I arrived in London a little over a week ago, barely stirring yet from the comfortable suburbanity of my friend’s place as though still in preparation for real life to begin. Yesterday, I made it to the Strand and looked out over Waterloo bridge. For what felt like the first time, I really looked at this absurd place where office buildings are ludicrous shapes and sizes shooting towards the sky, like borrowed structures from a science-fiction set, and the white dome of St. Paul’s – just visible among all this- like a porcelain remnant from another era.
Although I’ve been to London countless times before, now with the prospect that life must unfold here, it feels strange and foreign to me as I endeavor to get my bearings. I am no longer a carefree tourist who will spend money on novelty food and expensive magazines and every exhibition I can manage, rather this will have to be some sort of home. And with that comes routine and all the mundane things I could never imagine previously a city of this size and possibility to be accountable for.
When I take the bus through the city, I am not able to read my book. The people, just going about their day, are endlessly fascinating as are the streets and houses. I am distracted, continually invited to imagine the lives beyond front doors and of these strangers. I think of home, where I could walk around the city recognizing faces and pass a pub in the knowledge that I could have a drink with people I know, and it seems like a world away.
On Saturday I visited Tate Modern for the first time since the opening of the Switch House. The extension itself is really quite impressive, inviting a more organic, multifarious exploration of the gallery space rather than linear instruction. The extension includes The Tanks, a series of underground chambers hidden in the vaults of the new building, which house video installations and interactive art. One such piece by Wen-Ying Tsai, an electronic sculpture which responds to the sounds made by the viewers, is especially thrilling insofar as the noises and white flashing lights, just audible and visible from the entrance, are unnerving in a way rarely experienced in a gallery of this size.
Upstairs, I particularly enjoyed the display Between Object and Architecture, a cleverly compiled collection of interactive or ‘living’ sculpture. This gallery takes a phenomenological approach, summoning the viewer to physically engage with the sculpture rather than passively viewing it; be it peering into the shiny mirrored looking-holes of Yayoi Kusama’s The Passing Winter or clambering into Ricardo Basbaum’s cushioned pods. The far room of this collection promotes a more serious architectural approach to sculpture with highlights including Eva Hesse’s Addendum, where grey rope falls from a wooden bar in chaotic coils on the gallery floor, and Roni Horn’s Pink Tons, a candy-coloured glass cube, whose reflection shimmers and appears to melt under the glare of the gallery lights, with onlookers just about stopping themselves from touching it. There is witty curation here too, most notably, the secret inclusion of Bruce Nauman’s Corridor with Mirror and White Lights, which is hidden towards the back wall of the gallery. The wooden encasing of the corridor against the actual walls of the space means that this piece frequently goes unnoticed by passers-by, making its discovery all the more compelling.
For a real treat, there’s always Louise Bourgeois’ Artist Room on the fourth floor which showcases just some of the glorious, creepy absurdity of her work. The À L’Infini series of mixed-media etchings presents a stirring clump of bloody cords and damp pink stains, a visceral mass of unformed bodily tangles and oozy blots. From the ceiling, the flabby, uncanny limbs of her humanoid soft sculptures dangle, and her famous metallic spider, a colossal collection of thin, sprawling legs, imposingly occupies the centre of the room. The real highlight though is the wunderkammer, a weird assortment of crude corporeal forms, all round bellies and bulbous breasts, and a selection of peculiar texts, which provide a fascinating and necessarily look into an extraordinarily complex artistic mind.
We love something so much that we have to write it down, and in doing so, we’ve killed it, like Barthes’ characterization of loved ones in a photo: “anesthetized and fastened down, like butterflies.” Now I’m interested in a love, in letters, in songs, that are not so concerned with the end; that are incapable of accessing an aerial view, an image, a story; I would like to stop trying to conquer death by documentation, feeling like the end-game will always only be the page.
Famous Nora Ephron: “Everything is copy.” And if I wanted to find a way to make this universal, I could talk about what that means to a generation of people who actually are sharing everything exactly as it happens, how much slow suicide takes place in the careful curation of a personal brand, how much we limit ourselves by deciding who we already are, how much of what can feel like self-actualizing—my blog?—can go the other way; tell you only the things you already want to know about yourself; cut off discovery; cut off the possibility for connection. Connection is different from approval or validation, and so much more lonely-conquering.
-Tavi Gevinson, ‘The Infinity Diaries’, in Rookie
Milena Dragicevic, Supplicant 81, 2008, Oil on linen.