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It has been raining for years now, not a day, not an hour without rain. This continual watering has had a strange effects on urban sculptures. The have started to grow like tropical plants and become even more monumental...

It has been raining for years now, not a day, not an hour without rain. This continual watering has had a strange effects on urban sculptures. The have started to grow like tropical plants and become even more monumental...

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster TH.2058 2008 If there's a major piece of work that should speak directly to the RSA Arts & Ecology agenda in the UK right now, it's Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster's TH.2058 at the Tate Modern. It greets you with the text above, and with the roar of falling rain. This is French artist Gonzalez-Foerster's SF vision of London, 50 years from now. Rather like After Nature at New York's New Museum last month, it's dealing in eerie predictions of a world wrecked; lives dramatically transfigured by climate change. (Maybe not so far-fetched. If the part about growing sculptures is a touch beyond the predictive abilities of climate modellers, there is a scientific consensus that our shrinking temperate zone will become much wetter as the century progresses and deserts march up from the Mediterranean).

In the immense Turbine Hall, an XXL version of Louise Bourgoise's massive spider Maman looms next to Alexander Calder's even loomier 20m high flamingo. Below sit rows of bunks, post-Katrina-like, painted in oddly cheery IKEA blue and yellow, to house the refugees from the endless downpour. A Big Brother-sized screen plays snatches of films; Peter Watkins' banned 1965 film War Game, Nicholas Roeg's The Man Who Fell To Earth, Robert Smithson's footage of his great piece of land art Spiral Jetty, a marine earthwork itself in danger of environmental ruin. On the bunks too, abandoned there by the imagined refugees, lie books, another collection of sci-fi apocalyptica and dark modern histories; The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin, William Gibson's Pattern Recognition, JG Ballard's Drowned World, Jeff Noon's Vurt, Mike Davis' Dead Cities. Gonzalez-Foerster has gathered together a veritable compendium of dystopian imaginings.

It suggests a curious world in which art and humanity are inexplicably drawn together by the crisis, the huddled masses sheltering in the Tate, a world in which art looms even larger than normal. Lying on the hard bunks, reading, gawping, listening, you can imagine yourself a resident in this imagined future. Georgina Adam of the Art Newspaper is quoted in The Times saying "It's an environment, not art." Quite why an environment can't be art is hard to figure but that's what it is, an environment intended to wrap itself around you and draw you into imagining yourself part of it.

The real sadness is, it doesn't really achieve that; shame because it's a great idea. In the Tate, Gonzalez-Foerster is better at celebrating the imagined futures other people have dreamed than she is of creating one herself. The hall seems curiously empty, even with the giant sculptures; the beds and spider-like lights fail to create the sense of fear and awe that the works she references do.

Ordinary reality seeps in too easily. There is an audible join in the tape-loop of rain. The radio that's supposed to be playing Arto Lindsay's bossa nova has been broken by a member of the public. A museum guard is talking too loudly on a walkie talkie: "The small radio on the bunk. It's been touched. What channel are we supposed to keep it on?"

Early reviews are tepid, or worse:

"French artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster just wasn't up to the job," writes Richard Dorment in the Telegraph. "Throwing away the chance to make a dramatic visual statement, she leaves the main hall untouched, hiding her installation behind a curtain made of strips of coloured plastic hung just beyond the ticket and information booths."

Rachel Campbell-Johnston in the Times is furiously scathing: "I can’t think that Tate’s new Turbine Hall commission will inspire anything much – except maybe a growing desire to make a trip to the loo. The sound of running rainwater will no doubt have a deleterious effect on a few bladders."

Only the smarter Adrian Searle in the Guardian gets a point, of a kind, from it: "We are meant to ruminate on catastrophe and laugh amongst the ruins of art and civilisation. But you don't need to wait till 2058 to do any of that. The end is now."

Illustration credit: Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster TH.2058 2008 © Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster. Photo: Tate Photography


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