miroslaw balka

The latest commission in The Unilever Series How It Is by Polish artist Miroslaw Balka is a giant grey steel structure with a vast dark chamber, which in construction reflects the surrounding architecture - almost as if the interior space of the Turbine Hall has been turned inside out. Hovering somewhere between sculpture and architecture, on 2 metre stilts, it stands 13 metres high and 30 metres long. Visitors can walk underneath it, listening to the echoing sound of footsteps on steel, or enter via a ramp into a pitch black interior, creating a sense of unease.

At the farthest end of the vast steel box is a ramp. The visitor walks up it and into a blackness so thick that you can almost feel it brushing against your face. The walls must be reached for with outstretched fingertips. They feel slightly fuzzy. A light absorbent flock coating has been sprayed over the surfaces, apparently, although by this point it’s probably not the materials that the spectator is wondering about as he stands abandoned in the dark.

The experience is sombre, discombobulating and perhaps a bit sinister. But it is beautiful too — and not least when, as your eyes slowly adjust, you begin to discern the infinite subtle shades of grey or turn back to face the entrance and see other visitors vacillating nervously on the brink before, stepping into the engulfing shadows, they are transformed into stalking silhouettes.

Underlying this chamber is a number of allusions to recent Polish history – the ramp at the entrance to the Ghetto in Warsaw, or the trucks which took Jews away to the camps of Treblinka or Auschwitz, for example. By entering the dark space, visitors place considerable trust in the organisation, something that could also be seen in relation to the recent risks often taken by immigrants travelling. Balka intends to provide an experience for visitors which is both personal and collective, creating a range of sensory and emotional experiences through sound, contrasting light and shade, individual experience and awareness of others, perhaps provoking feelings of apprehension, excitement or intrigue.

Exhibition Website
The exhibition is running at Tate Modern [13 October 2009 – 5 April 2010]



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