17 January 2012

Lost in an art installation

The door to Coral Reef

On entering the Tate Gallery I notice a large section that looks as if it is closed for re-hanging, I try to find the entrance to Mike Nelson’s Coral Reef and look for the usual white space. A gallery attendant points to the scruffy and insignificant door. There are no signs, no indication of what might be inside.

It looks like an abandoned Taxi cab office. Through the next door, another neglected space and down this grubby corridor more rooms with signs of a shady past, or waiting areas for something unpleasant. I tread carefully in the dim lighting, past old worn couches, random light fittings, and assorted objects left behind after a quick exit. These objects are familiar, reference past fears and are disturbing. There is a variety of office seating and a used mattress possibly taken from a skip?  I had a couch just like that in a bedsit but had to cover it in flea powder before sitting on it. Everything has had a previous use and the feeling of hopelessness builds. I carry on past grimy carpets and temporary floor surfaces, these abandoned spaces continue to imply unease, what lies beneath the layers of old newspaper on the floor? More doors; do I want to continue on or return?

This is hard work, most exhibitions usually have a preferred route, mapping the way through from beginning to end. You know how to navigate it even if you prefer to make your own way around. At least you can be sure not to miss the good bits.
Ah I think I've been here before but now choose another door. I pass one or two people and can hear footsteps elsewhere and distant door hinges squeaking, so many small, hostile rooms seem to interconnect endlessly.

Which way next errm...

Ah here’s an attendant or is he a security guard, is he part of this … I ask, he is not.

Round a corner and through more small unpleasant spaces, (It’s quite creative how many ways you can make a room look sordid) I have seen these places before in films, bad dreams and reality, only this time it is the artist controlling my time in here. Have I been in this room before...

It’s quiet no other sounds, footsteps or squeaking doors ... it’s very quiet... it would be funny if I couldn't find the way out... I feel uncomfortable... why haven’t I bothered to notice the direction I came in... How did I get to this bit...  I acknowledge a slight unease... where was that security bloke?

Searching for the way back I find more rooms I don’t recognise and there are no signs that might help my disorientation. It’s so quiet now, where has everyone gone? I wish I was with someone in here... I wonder what would happen if I had a panic attack... err, don't know if I ever actually had a real one... don’t know how I would react if... and now with this thought I do start to feel very scared. I don't know how I would be if I lost control?

"We do not have to be long in the woods to experience the always rather anxious impression of going deeper and deeper’ into a limitless world. Soon, if we do not know where we are going, we no longer know where we are". Gaston Bachelard – The Poetics of space

Is there a door handle that might be an exit, are the fire exit signs real, if I follow them where will I end up? Every thought makes things worse, my heart is pounding and my stomach churns as the real fear of losing control gets closer, try this door, another room, another room, another room...

Here is the reception and the security bloke, I try to calmly ask “ How do I get out?”
“Straight ahead and through the door.”
This corridor is not straight and the door opens into a sort of bin storage area, do I go through the fire exit over there and possibly into a back street. It doesn't look right. I have to go back but at least I remember how I got here this time. “Yes trust me” he says encouragingly. So back into the bin room I spot a bright sliver of light under the door.

Now out in the familiar Tate corridor I remember my intention was to make a drawing in there, so feeling brave now, I almost liked the idea of being lost inside. I step back in and note each door as I walk through but after the fourth door I have had enough fear returns and I quickly retrace my steps. The attendant outside looked indifferent as I re-emerged so quickly.
I realise how easily I had ignored the fire exit signs when looking for a way out, probably because they are accepted information and never an actual part of the art?

The fear of being lost in there completely transformed my experience of an art exhibition and memories of Tate Britain. Now back to the shop!