Fancy a little lie down?

by Suw on February 14, 2004

What can you expect from a bunch of sodium street lamps hung up in a dark room? Not much, from the sounds of it. Yet I couldn’t help but be stunned by Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern.

The Turbine Hall is really a very big space, but usually as you walk in from the main Tate entrance, you don’t really notice. You’re too busy looking at the shop and wondering which goodies you’ll allow yourself to buy. Or you’ve got your eyes at your feet because you’re so used to not… looking… up…

With Eliasson’s Weather Project, though, up is where you really need to be looking. The huge ‘sun’ dominates the hall, as you’d expect it to do, but when you look more closely you realise that in fact the sun is only half a sun – the rest is reflection in a suspended ceiling of mirrors. The quivering heat-haze effect, heightened by the subtle clouds of smoke pumped out of dry ice machines mounted discretely on the walls, is in reality an artifact of the way that the mirrors are hung, the way that they move almost imperceptibly.

As you look around, you realise that all colour has been washed out under the sodium glare. All colour, that is, except orange and pink, and there was precious little pink about. Soon, though, your eyes become accustomed to the golden gloom and you wonder if, were you to stay here long enough, you would forget what other colours look like.

You are immediately struck by a strong urge to lie on the floor in front of this fake, warmthless sun. I’m not sure why – maybe it was the sight of everyone else lying down. Maybe it was something more primal than that: faced with a giant sun what else must be done but a little sunbathing?

The floor is cold and hard and uncomfortable and really not at all inviting. Yet it is only in lying down on one’s back that one can really fully appreciate this installation. It is only in lying down that one can get a really good look at the mirrors above – in fact, it was only when I was on the floor that I realised that the mirrors were even there.

Far above, looking like little orange ants, there we all are. Our image thrown back at us. Watch as friends throw shapes – stars, squares, triangles. How perfect would this be for a little synchronised wiggling?

Stare for long enough and you get the distinct feeling that you are in actual fact lying on the ceiling, looking down on a gallery of tourists below. You watch them move: groups coming in and reacting as you did only moments ago; people standing with their arms folded, unimpressed; one small oasis of pink t-shirtedness wending his way though the crowds, standing out like an albino. You’re floating, above the thin clouds, unconnected to your body.

Eventually, you rip your attention away from the little creatures below you and pull yourself back down to earth. Ants are again people, and the right way up. Their captivation is in itself captivating – what is so fascinating in this? I don’t understand the draw, I can’t really explain why I loved this installation so much.

I suspect it has something to do with not just the sun-likeness of the lamps or the quality of the light, which has an eerie, almost post-supernova feel to it, but also the fact that you’re experiencing a strange sense of awe and acting with a childlike simplicity by lying down in the company of strangers. The loss of colour makes everyone equal. The awe brings us all to the same place. The lying down in a public space creates a joint sense of playfulness.

Looking up again, looking backwards, you see that the mirrors run the length of the Turbine Hall. With the gallery and stairs breaking the hall into two, it’s easy not to notice that the glassed ceiling extends to the far entrance. There, in the distance, you can see colour again. Blue! Green! I’d forgotten what they looked like.

Walking back through the Turbine Hall, one gets a better idea of scale, a better feel for size. Our senses are not so easily confused by smoke and mirrors from this distance, yet blink, pause, and look again at the tiny people moving about on the ceiling. Remind yourself that gravity doesn’t work like that.

As you leave, watch the sun set, watch your ceiling shadow elongate in the strange, otherly twilight. Emerge then into open skies and feel for a moment twin-sunned confusion.

I’m going back up to London tomorrow, meeting with some of the guys from #joiito at the Tate. We’ll go and look at The Weather Project – it will be interesting to see if it’s as powerful second time round.

A visitor February 14, 2004 at 8:06 pm

That hall looks amazing. I've gotta get me to London one of these days…


A visitor February 15, 2004 at 2:51 am

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