Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Cracking Up

A couple of weeks ago, my employers took a bunch of us lowly wage slaves over to Tate Modern for lunch. The reasons for the lunch and the lunch itself are irrelevant, so let’s just skate on past that.

As we left, passing the Turbine Hall and the current installation, Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth (better known to almost everyone as “the crack in the floor”), we all paused to have a good long look. Very impressive, but its impact was diminished by the fact that sections of the crack were covered up with duct tape and plastic sheeting.

Everyone else came out with the bog-standard pedestrian responses of “But it’s just a crack!” and “Why have they done that?” or “I don’t get it.” But then they didn’t try. They just saw a crack in the floor and nothing else.

I tried to argue that the reason that I liked it is that is was, simultaneously, an actual crack and the illusion of a crack.

This just got me a lot of blank stares. So I tried to explain it to them like this:

In an old Road Runner cartoon, Wile E. Coyote got a tub of black paint and with it painted a fake road and then a fake tunnel smack dab in the middle of a large boulder, with the intention that the Road Runner would slam straight into the side of that boulder.

Seconds later, the Road Runner comes beep beeping along, roaring past the coyote and goes straight through the “tunnel” effortlessly, as if it were actually there. Puzzled, the coyote tries it himself and, sure enough, he slams straight into the boulder because, of course, the tunnel isn’t really there.

I was quite pleased with this explanation, but now there was a smattering of confused laughter accompanying the vacant faces. Oh well – I try to open their eyes and yet they are still blind.

And I know that the artist’s intentions may be vastly different from what I get out of it, but that’s the thing about art. Once you hurl it out into the world, it belongs to everybody who experiences it in any way that they see fit.

There have been various attempts to discover just how they put this crack in the floor of the Turbine Hall. Builders and architects have a number of theories, whilst many of them admit that they don’t quite know. Any one of those theories may be correct. Or none of them. But I think to explain it would take something away from it, like debunking a brilliant magic trick, or pulling back the curtain to reveal that the Wizard of Oz is just a befuddled old huckster from Kansas. Not knowing is part of the whole thing.

But only a part of it. The other part is this: some days you’re the coyote and some days you’re the road runner. You can be both. And there ain’t nothing wrong with that.

Beep beep!

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