Paul Black Reviews Abraham Cruzvillegas And Susan Philipsz’ Tate Installations

Artlyst has taken the Tate Boat, braving the Thames on a rainy January day to visit both Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall and Tate Britain’s Duveen Galleries, for a rare joint review of both museum’s primary installations.

We began with Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall and Abraham Cruzvillegas’ large installation ‘Empty Lot’. The sculpture consists of two stepped triangular platforms that extend across theTurbine Hall. The platforms hold a geometric grid of 240 wooden planters filled with compost and over 23 tonnes of soil collected from parks and gardens across London from Peckham Rye to Regent’s Park.

Nothing has been planted by Cruzvillegas, but flowers, mushrooms, and other greenery has began to grow due to the chance factors of what was already present in the soil. The artist explores ideas of unpredictability and even hope, inviting visitors to see the sculpture changing from one week to the next. In the middle of a busy commercial area of London, the ‘empty lot’ is a reflection of life, turning the Tate’s Turbine Hall into a giant greenhouse lit by lampposts constructed by the artist using materials found in skips and building sites around Tate.

Image: Abraham Cruzvillegas, Empty Lot, 2015, Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, Photo: P A Black © Artlyst 2016.

The triangular shapes of each seedbed point east and west and recall the strong diagonals used by Russian avant-garde artists such as El Lissitsky and the work of the visionary architect Buckminster Fuller, whose geodesic dome designs comprised intersecting triangular components.

The artist has created a temporal and gently kinetic work of art with ‘Empty Lot’, akin to an installation built out of individual sculptures; each triangular container is a unique piece operating as a clock. Each is filled with earth from a different park or garden in London, from Buckingham Palace to Hackney Marshes, the work is a summation of London’s spaces and freedoms by a Mexican conceptual artist responding to Mexico City’s unplanned urban sprawl and juxtaposing it with London’s order via an improvised if highly ordered island greenhouse.

Image: Abraham Cruzvillegas, Empty Lot, 2015, Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, Photo: P A Black © Artlyst 2016.

The work may not at first sight have the visual appeal of previous pieces like Olofur Eliasson’s The Weather Project, or Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds, but it performs as an intriguing kinetic evolution of life in the urban cathedral of Tate’s industrial Turbine hall.

We then left Cruzvillegas greenery for the tenebrous waters of the Thames to travel to Tate Britain for our next installation by artist Susan Philipsz, where the Turner Prize wining sound artist has unveiled one of her most ambitious works to date, specially commissioned by 14-18 NOW, to mark the centenary of the First World War in the Duveen Galleries of Tate Britain.

A 14-part recording echos through the Duveen Galleries featuring damaged British and German instruments playing isolated tones from the military bugle call ‘The Last Post’. The work features the sounds of several instruments from the First World War, and the Battle of Waterloo, each has detailed histories and quite literally speak of human loss and chaos.

The resulting sound installation is an intervention with the Galleries, that were once a military hospital which treated soldiers injured in the First World War. As the artist pointed out; the instruments need the human breath to produce the sound, that sound is just the breath of the player as he or she exhales through the battered instrument, resulting in a strong and haunting human presence.

The damaged instruments reflect the injuries and deaths of their players, the melancholy of human conflict; the artist has given a second voice to the many ghosts of a dying breath, a voice that reminds us of human folly and individual sacrifice; each voice a unique loss. The work is a powerful and haunting evocation of mournful human tragedy through Philipsz’ immersive and sorrowful sound environment.

Words: Paul Black, Photos: P A Black © Artlyst 2016.

Lead image: Susan Philipsz: War Damaged Musical Instruments, Duveen Galleries, Tate Britain, Photo: P A Black © Artlyst 2016.

Susan Philipsz: War Damaged Musical Instruments – Tate Britain, Duveen Galleries – until 3 April 2016.

Hyundai Commission 2015: Abraham Cruzvillegas: Empty Lot – Tate Modern – until 3 April 2016.

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