Thursday, 29 October 2009

Tate Modern, October public exhibitions

This is the view form inside Mirolsaw Balka's How It Is, an already demi-notorious installation in the turbine hall of Tate Modern (someone has already KO-d himself on a wall inside it). Lined with non-reflective, light-absorbent black felt, the installation is meant to disorientate the visitor. I didn't have a proper chance to try it's worth - it's half term and the extra influx of children mixed with the usual tourist crowd meant that stern notices forbidding flash photography were ignored. I must go back, although it should also be said that the sheer presence of the installation in the turbine hall is claustrophobic-inducing enough.

More interestingly perhaps is an exhibition in the small gallery by the Bankside entrance, known as the Level 2 Gallery. American artist Jill Magid's installation Authority To Remove is an unlikely collaboration with the Dutch Secret Service (AIVD). This installation is a classic example of contemporary conceptual-installation art that is simply fascinating on paper although rather flat when manifest. The AIVD got in touch, with reported reluctance, as Dutch law requires that new buildings, which the AIVD had just taken on incorporate an art commission into their budget.

Magid took to her task with considerable integrity and during the course of trying to establish contacts and relationships with the personnel of AIVD worked up a dossier of notes. This she submitted when the consequent exhibition opened in Den Haag - only for it to be returned redacted (i.e. censored), including the excision of passages of her own responses to her interviews and commission. This manuscript and the book that she had prepared using the notes are in the exhibition: the former as a reference copy, the latter as a one-off, under-glass exhibit that will perish with the exhibitions close.

As I suggest, the objets de texte are not particularly stimulating, and neither are the Nauman/Emin-style neon signs. Yet the idea that these pieces are not only a reaction to the AIVD but also that the AIVD have reciprocated that reaction gives them a frisson and a loneliness that invests them with something altogether more mysterious. Magid, cleverly, has not waste this potential. There is a single photo in the gallery capturing the moment in which the dossier was returned to her on US soil, as if by a third, secret party; and visitors to the exhibition itself are relayed in real time via a camera to screens at a sister exhibition (also in the US). I find all of this to have a fair bit to say about the sacrificial and transformative nature of relationships and about that process known in psychology as transference.

So, not much to see, plenty to consider - and to feel surveilled in considering.

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