Turner Exhibits at the Tate Liverpool
A great brown bear is trapped in a large open plan office in Berlin. He walks soulfully, his head hung. He stops. He hides behind a partition and then he walks again sometimes on two legs sometimes on all fours. He is human and bear. Animal and man. A too-large head on a fragile-looking body. Sometimes he looks puzzled, mostly he seems locked away.
The camera pans out to the dark street and the people looking in. This is part of the art. We look but we do not interfere. there is the bear representing duality, perhaps, or hopelessness or duplicity and we look on. Is this what it means? Am I supposed to see the bear or the man in a bear's skin? Is he intending that I think of fairy tales and school and the scent of warmed souring milk? Because that is what I see and that is what I remember. The bear in a glass cage. The worry of Goldilocks being found out. The bear that looks as if it is safe to hold and yet I know is one of nature's most ferocious beasts. He likes honey but he also likes to kill. He can bat you with one of his affectionate paws and knock you cold. Then he will amble as he does now. The beast in our midst. Captured so we can see him. Believe and yet know he is not real. Victors over something that cannot really be conquered.
We start here at the threshold. A doorstep of a door that isn't there. A plank of wood then, that we have to step over to gain entrance to the rest.
'I still haven't got the protocol for how to deal with wheelchairs,' the man with the walkie talkie says, then interrupts himself again. 'Mind the step.' 'Excuse me sir, mind how you go.'
This is the curator's work for the day; a living warning device so that no one trips over. Eventually two men come bearing a ramp because these days access must be universal. So a wheelchair may driven over installation 1 in order to see installation 2 (a doll's house without furniture or opening sides), and then installation 3 (the words 'There will be no miracles here' picked out in white light bulbs on a frame of scaffolding).
For some time the Hodmandods stand before this trying to see the point. I read later it was originally set in a place called Modseine in Haute Savoie - which was renowned for its miracles. So I realise now that the context is important, and when a piece like this is set in a white cube of a room it tends to lose its impact.
Space is important in art. One room leads to another. In one a bonfire: charred sticks tumble over each other with plastic red flames attached. For a few more moments we stand and look. You can see where the staples have been used to attach the flames. They remind me of little demons in their own little hell. We walk on. Another room has four large white cubes with small peep holes the size of a fist hacked out of the side. Then, peering inside we see a wondrous thing: the surface of a small sandy planet lit by white landing lights. Small dunes, reflected by mirrors, appear to go on and on to an alien horizon. I imagine flying over and seeing it all for the first time: an empty place oddly lit for unknown visitors. What lived here once? Do they live here now?
In another box there is another similarly sandy planet. The dunes are different of course but we pause by each one to look and look. It is strangely fascinating.
Then: another exit or entrance. We stop. Surely we have not yet come round 360 degrees and yet everything is the same. The confusion is deliberate. There is no beginning or end. Just like the mirrors and the sand dunes and the lights - they go on for ever.
You can tell from the lights and the dust that this place is hot. There is a stillness too - the sort that comes after frenetic activity. Long after. So long in fact it is difficult to remember exactly what had taken place - just a dim feeling it was ferocious and dreadful. Yes, truly it filled us with dread, but now it is gone, and all is left is this: an emptiness and those guns leaning against the wall - just in case. And the fact that these are the only things around here that are polished and kept clean is chilling.
Those are Bhimji's photographs. We walk past them into the dark room where the film is being shown again and again in a seven minute loop. Quickly we become immersed. The sounds around us are distorted and yet still familiar as if we are under water or in a womb. The camera pans around and once more we are in an alien place; in front of us are great hoppers of yellow fibre in a barn and as we watch something is happening to them. They are being sorted by a man with a long hoe. The camera hovers for a few moments, allows us to take it in, and then moves away. Up by the beams in the roof a fibre hangs; some draught allows it to sway hypnotically. Then, by the vents there are more fibres, like long weeds in a river; with the same sensation of motion, the same feeling of being swept away. But there is something else too; something that comes from the photographs, the same sensation that something dreadful has passed, and now life goes on. Rain thunders briefly on the roof and then people walk by. their distorted talk is easy, light. Nothing happens and yet we are fascinated by the strangeness of it all - the colours and the light, the man working apparently oblivious to our presence, the people talking as they pass and the strange being made stranger.
I felt like I was being immersed in art; as if there was a metaphor was just beyond my reach and if I just stayed here long enough I would understand and not just this sorting room, but all that it represented, would become clear to me.
On the way out I bought the updated version of this very interesting book which lists and describes all the shortlisted artists since 1984.