Thursday, 16 September 2010
How bizarre when you're actually in an immersive installation and someone with a heavy South American accent wearing a vaguely confused expression asks you where the exhibition is. World's collide. Poor fellow.
But in a way I suppose that's the point of Mike Nelson's Coral Reef. Bewilderment and dumbfoundedness are what it's getting at. Only for some people it's working so well they don't even know it's art. They think they're just lost. It’s the difference between knowing you're lost and being so lost that you don't even know you're lost. Or no, that doesn't make sense. Or does it? No. Being lost but not knowing that actually you're not lost. Actually you're there already. There is nothing more to look for. Yes, that's it. Hopefully that's clear. But then in Coral Reef even if you know you're not technically lost, that you're already there, you still end up kind of lost in the sense that you don't know where you are, you don't know the way out, but you do know that that's ok, you'll stumble upon the way out eventually, so there's no particular point in looking for a way out. You may as well just enjoy the experience until the way out presents itself. Although enjoy might not be the right word either. It's fascinating and it's brilliant but I'm not sure it's quite a pleasure. More an introduction to fear. Your own and our own. Society's horrible lostness.
A few days after I'd seen Coral Reef I instructed my friend Nicks who lives over the bridge in Vauxhall to get over there a-sap. It's that kind of a thing. You want your friends to check it out at all costs. So she calls me up from Tate in full on Challenge Anneka mode.
"OK darling, I'm in the entrance way on the river side. Where do I go?"
Five minutes later and neither of us any closer to figuring out where she ought to be heading when finally it dawns on me:
"You are in Tate Britain Nicks?"
"Err, no. I thought you said Tate Modern."
"Right, (long pause) I'll call you in half an hour."
Half an hour later and I'm busy or I don't hear the phone or something. So about an hour later I get two messages. The first informing me that she's now standing in the Duveen Galleries and where does she go. And the second, half an hour after that, in urgent tones: "Bev, call me, I think I'm going into shock, I can't do this on my own. I'm having a sit down to try and bring my heart rate back." And then a protracted silence.
This is the effect Coral Reef has on a person.
Which is odd considering it's just a series of empty rooms with a few adjoining corridors. That's exactly it though I think. It's the emptiness. The absense. It's not something we allow ourselves to acknowledge very often and here suddenly we're dropped into the middle of it, no questions asked, no map, no labels, no clues, no indication that anything does or ought to mean anything. It's just empty. No wonder my South American journey mate was looking so lost. It can't be this. This is empty. What's one supposed to do with empty? Well. Quite.
Coral Reef was first show at Matt's Gallery in 2000 and is currently on show at Tate Britain. Mike Nelson is to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale 2011.