Gimme Shelter - Punters Tackle Tate's Latest Turbine Hall Experiment

By Tara Booth | 14 October 2008
A picture of a large spider with bunk beds and people underneath

Louise Bourgeois’s spider towers over the Turbine Hall at London's Tate Modern. © Tara Booth / Culture24

Tara Booth travels 50 years into the future to experience the installation by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, the latest commission in The Unilever Series at London’s Tate Modern, which is running until April 13 2008.

French artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster has taken the Turbine Hall at London’s Tate Modern and transformed it into a refuge for Londoners, 50 years in the future.

‘TH.2058’ is the ninth commission in The Unilever Series, which was launched in 2000, and imagines London under threat from never-ending rain.

Inspired by both real and fictional scenarios of London under attack whether by flooding, bombing or invasion, the artist portrays a shelter environment from an imaginary disaster.

On entering Tate Modern, there’s an immediate buzz. Hundreds of visitors, young and old, collate in groups and wander round seemingly unaware of the futuristic shelter beneath their feet.

An image of the blue and yellow metal bunk bed-frames

200 blue and yellow bed frames feature in the installation. © Tara Booth / Culture24

Journeying down the wide sloped entrance to the vast hall conjures a feeling of the unexpected.

Green and red plastic strips guard the Turbine Hall - separating the two worlds and creating a barrier between present and future. If there were people in white lab coats, the area could easily pass as quarantined.

On entering the space, it’s immediately apparent how dark and eerie the atmosphere is. The dripping and gushing aural presence adds to the experience, creating a sense of dampness and reality.

As the eyes adjust to the dark, 200 yellow and blue bunk-bed frames become visible across the hall, with a giant metal spider and red flamingo standing over the beds.

Further in the distance, a huge LED screen overlooking the Turbine Hall can be seen playing edited extracts from science fiction and experimental films Entitled The Last Film.

An image of the yellow bunk bed frames with people sitting and reading on them.

Visitors sit and read the scattered books that feature in the installation by French artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster. © Tara Booth / Culture24

Scenes of shelter and archives are drawn from Richard Fleischer’s Soylent Green and Alain Resnais’s Toute la Mémoire du Monde, alongside sequences of urban expectation from Peter Weir’s The Last Wave, the apocalyptic explosion of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point and the vision of a world without books in François Truffaut’s adaptation of Fahrenheit 451.

Many visitors take advantage of the potential lounging space of the bunk beds. Few sprawl out on the top bunk watching the screen as if at home, while others sit underneath, flicking through one of the many scattered books.

An image of the giant spider towering over the Turbine Hall, as people walk underneath.

The installation is open from October 14 2008 to April 13 2009. © Tara Booth / Culture24

Scores of art students quietly sketch the scene, documenting the obscure scenario, while children sit at the beds, colouring in.

“There is an element of the unexpected,” says art student Lorna Roberts. “It’s strange how people are sitting on the beds, it’s as though they’re intruding on someone’s artwork.”

“But it’s amazing how the whole area has been made and there is quite a mix of things. People can also interact with the installation and it makes us more involved.”

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Jeff Noon’s Vurt, Enrique Vila-Matas’s El mal de Montano and Catherine Dufour’s Le Goût del’immortalité are among the 20 books selected by the artist with two distributed on each of the 200 beds.

An image of an eye on a screen.

The LED screen overlooks the Turbine Hall and features a collection of clips from science fiction and experimental films. © Tara Booth / Culture24

Further forward, the space becomes lighter. On looking upwards, the installation seems to be in just the right location. The building lends itself to the artist’s work with its high ceiling, grey brickwork and metal structure lining the walls. With just a small gap of natural light available it certainly adds to the artist’s creation of a shelter environment.

Copies of Alexander Calder’s flamingo and Louise Bourgeois’s spider are erected in the middle of the installation, towering over the bunk beds, but 25 per cent larger than the original.

Copies of other sculptures by Henry Moore, Bruce Nauman, and Coosje van Bruggen are also featured with Claes Oldenburg's apple core at the far end beneath the screen.

An image of dinasaur bones.

TH.2058 looks 50 years into the future, as the inhabitants of London take shelter in the Turbine Hall from never-ending rain. © Tara Booth / Culture24

Gonzalez-Foerster’s installation is indeed surreal, but is it art? With the underlying basis of continuous rainwater causing unnatural growth in urban structures and the idea of a disaster shelter, it seems like the basis for a science fiction film set.

The piece is hard to relate to, but it’s certainly an experience, almost an adventure.

“The Unilever Series has an unrivalled track record of creating challenging, innovative and inspirational modern art installations since its inception eight years ago,” says Gavin Neath, Senior Vice President of Global Communications at Unilever.

“Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s work carries on this tradition with yet another thought-provoking commission which is sure to spark widespread discussion and debate.”

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