Both the Eliasson and the Goldin exhibitions are currently on at the Tate Modern, so it was easy to combine them in a single visit, although they could not have been more different in approach and aesthetic. First the Eliasson one, In Real Life.
Reviews of the exhibition have been a bit ‘Meh’, despite it being one of the most successful shows the Tate Modern has ever put on. It is huge and spreads out over the whole site and I am quite certain we missed some of the works en route. Eliasson is a bit like Wolfgang Tillmans in that his interests spread across a wide variety of subjects, from the very basics of what we eat and how to provide light for children in developing countries to get to school, right through to the most metaphysical concepts, and like Tillmans there was a great variety of media and activities, not all of which we engaged in.
Personally, I was quite blown away by much of the installation work, but for very specific reasons. I did not go to see it because of where I am in my own studies, but it fitted perfectly in to where I am at present, in particular his use of gaps and mirrors and the ideas he was exploring in some of the works around what is reality and where does it become the simulacrum. Some example will be explained below.
As you enter the hallway for the exhibition, one of Eliasson’s trademark mirrored light sculptures commands attention. While the sculpture itself is interesting in its complexity, what really grabs the attention is the shadow version seen on the wall behind it. That shadow version has a clarity that is hidden by the complexities of metal, glass and mirrors in the real version.
I loved the two contemplative works, Wave Machines (1995) and Beauty (1993), which invited the viewer to take time to become mesmerised by the movement within them, but felt that both would be better appreciated without the crowds of other visitors. Your Uncertain Shadow (2010) was a fascinating display of colour and movement created by the visitors themselves and providing much entertainment for all. Big Bang Fountain (2014) was another piece which required attention, although the strobe lighting very soon made one feel a migraine might be coming on. Din Blinde Passager (2010) went to the other extreme, by removing all visual information in a sea of thick coloured fog, through which the voices of other visitors could be heard and whose shapes occasionally loomed out of the gloom and then disappeared again. Your Planetary Window (2019) created a patchwork of varying images of the view outside the building as seen through a variety of angled mirrors, and felt very much in tune with the work I have been doing on gaps, mirrors and integrating patchwork ideas into visual work.
Finally, and for me the pièce de resistance, was How Do We Live Together? (2019). A semicircle of black steel was set into the space, and a mirrored ceiling completed the circle. Everyone who entered the room stared up at the mirrored version of reality rather than looking at the real version right in front of their eyes. Further added to this was the way everyone was taking photos of the mirrored version, and the whole piece became a comment on our relationship with the world. It was utter simplicity in its concept, but very effective in what it said.
The Nan Goldin, her very famous early work The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, was a combined exhibition of images and a slide show accompanied by the music of the time period, and was a totally different experience from the Eliasson. I have seen various images from the series before, but not them all en bloc and their appeal is more clear when seen together. Each of them alone appears like the sort of snap that gets taken at many a drunken party, but together they spoke of a nihilistic lifestyle of drink drugs and sexual misadventures, peopled by famous faces from the 1970s and 1980s. I am not sure that Goldin’s work would have had the success it did had she not moved in the circles she did, but there was no doubt it was compelling. So much so, that the audience in the tiny screening theatre hardly changed at all while we were there – people were content to sit and let it all wash over them as an immersive experience, one which I felt was much more affective than the collection of individual prints alongside.