Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Experiencing Boxes

Several people responded to my last post with questions : let me try and answer a few of them. Willow asked for more information about my visit to the Tate Modern. Because we spent so long looking around the Courtauld Gallery, we arrived at the Tate Modern about 45 minutes before it closed for the day. I could, however, put forward a reasonable argument for having compulsory limitations on the amount of time you are allowed to spend in an art gallery at any one time. A temporal sword of Damocles not only concentrates the mind, but also stops you from trying to cram too much in thereby risking visual indigestion. So all we had time to do was to take in the breathtaking building - for those not familiar with it, the Tate Modern is located in the old Bankside Power Station - and visit the wonderful Miroslaw Balka "Box of Darkness" installation. The installation is a gigantic grey steel structure which stands in splendid isolation in the Turbine Hall. You can walk up a featureless steel ramp into the inside which is totally light-less. As you enter a little light filters in from the open entrance, but as you move further down the structure the darkness is almost physically palpable. You can't set foot in the structure without being either moved or frightened or both. It is no coincidence that the artist Miroslaw Balka is Polish and Poland was the location of the killing camps of Treblinka or Auschwitz with their steel cattle trucks and death-black gas chambers. I thought it was a massively inspiring piece of art, one well worth experiencing.

Baino asked about suggestions for places to visit in France. Let me first of all stress that I am no expert on the country and there are many parts of it that I have yet to visit, but it was my first visit to the east of the country and I was very impressed. Obviously there is a very significant Germanic influence - as John suggested in his comment, this area has been French, German and French again in less than 100 years - and in some ways it has more in common with Rhineland than the rest of France. Strasbourg was visually stunning, with its old half-timbered houses and warehouses looking like rows of pastel-shaded boxes strung out along the riverside. Again, it is well worth experiencing.

Several people commented on my picture of the castle (Chateau De Saint-Ulrich, Ribeauville). It was not the only castle we visited whilst we were away, on Friday we went to the almost unbelievable Chateau Du Haut-Koenigsbourg. It differs from the other Alsace castles in that it has been fully restored to what it must have been like in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. The restoration was carried out under the direction of Emperor Wilhelm II whilst it was under German control at the very start of the twentieth century. It stands high above the Alsatian plain like an impregnable fortified box. We visited it on a freezing cold day in early March and it was almost deserted. The arctic winds that seemed to penetrate the very stonework just added to the authenticity. And again, I would thoroughly recommend the experience.


  1. the tate modern is a wonderful museum! i hope balka's installation makes it over to this side of the pond!

    coincidentally reya and I were just talking about people's museum habits the other day - bottom line what is normative for one person may be torture for another....i'm fairly adaptable - sometimes i'll pop into a museum for a quick fix, other times i like to spend hours and hours in a museum -

  2. I totally agree with compulsory limitations on the amount of time you are allowed to spend in an art gallery at any one time. I've experience my fair share of art overload. It's often far too much to absorb in one day. I like Kimy's quick fix approach, if the museum is handy for pop-in visits. But usually I'm traveling and want to soak in as much as possible.

    The box of darkness looks like it might be a bit on the claustrophobic side. Eeks.

    The Tate is on my bucket list, btw.

  3. This and your previous post are so very interesting!
    I do like 'environment' installations, a minimal, like this you described, are just as arresting as the 'boxes' with more trappings.

  4. I would love to live in a pastel-shaded box on the riverside if I wouldn't be worried about flooding. Love the last photo.

  5. The "Box of Darkness" does conjure all kinds of thoughts, but what an experience!

    "The arctic winds that seemed to penetrate the very stonework just added to the authenticity."
    I really like that description.

    Thanks for sharing.

  6. Lovely Alan, just lovely. I'd probably dodge the dark box. I'm one of these people that even sleeps with a small light on! I tend to be a loiterer when it comes to galleries and museums. Have to see every inch of them to make the trip worthwhile unless it's a 'special' exhibition. I guess that's because we don't have many great museums here .. I could spend all day at the Canberra War Memorial though . .stunning!

  7. Thanks for the extra information Alan. That castle gets better each time I see it!

  8. Anonymous12:11 AM

    I really like the houses pictured in Strasbourg. The colors are so warm and friendly. And the castle is amazing!

  9. Well, having never been there...I'm thoroughly enjoying living vicariously through you!:)

  10. These photos took me away. Fantastic I say!

  11. really wonderful pics alan!


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