: Phantom Ride, Tate Britain, London, March 12 – October 20 2013

A photo of a bicycle with a series of seats on it inside a contemporary art gallery
Simon Starling, Five-Man Pedersen (Prototype No.1) (2003)© Simon Starling
If following in the footsteps of the Duveen Galleries’ previous incumbents might seem some responsibility, Simon Starling is happily haunted by the spirits of his predecessors.

Taking the works which have hung on the hallowed neoclassical walls for the past 76 years as swooping, floating materials, the 2005 Turner Prize winner has haunted the space with a film channelling the ghosts of the artworks once held there.

A six-metre wide, hovering screen based on the phantom rides of the late 19th century – when cameramen would try to induce sensations of wobbliness by strapping themselves to the front of a train – will project images around the corridors, creating a dreamlike sequence.

“The phantom ride was a genre of film popular in the very early days of cinema,” explains Starling.

“A camera was fixed to a moving vehicle to simulate a journey for an immobile cinema audience.

“They sat pinned to their seats, white-knuckled for fear they might de-rail on the next precipitous bend.

“The train tracks or the road anticipated the trajectory of the ‘phantom’ vehicle. Here though, the way has vanished.

“The highly precise and repeatable movements of the huge robotic arm, on the similarly track-bound ‘motion control camera’, used to make this film facilitate a rollercoaster ride on invisible rails.

“The film’s soundtrack is the only remaining evidence of the camera’s week-long presence in the Duveen – the audible contractions and expansions, the ascents, descents and contortions of a very real machine.”

The throwbacks incorporate much of the gallery’s sometimes-tumultuous history, including the Blitz damage rained upon a Picasso exhibition during the 1960s.

“In 1940, the gallery roof was brought down by a bomb that hit the building and its grounds,” says Starling.

“Phantom Ride was triggered by the discovery of a momentary rupture to this hermetic place. We now float weightlessly over the rubble, tracking the shadows of past exhibitions and the ghosts of works seen here before.”

Warhol’s Triple Elvis, from 1963, is a line-up of three pistol-yielding warblers, and Michael Sandle’s A Twentieth Century Memorial, which visited in 1971, arms a mouse with a machine gun.

“He brings them to life in the space of the film,” says Penelope Curtis, the Director of Tate Britain.

“It has been great to see what Simon has selected from the ghosts of the past. It has proved the perfect project with which to mark the emergence of Tate Britain from the building site of construction work.”

Now an annual fixture, the latest Duveen manifestation also sounds references to the previous recipients of the commission, such as Fiona Banner's suspended plane, which hung there in 2010.

Tate bought Starling’s black and white film reconstruction of the first programmable computer, D1-Z1, in 2009.

  • Open 10am-6pm. Admission free. Follow the gallery on Twitter @Tate.
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