I had avoided asking friends about the big container in the Turbine Hall. I had missed the opening in October, otherwise engaged with the Friezing-frenzy, and hadn’t wanted to spoil the effect of discovering it for myself. I’d heard of a dark and forbidding work, but knew very little else. So, when I climbed the steep rubberised ramp yesterday, to be swallowed up by the void, I was excited about the paradox of encountering the nothingness inside. The crowd was sparse, festive mobs having been lured to gaudier places. I ignored the wall text offering explanations and even though I picked up a leaflet, I knew that I wouldn’t read it until I came out of the big black box.
At the top of the ramp I eased into the dark, pupils dilating. My eyes hooked on a yellow shape, a staged figure glowing in the distance. It was some time before I could make out the kind of garish cone usually relegated to damp and bleachy floors or cramped station toilets. An indistinct pool of light shone on the cone, drawing visitors in.
As the blackness squeezed my peripheral vision, and my confidence in official Tate prudence dispelled any fears of falling into dark holes, my curiosity drew me to the sight. The light shifted lazily from the cone to the floor and back again. I pushed further into the container, with the dim Turbine Hall at my back, and the scene was revealed. As my eyes gradually resolved shapes and textures, my nose was tickled by a scent tinged with unease. It was an insolent smell, whose recognition provoked immediate revulsion. What I saw confirmed the worst my nose had feared. Three circles lay on the floor. Raking light picked out each glossy centre and chunky circumference in ochre hues.
My questions were met by an attendant’s bored and obliging explanation. Something about a little boy, out of order lifts and cleaners on call.
It hadn’t been the profound experience promised by the sculpture’s forbidding grandeur. With their pathetic humanity, those three pools of vomit were an appallingly comic foil to any effect the artist could have intended.
Miroslaw Balka, How It Is (2009) [Photo (c) Tate Photography]