Press Release

The Unilever Series: Miroslaw Balka

Tate Modern  Turbine Hall
13 October 2009 – 5 April 2010

Tate Modern today unveils the tenth annual commission in The Unilever Series, How It Is by Miroslaw Balka. The artist has created a large steel sculpture, which cleverly responds to the architecture of the Turbine Hall. A chamber of monumental scale, the steel structure stands 13 metres high, 10 metres wide and 30 metres long.

On first entering the Turbine Hall visitors will be confronted with the end wall of the sculpture. Reminiscent of a giant shipping container it is mounted on supports two metres high so that visitors can walk underneath, before entering the sculpture via a ramp. The interior is pitch dark, provoking a sense of unease. The steel construction of the chamber adds a sound element to the work, with the sounds of those inside the space resonating both within and below the structure. The blackness of the interior will contrast sharply with the day-lit Turbine Hall. 

Balka intends to provide an experience for visitors which is both personal and collective; creating a range of sensory and emotional experiences through sound, touch, contrasting light and darkness. Whether approaching the piece individually or negotiating it with others, it may provoke feelings of apprehension, solidarity, excitement or intrigue. Staring ahead into the black void of How It Is may make you wonder whether to move ahead at all. Yet rather than forming a stage or spectacle, the container focuses you inwards, both physically and psychologically, as you enter into the darkness. The structure simultaneously embodies the unknown and the familiar.

The title of the installation, which is inspired by Samuel Beckett’s novel ‘How It Is’, is intentionally open, allowing for diverse interpretations.  As Balka explains, “You can shape this yourself.  The shape you create is not just about your body, it’s about your mind”.  In How It Is, Balka alludes to a myriad of ideas and references, from the allegory of Plato’s Cave, the biblical Plague of Darkness, black holes, images of hell and Courbet’s L’Origine du Monde 1866 to Malevich’s Black Square 1915.

Miroslaw Balka has exhibited in major group exhibitions including Documenta 9, Kassel (1992), the Venice Biennale (1990, 1993, 2000 and 2005), the Sydney Biennale (1992, 2006) and Site Santa Fe (2006). His recent solo exhibitions include Tristes Tropiques at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Lichtzwang at K21, Düsseldorf, Cruzamento at Museo de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro, Reflejos condicionados at Fundación Botin, Santander, Entering Paradise + BGE at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, Jetzt at WRO Art Centre, Wroclaw, Poland, Gravity at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Nothere at White Cube, London. His work has also been seen at the Tate Gallery in Rites of Passage and Art Now: Dawn (both 1995), and Between Cinema and a Hard Place (2000) and Domestic Incidents (2006) at Tate Modern.

The Unilever Series: Miroslaw Balka is curated by Helen Sainsbury, Curator, Tate Modern, assisted by Kathy Noble, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern.

Vicente Todolí, Director, Tate Modern said: ‘Miroslaw Balka has transformed the architecture of the Turbine Hall with his new work How It Is. He has created an arresting steel chamber that will simultaneously provide an unknown but familiar experience to visitors entering the space.’

Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever PLC, said:

Since the first of the Unilever Series in 2000 there have been many spectacular and original approaches to the challenge of filling Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. Like many of his predecessors Miroslaw Balka has tackled the commission with creativity and imagination. Unilever is proud of its long association with Tate and hope that Balka’s work will both provoke and bring pleasure to all who see it.

Tate has created an interactive website and an iPhone application for The Unilever Series:  Miroslaw Balka’s How It Is. The site will explore the references and context of Balka’s structure allowing the public an opportunity to immerse in the work through an interactive multimedia experience.