Friday, March 19, 2004

Sun at midnight

The biggest exhibit at the Tate Modern Gallery for the last few months had been the Weather Project, a vast sun made up of powerful lights and an opaque plastice disc setting in a vast turbine hall with a mirrored ceiling. For the last two nights of the exhibition the hall was open until 1am and I joined the crowd on the South Bank at midnight to see a Midnight Sun in wintery London. The Tate is housed in a huge factory and the turbine hall was vast, the mirrored ceiling opened it up even more and the air-conditioning pumped out air carrying dissolved sugar which gave the area a sulphurous glow. Coming out of the freezing night air off the Thames, the heat was incredible and familiar, I was grinning as I crossed the concrete floor to get closer to the much missed warmth. After walking behind the disc to look at the mechanics of the sun I joined the rest of the crowd on the concrete floor – once you had inspected the sun for more than five minutes the urge to watch yourself in the mirrors is overwhelming.

The sun and the crowd, taken from the floor in the mirrored ceiling.

First thing to imagine in this tale is that the mirrors reflected a black and grey world – something in the combination of the huge yellow lights and the air leached all the colour out of the room, leaving everyone's clothes, skin and hair in various shades of grey. Your correspondent was naturally dressed in large amounts of red when she walked in and spent the hour within in shades of deep purple-grey. I think I got a little skittish about this overpowering of my signature shade, which was made even worse when a girl came in wearing a red cardigan of synthetic material that somehow keep it's vibrant colour. The shock of the red colour in the uniform sea of grey was a sight in it's own right.

Once I had protected myself against the concrete floor with my formerly red, now grey, coat and pillowed my head on my formerly rainbow, now grey, scarf I started watching the crowd in the mirrors:

there was a couple synchronising their dance moves

a group doing a Mexican wave

a group in a star shape

a couple doing stylised yoga positions

people having gun fights

people doing the macarena

two boys whizzing around on their backs trying to tackle each other for a backpack (I talked to them for a while and the French one asked me to record in my account that the better looking one – him – won the game)

a solitary man swimming over the concrete, navigating his way through the more energetic groups

a couple doing the 'in a nut shell' mime from Austin Powers but from my position I could only see them reflected around a seam in the mirror that made them a composite of exactly half of each person ...

The crowd, taken from the floor in the mirrored ceiling.

We were shooed out at 1am and I caught a bus that was going 'close' to Old Street. I got out at Liverpool Street Station and decided to strike out without a map, without directions and without ever seeing that part of London before! It was a lovely balmy night and by this time the streets were thronging with drunken suits escorting tottering miniskirts home. I melded the directions from the maps in the bus shelters with the directions from the driver of a black cab and walked two sides of a triangle that resulted in my doorstep 45 minutes later.