In the process of making The Unilever Series at Tate Modern app I’ve been lucky enough to spend time poring over all the photography, films and text produced by Tate since the first installation by Louise Bourgeois in 2000.

Tate has documented many of the artists talking about their works for The Unilever Series.  Hearing them talk about the early stages of the projects, it comes to light how the gargantuan space and the history of the Turbine Hall has informed many of the works.

Juan Muñoz, Double Bind 2001

‘I don’t think it is possible to have anything waiting in your imagination for a space and a volume of this kind. The space is there, it’s a given. Then I have my language and my experience, that’s it. These are the starting points. I don’t think anybody can really shape a work like this prior to being asked. You have to come, to look, to despair and smile.’

Juan Munoz Double Bind
Juan Muñoz, Double Bind 2001

Anish Kapoor, Marsyas 2002

‘I hardly ever think of a work without thinking of where it is, so in a way I don’t always start with the work. But then there’s a preoccupation in architecture that context determines what happens on site. That’s bullshit.  A good idea adapts itself to the site.’

Anish Kapoor Marsyas 2002 07
Anish Kapoor
Installation at Tate Modern


Bruce Nauman, Raw Materials 2004

‘What edged me towards an audio environment was the turbine drone and how it varied as I moved from place to place.’

Bruce Nauman's plans for the layout of the Turbine Hall for his exhibition: Raw Materials at Tate Modern
Plans for the Turbine Hall layout

Rachel Whiteread, EMBANKMENT 2006

‘I did also think of finding something that was just vast – that was so spectacular that it would be just that one thing in that enormous space. I’ve no idea what that is. I think if someone could do that, it might be a masterpiece. But I’ve definitely gone for more of the theatrical version. The Tate thing undoubtedly is going to be a spectacle, and theatrical, and it has to be. It’s the only way to deal with that space. And I have to make that jump. That’s what I’ve done. And that’s how it has to be done.’

Rachel Whiteread Embankment
Rachel Whiteread

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, TH.2058 2008

‘What happened to this space is in fact some kind of science fiction. A hundred years ago it’s impossible to imagine that the people working there could conceive of what it would become. This shift says more than any other about the art inside the building. So I thought this was also a strong starting point. And then to imagine that there was one shift and what could be the second?’

TH.2058 Installation view at Tate Modern 2008
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster
Installation view at Tate Modern 2008

Ai Weiwei, Sunflower Seeds 2010

‘For the Unilever Series, artists have taken very different positions with very different intentions. It’s always a challenge for the next artist to express his own understanding through a work that at the same time can make sense within this space.’

The Unilever Series: Ai Weiwei Sunflower Seeds 2010 the interior of the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern with Ai Weiwei's installation of sunflower seeds
The Unilever Series: Ai Weiwei
Sunflower Seeds 2010

Tacita Dean, FILM 2011

‘Sheena Wagstaff invited me to be the next Turbine Hall commission in September last year. It was not something I had ever imagined doing. Somewhat stunned, I accompanied her to the bridge to gaze at the cavernous space, dotted with the large, and as yet unopened, bags containing all the sunflower seeds of Ai Weiwei. The artist Matt Mullican later described the Turbine Hall to me as a space with a big ego, and he was right. But in that instant, I knew immediately that I wanted to try and make a portrait format anamorphic film with the lens I normally use to stretch my films into a double-width landscape format.’

Tacita Dean FILM 2011
Tacita Dean's FILM 2011 installed at Tate Modern.


 So, would, or could, any of these works exist without the Turbine Hall?  And how might another space change what they mean?