One Two Three Swing! by SUPERFLEX review – no escaping gravity in the Turbine Hall

Tate Modern, London
After Olafur Eliasson’s weather and Carsten Höller’s slides, the Danish collective have filled the Turbine Hall with swings. It’s a playful, welcoming space, but no world-changing work of art

Filling the Turbine Hall, SUPERFLEX’s Hyundai commission is a swinger’s paradise. No, not that kind of swinger, although in the age of audience participation and relational aesthetics, anything is possible. Galleries and museums have always been good for cruising, pick-ups, for loitering and maundering. Fitters have covered the ramp at the western end of the Turbine Hall in a carpet woven with lurid stripes, whose colours echo British banknotes. It reminds me of some horrible corporate tie, lolling down the ramp, and reflected in the large metal globe that swings back and forth above our heads. Bigger than a wrecking ball but smaller than a planet, it moves from a motorised cable slung from the roof. You can lounge about, dreaming of a payday loan, and watch this Foucault pendulum pitch and yaw, as gravity and the earth’s rotation slowly affect the direction of its swing.

A place to hang … the Turbine Hall has a striking new carpet, from which to watch a pendulum swing.
A place to hang … the Turbine Hall has a striking new carpet, from which to watch a pendulum swing. Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Beyond the carpet, and continuing to the far end of the Turbine Hall, a series of tubular orange metal structures, like gigantic doorways or hurdles, angle this way and that, standing on a nicely cushioned dark cork floor. Eventually, these structures, some interconnected, some in smaller groups, will infiltrate other corners of Southwark, with their municipal grey sections and larger, bright orange elements, from which coloured planks are slung from chains and shackles. They’re swings, each intended to accommodate three people. There are three artists in SUPERFLEX too. “By using this three-person swing, the collective power produced will set the orange line in motion and potentially change the trajectory of the planet”, say the little plaques attached to the planks in a small depot in a rear corner of the hall, where the swings are put together.

Having a bit of to-and-fro on the swings is its own reward, never mind the planet. It isn’t going anywhere. Like others before them, SUPERFLEX see the Turbine Hall as a kind of continuation of the world beyond the museum, a big indoor street, a free urban space. Free is a relative word.

Indoor street … orange swing structures will appear across Southwark as the weeks go by.
Indoor street … orange swing structures will appear across Southwark as the weeks go by. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

In a side room off the Turbine Hall various wall panels and diagrams explain the work’s genesis and inspirations, which include earlier Turbine Hall works – Carsten Höller’s 2007 slides and Olafur Eliasson’s 2003 Weather Project – along with the Forth Bridge, armies of ants, the tangled 16 Miles of String with which Marcel Duchamp festooned a gallery in 1942, leaping monkeys and an image of the Great Wall of China. SUPERFLEX’s One Two Three Swing! “challenges society’s apathy towards the political, environmental and economic crises of our age”, Tate’s press release tells me. I find the metaphors a bit of a stretch. What goes on here doesn’t have to be art, but it needs to be artful. It doesn’t have to be political, but politics are everywhere. The challenge is to see how SUPERFLEX’s project makes a difference or changes minds.

But I like the collective, ambient pleasure to be had here. The up-across-and-down orange line that unifies the structures is a playful urban geometry, like a Paul Klee cityscape, a drawing in space in which we can dance, get airborne, pretend to fly. Or more likely queue to have a go, for a momentary escape from gravity. But the politics and the inertia, along with other people, will always drag you down. Watching people use the space is probably more fun than the atavistic pleasure of swinging itself. I wasn’t tempted, even for a moment. More a voyeur than a swinger, me, but that’s critics for you.


Adrian Searle

The GuardianTramp

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