What is it that makes derelict industrial structures so well suited to exhibiting modern art performance and installation? Phase one of Herzog & De Meuron’s Tate Modern extension opens this week to the public, in the form of the ‘Tate Tanks’, vast subterranean reservoirs that have lain dormant, buzzing with the potential to be opened up, explored, and creatively interpreted as a further public venue for the London gallery. They look truly breath-taking.
In the above interview, Nicholas Serota, Director of the Tate, calls it ‘the raw power’. Enormous volumes of industrial fuel were piped, churned, stored and then burned, leaving behind the trace of a thousand automated activities in the surface texture of the cold discomforting concrete. No human was ever intended to inhabit these spaces.
We find it true with many of the industrial survivors that Studio8 work on, designing re-use solutions alongside dedicated client teams, with the sole focus of creatively engineering a sustainable future for the buildings which have often long outlived their original purpose. Immense brick kilns and concrete silos; not quite architecture and not quite machinery. The silence left behind in these spaces is deafening.
Perhaps this unpolished and alien environment of jagged surfaces and twisted industry provides suitable canvas for the physicality and energy of contemporary sculpture. Perhaps it creates a visceral juxtaposition against the graceful and calm presence of contemporary dance. Perhaps art produced by such an industrially advanced society cannot be adequately comprehended in a gilded Victorian gallery, or indeed any space designed to ‘comfortably house’ people and art together.
People continue to be drawn to these spaces, and they evoke a powerful response. As long as this continues to be the case, exhibition and performance will remain one of the most exciting and energising ways to reuse our forgotten industrial relics.