I like the new Tate Modern extension - I really do. It adds a pleasing symmetry to the place, with the Boiler House on one side of the Turbine Hall, and the new Switch House on the other. It opens it all up. There's the unfortunate matter of the lift provision - not foreseeing the extent to which the free tenth floor viewing platform would be an obvious tourist destination, so the lifts are always jam-packed (or, as Jeremy Corbyn would say, ram-packed). But apart from that, I find the new architecture an appealing brutalist-lite which combines well with the old brick power-station.
The problem, as ever, is what's displayed inside. The Turbine Hall is empty now, as it has been ever since the departure of the ridiculous Empty Lot in April. No contemporary artist, it seems, has the imagination or wit to do something with such a huge space. On the floor can be seen the vestiges of Doris Salcedo's absurd 2007 A Fracture in Modernity, which set the standard for how bad it could get. The huge walls either side are bare, painted in tasteful puce. Let some street artists in, liven it up a bit? No...inconceivable.
The Tanks are a newish space on the ground level on the Switch House side, for "performances and interactive art and video installations". These galleries "celebrate new art". There's a frisson as you go in - dark, mysterious. What challenging new works await?
Well, the main space is taken up with Rasheed Araeen's Zero to Infinity:
Zero to Infinity is a large interactive sculpture by the British-Pakistani artist Rasheed Araeen, which consists of a maximum of one hundred wooden open-framework lattice cubes that have been painted blue and are arranged in a square on the gallery floor. Each of the lattice cubes is composed of thin vertically, horizontally and diagonally oriented pieces of wood that are joined at their tips, and the diagonal parts bisect each of the cubes’ six faces at a forty-five degree angle, reaching from one corner to another. Each time the work is displayed, the cubes are initially positioned in an ordered structure, but the artist’s intention is for viewers to interact with its components by moving them into new configurations....
As the art critic Jean Fisher has noted, upon moving from Karachi, Pakistan, to London in 1964 Araeen was inspired by ‘the new generation’ of British sculptors, particularly Anthony Caro and Phillip King, but grew increasingly dissatisfied with the hierarchical nature of their sculptural compositions (Jean Fisher, ‘An Art of Transformation’, in Tate Britain 2007, p.4). Araeen regarded the invention of his modular and combinatorial ‘structures’ (a term he used from 1968 in order to distinguish them from traditional sculptures), each of which consisted of open lattice cubes and rectangles, as a way of introducing a more egalitarian spatial model. Fisher has described Araeen’s structures as forms
that made clear the material and structural principles of making in a move to democratize and de-mystify the art object; that began to break down the separation of interior and exterior space characteristic of modernism’s ‘autonomous’ object; and that therefore enabled the viewer to enter into a more dynamic and active relationship with the work.
(Fisher in Tate Britain 2007, p.4.)
Furthermore, Aareen has suggested that he views the gallery visitor’s act of dismantling Zero to Infinity – of breaking the symmetry of the composition – as a challenge to the fixity of British modernist sculpture of the 1960s. In a 2013 interview at Tate Araeen discussed the important participatory element of the work, stating in that he wanted visitors to dismantle the structure, ‘making one work or many other formations in their own way’ (TateShots: Rasheed Araeen’s Zero to Infinity, Tate Modern, London, 3 January 2013, The title of the sculpture reflects the potential for continual change and unlimited variation inherent in the work. As Araeen explained to Tate curator Andrew Wilson in 2008:
In terms of the body entering the work itself, touching it, changing it, transforming it constantly – its transformation can go on to infinity. That’s why it’s called from Zero to Infinity. Zero is the static structure of Minimalism.
(Araeen 2008, accessed 8 May 2015.)
Yes, there are indeed a number of blue lattices on the floor:
Just to be clear: no, you can't play with the lattices yourself. It's interactive in theory only - because "interactive" sounds good. It's not actually interactive in the sense of being - you know - interactive. A large notice tells you as much:
Any re-arranging will be done by staff members. [Imagine how exciting that must be.] Helpfully, some possible reconfigurations are visualised for our benefit:
Clearly only highly trained experts should attempt this kind of work.
You will, of course, be immediately struck by the anti-hierarchical nature of the piece, representing as it clearly does a more egalitarian spatial model than your typical modernist sculpture, and won't fail to be impressed by the powerful desire manifest in the blue lattice configuration to democratize and de-mystify, breaking down the separation of interior and exterior space characteristic of modernism’s ‘autonomous’ object, thereby enabling you, the viewer, to enter into a more dynamic and active relationship with the work.
On the other hand it might occur to you that this represents nothing so much as a child's building kit made large, and the urge to rearrange it something that those of us fortunate enough to have owned and played with such toys will remember with some pleasure from when we were about - ooh - five or six years old.
Admittedly though, we hadn't had the benefit then of an art school education.