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  • Articles by Sonali

    Abraham Cruzvillegas: Empty Lot - Tate Modern Turbine Hall Exhibition 2015

    How do you fill the massive expanse of the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern? This year artist Abraham Cruzvillegas from Mexico has stepped up to the challenge with his large scale sculpture ‘Empty Lot': a display consisting of wooden planters (containers) filled with soil - identical in size (about that of a wheelbarrow bowl), and triangular in shape.

    These planters are arranged across a huge deck and raised above floor level by several metres, supported by a mass of scaffolding from beneath. The breadth of this piece can be surveyed from viewing platform on first floor, from behind an iron railing. ‘Empty Lot’ stretches on either side, to entrance of Tate Modern and back towards rear wall, resembling a ship’s deck in shape.

    Cruzvillegas has worked with found objects in the past. Here he has made lamps from discarded materials to enhance lighting over planters. The scaffolding will be recycled once exhibition is over, and planters are crafted bespoke.

    The sculpture has a striking Aztec pattern when surveyed from a distance, but its real significance lies in the soil, and in its unseen potential. This soil was collected from various parks all over London including Richmond Park, Finsbury Park and Hampstead Heath, then packed into planters; nothing else was added in terms of seeds etc. The idea is that we observe ‘Empty Lot’ in case anything grows during course of exhibition; when Cruzvillegas highlights that the outcome is uncertain, and underpinned by forces of chance and hope.  

    Here he references his homeland, in particular the ramshackle housing developments of Mexico City, often built on illegally appropriated land; pointing at the ability of people living under these precarious circumstances to remain hopeful.

    ‘Empty Lot’ is compelling viewing; if only we could fast forward and skip to end result. But we must wait - which engages the viewer in ongoing drama, and will no doubt ensure several visits to the Turbine Hall to check if anything has grown in the interim.

    In fact a few tufts of green shoots have shot through already, and the result might even be a patchwork portrait of London’s green spaces when exhibition finishes in April next year. Perhaps it could be improved if we were able to walk around planters and view them up close, but this isn’t permitted for reasons of health and safety.

    Cruzvillegas remains optimistic regardless of the outcome. It’s possible that these shoots could grow up high.  As such, the Turbine Hall might end up looking more like a greenhouse, confirming his hopes have been realised.  On the other hand, he says he will be equally satisfied if nothing much grows, because something has happened beneath soil surface, albeit unseen.

    ends 3 April 2016

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