Dominique Gonzalez Foerster: Essays

Exhibition banner for Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster's Unilver Series



It rains incessantly in London – not a day, not an hour without rain, a deluge that has now lasted for years and changed the way people travel, their clothes, leisure activities, imagination and desires. They dream about infinitely dry deserts.

This continual watering has had a strange effect on urban sculptures. As well as erosion and rust, they have started to grow like giant, thirsty tropical plants, to become even more monumental. In order to hold this organic growth in check, it has been decided to store them in the Turbine Hall, surrounded by hundreds of bunks that shelter – day and night – refugees from the rain.

A giant screen shows a strange film, which seems to be as much experimental cinema as science fiction. Fragments of Solaris, Fahrenheit 451 and Planet of the Apes are mixed with more abstract sequences such as Johanna Vaude’s L’Oeil Sauvage but also images from Chris Marker’s La Jetée. Could this possibly be the last film?

On the beds are books saved from the damp and treated to prevent the pages going mouldy and disintegrating. On every bunk there is at least one book, such as J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World, Jeff Noon’s Vurt, Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, but also Jorge Luis Borges’s Ficciones and Roberto Bolaño’s 2666.

On one of the beds, hidden among the giant sculptures, a lonely radio plays what sounds like distressed 1958 bossa nova. The mass bedding, the books, images, works of art and music produce a strange effect reminiscent of a Jean-Luc Godard film, a culture of quotation in a context of catastrophe.

In the shelter, the prone figures are reminiscent of Henry Moore’s ‘shelter drawings’, while his sculpture for sheep stands next to a giant apple core by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Museums have been closed for years because of water seepages and the high level of humidity. In the huge collective shelter that the Turbine Hall has become, a fantastical and heterogeneous montage develops, including sculpture, literature, music, cinema, sleeping figures and drops of rain.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster


Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s TH.2058 looks 50 years into the future, as the inhabitants of London take shelter in the Turbine Hall from a never-ending rain. Filled with bunk beds scattered with books, the animal forms of gargantuan sculptures, a massive LED screen playing edited extracts from science-fiction and experimental films, and piercing lights that suggest some unseen surveillance, the Turbine Hall has taken on the attributes of an epic film set.

TH.2058, however, is not simply a work of science fiction, but an exploration of some of the artistic ideas that have preoccupied Gonzalez-Foerster over the last twenty years. The notion of the shelter, for instance, is partly inspired by her sense of London as a city under attack in reality and in innumerable books and films: flooded, bombed and invaded. It can also be traced back to her series Chambres, a sequence of environments which recreated fictional or personal domestic spaces in a minimal or elliptical form. Since then, she has created other related types of space, transforming areas such as public parks into choreographed social environments that visitors experience as both viewer and participant.

The use of carefully selected quotations is central to her work, most evident here in the replicated, over-sized art works by Louise Bourgeois, Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, Bruce Nauman, and Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Some look back to earlier Turbine Hall installations, while others – such as Calder’s soaring Flamingo – relate to an expansive idea of public sculpture. The inclusion of Oldenburg and van Bruggen pays homage to their radical introduction of the blow-up, a distortion seminal to much late twentieth-century art and one taken up by the contemporary trickster Maurizio Cattelan.

The Last Film, which plays on the huge screen overlooking the Turbine Hall, similarly assembles excerpts from the experimental films of Chris Marker and Peter Watkins, and the science fiction of George Lucas and Nicolas Roeg. Scenes of shelter and archives are drawn from Richard Fleischer’s Soylent Green and Alain Resnais’s Toute la mémoire du monde, alongside sequences of urban expectation from Peter Weir’s The Last Wave, the apocalyptic explosion of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point and the dystopian vision of a world without books in François Truffaut’s adaptation of Fahrenheit 451.

Another form of quotation is provided by the physical presence of the books distributed among the beds. Again, books have been an important element in Gonzalez-Foerster’s work, most notably in her Tapis de lecture [Carpet for reading]. The titles selected here further illuminate the themes and thinking that underlie TH.2058, and include Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Jeff Noon’s Vurt, Enrique Vila-Matas’s El mal de Montano and Catherine Dufour’s Le Goût de l’immortalité. These literary quotations are accompanied by the aural presence of The 1958 Song, a corrupted bossa nova medley by Arto Lindsay that plays on a lonely radio situated on one of the beds.

Jessica Morgan

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster was born in Strasbourg in 1965. She lives in Paris and Rio de Janeiro.