What’s the most surreal experience you’ve ever had?
I’ve been quoted as saying that modern art is “worthless rubbish masquerading as creativity”. When I heard that the Tate Modern commissioned a giant metal box as part of Miroslaw Balka’s How It Is series, though, I changed my mind. It wasn’t even masquerading as creativity any more.
I had reason to go to the famous Turbine Hall while the box was being exhibited (I’m patient with friends who have different taste to mine). Quite out of nowhere, I was shocked to find every preconception I had for a big box in a brick building expunged the moment I walked inside it.
I’ve never experienced anything quite like it.
I became suddenly and unexpectedly lost. It was a deep kind of lost; lost in myself more than in the space I was inhabiting. It felt like every sense was heightened and tightened and set against me in a sudden frenzied feeling of lack.
I could feel the darkness. It slowed me, physically as well as mentally. It was like the flashes of a strobe light were stripped away and the darkness between stitched together in a thick blanket of absence and silence and everything that is not.
I didn’t enjoy it. I turned (although it seemed to take longer than normal) and left the box by the shortest route. It took a few minutes for my friends to find me, standing near the reassuring brightness of the shop, breathing in a slightly more laboured fashion than I am accustomed to, with a blank look written across my face. I was on edge for hours afterwards.
In some ways, I feel like I’ve never recovered from that day. I don’t think it changed me, but it did reveal something that I hadn’t noticed so strongly before. I find pitch darkness terrifying. (I could tell a story of walking down a deserted road in the dead of night during a power cut, totally unable to see even the shape of my legs let alone the limits of the pavement. I nearly stayed put until morning.) I also find silence terrifying. (You’ll understand by now that night isn’t my favourite time.)
I have no idea what others felt when they visited the giant box at the Tate Modern. I assume it was created with the intention of unsettling people. What it did to me was indescribably more powerful and profound than I could have imagined. I’ll never forget it. I’ll never be able to.