After visiting the Turner exhibition at Tate Britain yesterday- more of that another time- I took the boat down the Thames to Tate Modern. I'd been intrigued by reports of Miroslaw Balka's installation- How It Is- in the Turbine Hall there. What did I expect to find? What kind of experience would a visit to this black space yield? Perhaps it might trigger off thoughts on the postmodern sublime or reflections on how Balka fits into a modern art tradition originating in Malevich's Black Square. Would it generate existentialist thoughts about the void or philosophical musing on the insignificance of man? Not a bit of it. From now on, when I think of the Balka structure, I will always associate it with an altercation I had with another visitor.
The way of it was this. I'd walked up the ramp into the black maw taking care to avoid the steady stream of kids crashing through the darkness. As I had my camera with me, I decided to take some photos inside the container. I'd done so when I felt my arm grabbed roughly, followed by a snarling voice: "You're not supposed to take pictures in here- do you know that"? It turns out that said protestor had received the full impact of a digital flash in the face. I apologized profusely, but the damage had been done. Fiat lux! Let there be light, but not the kind of illumination he received. Mind you I hadn't helped matters: I was dressed in black- black suit and shirt, though my shoes were a lighter colour. Not that any part of me could be seen- you have no idea how densely black Balka's chamber is!
The man in the dark didn't calm down and I sensed that the dispute might escalate. He may even have been contemplating throwing a punch, which is why I struggled free and made my exit into the blackness. Still, if a fight had ensued, it would have been very difficult as my potential assailant wouldn't have seen where to land the punch and I wouldn't have seen where the blow was coming from.
I don't know if Balka expected his installation to create such social interaction, but it made for an interesting experience. I've reproduced some of my own snaps here. Note they're taken with the offending flash!