Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Thank Christ for the Bomb

Two albums made at the beginning of the 1970s explicitly dealing with the reverberations of world war in the present. One by an English band, the other by a German group. Both draw on potentially controversial iconography and speak to particular constructions of national history and its legacies.

Miroslaw Balka: How It Is

Tate Modern 13 October 2009 – 5 April 2010.

For the second time in the same afternoon I am about to enter a dark Polish chamber. This time it is the vast grey steel shipping container erected in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall by Polish artist Miroslaw Balka entitled, after Samuel Beckett’s 1964 novel, How It Is. The huge box (30m long x 13m high) is on 2m stilts, which means that you can walk under it, though the feeling that the thing is going to collapse on top of you is quite strong. At the back end is a ramp which leads inside the structure but the darkness within is so profound that visitors soon completely disappear from view as they walk in. Although not quite as literal as Kusmirowski’s Wagon, a life size reproduction of the type of train carriages used to transport prisoners to Auschwitz exhibited at the 4th Berlin Biennale in 2006, allusions to recent Polish history in Balka’s work are clear. The size of the structure is such, though, that the echoes of forced transportation, imprisonment, and obliteration are both outstripped and amplified by the box’s overpowering presence.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Robert Kusmirowski: Bunker

The Curve, Barbican Art Gallery, London. 30.09.09-10.01.10

The Polish artist Robert Kusmirowski has bunkered The Curve -- the gallery has been converted into a series of rooms and corridors full of broken-down electronic equipment, discoloured documents, old clothes, and piles of old canisters. A draisine runs along a track that seems to go nowhere. Stair-rails are knobbled with rust and everything is covered in a heavy layer of dust. A ventilation system or electricity generator drone fills the space without ever becoming ominous, and some grilled lightbulbs provide just enough illumination to get from room to room.