Tag Archives: Miraslaw Balka

Straight Into Darkness – Dudelet, Balka and me

Dudelet and I have been having one or two issues lately. Actually, supermum’s had one or two strained moments with dudelet this week, as has little elf. To be honest, I think we’re all taking chunks out of each other on a regular basis. The flat is too small, the neighbours are regularly complaining about the noise of the children running around above their heads (and as luck would have it, they seem to be constantly working from home) and my search for a new job, the deus ex machina supposed to engineer an escape from both small flat and increasingly anally retentive neighbours, keeps running into rejections or deadends. There’s a bit of an atmosphere, a sense of ‘between stations’ and children pick up on that sort of thing.

More disturbingly, dudelet’s had a few sleepwalking incidents, something classically associated with stressed children. Little elf seems relatively untouched but her insistence on doing everything herself and ‘owning’ particular bits of floor or furniture, or the whole of our bed is driving the other three of us to distraction.

So supermum took LE swimming this morning whilst dudelet and I stayed behind. I initially banned TV – we were going to find more creative outlets – and we built railway tracks, raided the freezer, made smoothies and drew. Then dudelet, who refused to countenance leaving the house, went into pester overdrive to at least play on the GameCube. After some debate, we struck a deal. He’d get to play Zelda for 45 minutes then we’d pack up and head for the Tate Modern where he’d spend an equal amount of time trekking round the exhibition of my choice.

And that’s exactly what we did.

I wanted to see the Van Doesburg exhibition but before that, we tackled the current big installation in the cavernous space of the Turbine Hall – Miroslaw Balka’s monstrous steel box of darkness, 13 metres high and 30 metres long.

Dudelet wanted to see it (he loves the big exhibits and Louise Bourgeois’ Maman is a touchstone for both of us) but was scared – it literally feels like one is walking into a wall of darkness. So I carried him and we slowly walked up the ramp into the immense steel box, a giant’s freight container. To me, it was nowhere near as scary as it might have been. It was too crowded and after a while, one could make out white shirts or scarfs hovering like after-images in the blackout. But the sense of lost or incalculable space was intense. I couldn’t see or sense where the darkness ended in walls and the ceiling might as well have been a night sky devoid of stars or light pollution. We were at the bottom of a huge well, surrounded by other blinded, shuffling, giggling denizens. I moved forward slowly, dudelet in one arm with his legs wrapped around my waist whispering a running commentary, and my other arm stretched out ready to encounter a wall or The Other. When I finally met the end of the box, I almost jumped. The wall was velvelty, almost warm. Dudelet could see a faint crack of light from an imperfect seal to our right so we made our way south untill I met another wall with the same faint shock at the unexpetedly soft texture I encountered. Then we turned east, looking back the way we came. The illusion vanished instantly. It was a dull light but all the people entering the open end of the box were silhouetted against it. Dudelet let me put him down and we made our way out.

It’s a piece of art that references many things – the cattle cars and gas chambers of the Holocaust, the simply unknown – but on a crowded Saturday afternoon, it offers more simple lessons about the tricksiness of the spatial and how my beautiful boy still trusts me enough, despite all the shouting and strife of the last couple of weeks, to let me carry him into darkness and out again.


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