Tuesday 28 October 2008

reading as art

There can be no doubt that writing can be art, but how about reading?

In the latest installation at Tate Modern the artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster has given us all the opportunity to become part of the installation. As you enter the Tate the writing on the wall tells you the set up.

It has been raining for years now, not a day, not an hour without rain. This continual watering has had a strange effect on urban sculptures. They have started to grow like strange tropical plants, and become even more monumental. To stop this growth it has been decided to store them inside,among the hundreds of bunkbeds which, night and day, receive refugees from the rain...Turbine Hall/2058/London

Behind a multicoloured plastic curtain, like those in an industrial refrigerator a refuge has been created. Ranks of blue and yellow bunk beds share the space with vast sculptures including Louise Bourgeois' Maman and a Henry Moore, all 25% bigger than the originals. On the bare beds there is reading matter; books of the apocalypse including Ursula Le Guin's The Lathe Of Heaven, Mike Davies' Dead Cities and H.G Wells' The War Of The Worlds. A vast screen at the back of the hall projects stark images from science fiction films to a soundtrack of constantly falling rain. Gloomy just about covers it.

We are invited to take a bed and immerse ourselves in the writing I guess. It is strange to read H.G Wells' opening line:

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.

whilst a huge pregnant spider towers over you.

I have to say that not many of the tourists there with me were taking the plunge despite there being many European sci-fi classics in their original languages. One couple had actually fallen asleep, the rigours of sightseeing obviously taking their toll. I suppose there isn't the time to start and finish even the smaller titles, depending on how fast you read, and whoever placed Roberto Bolano's epic 2066 (over 1,000 pages) in the original Spanish is surely having a laugh. I did see one guy, perched on a yellow bed, wrapt by Jeff Noon's Vurt, but when I looked to see if he was still there when I left he'd disappeared, as had the book. Curious. I didn't want to read any of them myself to be honest and so took my own book from my bag and settled myself on one of the beds. They have no mattresses of course and hurt like hell, but what did I expect; you have to sufffer for your art.

(this was first posted on the Picador blog)


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