There's a new installation in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern:
Empty Lot is a large geometric sculpture created using scaffolding, a grid of triangular wooden planters, and soil collected from parks across London including Peckham, Haringey and Westminster. Nothing will be planted in the soil, but it will be lit by lamps and watered throughout the six month display. The unpredictable nature of the work, which may grow and change from one week to the next, provokes questions about the city and nature, as well as wider ideas of chance, change, and hope.
It's not the worst Turbine Hall installation yet - for me Doris Salcedo's 2007 Shibboleth ("a fracture in modernity") is going to take some beating on that score - but for its sheer banality and pointlessness it does set some kind of record. For a start it's not even interesting to look at. Not that that's much of a problem nowadays, but still...
You're not allowed to wander round between the silly triangular planter boxes, so it's a question of watching some (possible) bits of greenery grow at a distance, over six months. Hmm. You can, though, walk round the scaffolding underneath for - you know - that all-important feeling of interaction.
The sculpture consists of two stepped triangular platforms that extend across Tate Modern’s iconic Turbine Hall. Visitors will be able to explore underneath the platforms by wandering through the supporting scaffolding and view them from above on the Turbine Hall bridge....
Abraham Cruzvillegas is best known for creating sculptural works from local objects, some found, some bought. For the duration of the project, the soil will be lit by lampposts constructed by the artist using materials found in skips and building sites around Tate. Nothing has been planted by the artist, but flowers, mushrooms, and other greenery may grow depending on what seeds or bulbs have found their way into the soil. Cruzvillegas explores ideas of unpredictability and hope, inviting visitors to see the sculpture changing from one week to the next. In the middle of a busy commercial area of London, the ‘empty lot’ is a space where nothing is produced but where change might happen.
Many of the artist’s interests are embodied in this project, from seed bombing and guerrilla gardening to ancient ‘chinampas’, small grids of earth used to grow corn, peppers and tomatoes in the area that later became Mexico City. The triangular shape evokes a giant compass, pointing east and west, but also recalls the strong diagonals used by Russian avant-garde artists such as El Lissitsky and the work of the visionary architect Buckminster Fuller whose geodesic dome designs comprised intersecting triangular elements.
The description on site struggles even more desperately for significance:
For Cruzvillas, the project is about feelings of hope and expectation, as much as it is about whatever may or may not happen over the six months of the installation...
Cruzvillas has an ongoing interest in temporary architecture and improvised approaches to building. Scaffolding was chosen for the supporting structure as it has been used before and will be re-used after this project.
Perhaps they're unaware that this is in fact standard practice. Builders don't place orders with steel manufacturers for new scaffolding for each new job. The scaffolding gets re-used. Check out Scaffolding Hire in Yellow Pages. They could've looked around for the best deal, saved themselves some money. Or they could have nicked some from round the back.
But really, it's so uninteresting, so uninspired, so...tedious. It makes a visit to an allotment, or a building site, seem like a roller-coaster ride of thrills and excitement. Maybe that's the point. Maybe they make these installations so teeth-grindingly dull that the world outside acquires, by contrast, an aura of drama and beauty that you hadn't appreciated before. That'd be a worthwhile enterprise. Perhaps. Possibly. But I fear it's the same old story: inspiration is only allowed under artist-controlled supervision. If it's not made by a certified artist, then - sorry - that's not a real artistic experience you're having. If unsure, head to your local art gallery for advice.
Consider, though. The huge space of the Turbine Hall has been an open invitation for artists to test out their imaginations for some 15 years now, and by my estimation only one - Olafur Eliasson's 2003 Weather Project - came in any way close to being an artistic success. Some have at least tried - Anish Kapoor for instance - but for the most part it's been a graveyard of artistic ambition, a blank space where the modern art world's general paucity of imagination and reliance instead on self-important over-blown rhetoric has been made all too painfully clear.
It's perhaps ironic that the Turbine Hall would, back when it was the main hall of the old Bankside power station, have been really quite an experience - all the noise, the machinery, the engineering. Maybe they should re-create it as it was back then: turbines humming, the whole works.. It'd be far more inspiring than anything the artists have managed since. And useful. You can get an idea of what it was like from the photographs taken by Sarah North and Antony Gormley in 1991 after it was decommissioned [silly music warning]. That's all stills, of course,and a bit artsy. Or there's the Queen's visit in 1962. But again, though Her Majesty is looking radiant as ever, and the commentary is in the finest Cholmondley-Warner tradition, it doesn't quite capture the full gritty experience. You get a better idea from this visit to Didcot turbine hall.
Further ideas: what about a a junkyard? Not of local junk from ordinary people, of course: that would be, well, just a junkyard. It would have to be junk from proper accredited artists to ensure that it constituted a genuine work of art, and could be properly assessed as such. Martin Creed's old fridge, perhaps; Tacita Dean's mouldy carpet; Tracey Emin's bed (well OK, that's been done); Damien Hirst's discarded tee-shirts. Piles of unwanted detritus sanctified by its association with the gifted few. You'd get those feelings of "hope and inspiration", plus unpredictability. And plenty of scope for commentary along the lines of: what is art? and, what is junk? Can junk be art? Can art be junk? Is there any difference nowadays? All our sad little notions of what constitutes art subverted; all our preconceptions shattered and left in small heaps on the ground. Along with the junk.
If they're determined to keep with this garden thing, though, here's an idea. Fertilise one half of those triangular planters, one side of the viewing platform, with ordinary shit from the general public, and the other half, on the other side, with artists' shit. See if there's a difference after six months.